On April 20, 2021, a fire tore through a landmark modernist building designed by Jorge Machado Moreira on the College City campus of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro that houses the Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism (FAU) and its Research and Documentation Center, or Núcleo de Pesquisa e Documentação (NPD). Although the fire was contained to the second floor of the building and did not result in structural damage or the loss of life, lost to the blaze were essential tools—cameras, scanners, computers, and the like—used by NPD archivists while over 50,000 invaluable documents and 5,000 photographs chronicling over 150 years of Brazilian architectural history were damaged.
As announced earlier this month, the Los Angeles-based Getty Foundation is stepping in to aid the FAU in restoring materials held in the NPD’s “critically important” architectural archives through a $240,000 grant.
Specifically, the grant will fund an 18-month effort led by a team of paper and photography conservators, an archivist, and students from the Conservation and Restoration department at the university’s Escola de Belas Artes (the School of Fine Arts) and the FAU to relocate the collections to “a safe, temperature-controlled environment to prevent future damage.” That location is within the same building. As detailed by the Getty Foundation, the project team will “also perform condition surveys, clean materials, and update the archival database with the team’s findings.” Once roughly 38,500 items held in the collection are stabilized and relocated, the team will provide training to students and staff on proper conservation methods.
First established in 1982, the NPD holds more than 300,000 documents relating to projects designed by seminal Brazilian architects including icons of the country’s modernist movement such as Lúcio Costa, Affonso Eduardo Reidy, Roberto Burle Marx, Carmen Portinho, Sérgio Bernardes, the Roberto Brothers, and, naturally, the architect of the FAU building itself, Jorge Machado Moreira.
“These collections are considered the most important architectural archives of modern Brazil’s Carioca School, so the conservation and long-term care of these priceless items is our highest priority,” said Dr. Andrés Martín Passaro, associate professor at the FAU and coordinator of the NPD, in a news statement shared by Getty. “While soot and water permanently harmed a significant number of items and the Center is now unusable, we can take comfort in knowing the bulk of our collection will be given a new home with suitable environmental conditions.”
As noted by the Getty Foundation, archival materials held within the NPD play a vital role in architectural conservation projects awarded funds through its Keeping It Modern grant program, which ran from 2014 through 2020. They include Lina Bo Bardi’s Museu de Arte de São Paulo and Casa de Vidro (2017, $150,000; 2016, $195,000), João Batista Vilanova Artigas’s Faculty of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of São Paulo (2015, $200,000), and Jorge Ferreira’s Arthur Neiva Pavilion (2015, $60,000). As noted by Getty, 77 at-risk modernist sites worldwide received direct project support through Keeping It Modern during the program’s seven-cycle run, and the majority of them “involve the development of conservation management plans that draw heavily on archival materials” like those housed at the NPD.
“Preservation professionals rely on collections like these to care for modern buildings,” said Silvio Oksman, a São Paulo-based preservation architect who has led several Keeping It Modern grants in Brazil. “We consult drawings, photographs, building models, and other historic documents to get the fullest picture of how architects conceived of their projects and ensure we preserve this 20th-century heritage in the best way. It is a huge relief to the field to know these crucial materials will be saved.”
More on the efforts underway at the NPD, including the full project team, can be found here.