Guggenheim Museum

  • Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
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A Submerged Port


The first condition of this museum’s coming into existence is a commitment of attraction, an obligation to well-up desire, both in visitors who will come, considering it as a must, and in those in cariocas who will adopt it as a favorite promenade. We shall play upon the evocation of an old myth: Atlantis, the lost city, sunken in the ocean. One plunge under the water and a garden is unveiled – in ancient times the garden was the place of best-kept secrets. Architecture is of a maritime character here, evocative of the repetitive simplicity of functional buildings in harbors. The entrance is towered over by an out of scale white screen with luminous white titles, reminders of current exhibitions. This huge wall is a powerful urban signal viewed from the freeway and from the quay. This pure and empty surface is curious: what has vanished from this surface? Where has the city gone?


The entrance through the thick stone quay leads to an opening between a ceiling of sea water and a polished steel floor. The vast hall unfolding under this liquid covering opens out into a patio planted with a solitary tree. Deep, filtered perspectives suggesting diverse exhibition spaces alternating with planted courtyards. To visit this place is like going through a maze. The Brazilian pavilion offers opened spaces as well as closed rooms under the same roof punctuated with large hatches. The gallery for modern art is illuminated through truncated pyramids allowing for precise lighting. Outside, a series of patios accommodate sculptures and installations. The multimedia gallery develops cryptic spaces, connecting with larger rooms situated underneath laboratories and studios: a plethora of scales and purposes. One emerges in the thick vegetation of the tropical forest, a fragment of urban nature with steep slopes, a savage unfathomable garden surrounded by the sea and well below sea level. A 35 meter-high waterfall gives a clue to the depth of this space. Wooden walkways penetrate the dense vegetation, a three dimensional labyrinth leading from rock and trees, to a restaurant in the open, and there, via the reflection in a long mirror one can contemplate the sea, as well as an island, a port with ships.


Then one passes behind the waterfall through the lush vegetation and finds oneself in the “big box”, a vast space composed of two vertically-juxtaposed exhibition halls, able to be connected and thus reaching a height of some 50 meters. Industrial-type elevators take visitors to the belvedere, remarkable by its convex floor, from which the landscape and seascape can be viewed. On the ceiling of the belvedere, a large photograph depicts a face which could very well belong to a god, a saint or a martyr: an evocation of heavens one then reaches the top of the building, which houses a restaurant under a white tent with teak floors. From there one contemplates the entire skyline, the sugar loaf, the Corcovado.


In the sky there is a bizarre zeppelin (Panamarenko?) one remembers having seen a luminous hole before (James Turrell?), an enigmatic crypt (Walter De Maria?), a chasm in the water (Klaus Rinke?) and shadowless, colorless octagon (Roman Opałka?): all participating in an architectural experience never felt before. This museum is a place where the unknown has a calling to become familiar.



​Jean Nouvel