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Combining Art & Architectural Design

The idea of integration between art and architecture dates back to the very origin of the discipline, however, it took on a new meaning and social purpose during the Avant-Garde movement of the early twentieth century, becoming one of the most defining characteristics of Modernism. This close relationship is evident in the works of some of the greatest modern architects, such as Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier, and Oscar Niemeyer, to name a few.

Needless to say, modernism emerged from an expectation of moral and material reconstruction of a world devastated by war, serving as a tool to strengthen a collective identity and, consequently, the bond between the city and its inhabitants. In this context, artistic expression is used as a tool to shape the emotional life of the user, to which art and architecture combined can give a new meaning, offering a place that represents a sense of community, in addition to function and technique.

The professional development at Bauhaus was marked by what Argan (1992) calls “methodological-didactic rationalism,” encouraging the unification of all the arts through a Gesamtkunstwerk, which roughly translates as a “total work of art,” incorporating architecture, painting, sculpture, industrial design, and crafts. This collaboration was expected to happen even on the building site, thus bringing together intellectual and manual work in a shared experience. As their leading exponent Walter Gropius used to say, an architect should be as familiar with painting as a painter should be with architecture. One should not design a building and commission a sculptor afterward; this would be wrong and detrimental to the architectural unity.

Apart from the Bauhaus program, this integration between disciplines was also, and most notably, brought up by Le Corbusier through the combination of elements from painting and sculpture with the formal concepts of architecture. In this sense, Le Corbusier – despite being a “one-man show” who preached the synthesis of the arts in his designs, but always worked as a solo artist – argued that the roles of architects, painters, and sculptors were of equal importance contributing to productive collaborations in the real world, that is, on the building site, by creating and designing in complete harmony.

To some extent, this inseparable relationship sounded so utopian that Lucio Costa stated that this greater art would require a level of cultural and aesthetical evolution that was almost impossible to achieve, in which architecture, sculpture, and painting would form one cohesive body, a living organism that could not be disintegrated. Nevertheless, the Capanema Palace in Rio de Janeiro is arguably the closest one could get to this utopia in Brazil by relying on painter Candido Portinari, sculptor Bruno Giorgi and landscape architect Burle Marx from the very beginning of the project development. As French historian Yves Bruand states, the result is an ensemble of great artistic value, brilliantly enhancing and complementing architecture, but subordinated to it at the same time.