“To foresee, is, to look back. Let us remember here in few words, how everything began”.
(Lúcio Costa about his 1969 Pilot Plan for Barra da Tijuca.)

The project aims to revisit and reconstruct the master plan Centro da Barra, later known as Athaydeville, an urban center located in Barra da Tijuca, in the West zone of Rio de Janeiro. This plan, designed by Oscar Niemeyer, was officially approved in 1970 and served as inspiration for Lúcio Costa’s Pilot Plan for the greater neighborhood in the lowlands of Jacarepaguá. Centro da Barra was designated to have a modernist infrastructure with 71 circular residential towers and public facilities situated among tropical gardens designed by Roberto Burle-Marx. This residential area, which was not divided by walls or fences, was planned to accommodate a wide range of income and families of different sizes. Lúcio Costa then projected these urban centers on a larger scale throughout the lowlands.

Without strict state control Barra da Tijuca turned into an urban El Dorado for real estate developers and the guidelines of the masterplan were eventually disregarded. Development began in the early 1970s, but paused repeatedly amid rampant speculation, unfocused politics and obscure business affairs, until the project was finally discontinued in 2005. Nowadays Barra is a loose conglomeration of shopping centers, parking lots and gated communities. Barra transformed into an anti-city with its incoherent architecture and disintegrated population. Public interests were crushed under a constant pressure of privatization and surveillance.

Ever since 2010, when Rio de Janeiro was announced host of the 2016 Olympics, Barra has been promoted and developed as its epicenter. And it seems that history repeats itself: land prices have peaked, favelas have been forcefully removed and the region is again (in similar ways as in the early seventies) being sold as the new paradise.

The models and unpublished documentation material bring to light the singularities of Barra da Tijuca’s urbanization. The documents are part of an abandoned archive found in the ruin of one of the three actually constructed circular towers in Barra. All the presented documents in the exhibition originate from this archive.  These include architectural maps, drawings, advertisements, newspaper cutouts. A website with the digitalized documents was launched with the exhibition, so the material became accessible to the public. This precedes the ultimate objective of Paraíso Ocupado: the establishment of a museum concerned with the urbanization history of Barra da Tijuca.

Centro da Barra

Due to the huge influx of migrants from Brazil’s impoverished northeast, mainly since the 1950s, the population in Rio increased rapidly. (Social) housing to accommodate the newcomers became scarce and many ended up in favelas (shanty towns). With overpopulation, traffic problems, pollution and increasing crime rates, the urban and residential areas started to deteriorate. Therefore, original and affluent inhabitants were starting to seek a higher quality of life and security outside the once popular abodes.

The Baixada de Jacarepaguá, the lowlands which include Barra da Tijuca, showed great potential for the extension of the city. In addition, the landscape of the Baixada and especially Barra, endowed with pristine beaches, dunes, marshes, lagoons, untouched vegetation and fauna boasted at a short distance, the qualities, that the Southzone was lacking.

This entire region had until then formed one of the most important natural reserves, which more and more frequently became used as a rough weekend refuge (with hardly any infrastructure) by the population of Rio. Fearing uncontrolled urbanization would lead to the same problems, which had arisen in the Southzone, Lúcio Costa was invited by the City Council of the State of Guanabara to structure and plan out its development, defuse the problems of the Southzone and take measurements to prevent them in the Baixada region.

The plan thus introduced a new form of ecological awareness and sustainability, seeking to balance nature and urban necessities. Costa’s pilot plan also comprised hundreds of highrise circular towers together with public facilities, including schools, churches, playgrounds, museums, social centers, daycare centers and parks in an area 1,5 times larger than Brasília.

These “urban centers” were inspired on the design of Centro da Barra, the center of Barra da Tijuca, developed by the architect Oscar Niemeyer. Even before the official approval of his Centro da Barra plan, Niemeyer had been in contact with what was to become the main construction company for the development of Centro da Barra: Desenvolvimento Engenheria headed by Múcio Athayde.

Athayde vehemently strove for the implementation of Centro da Barra, which Oscar Niemeyer envisioned with circular residential towers (ranging at different stages of the planning from 71 to 76 in number), 36 floors high and distributed with ample space in-between, as not to channel and intensify the strong winds coming from the Pedra da Gávea and the sea.

Niemeyer’s plan – as Costa`s –were based on the modernistic principles, such as light, air, space, transparency, sustainability, and some sort of social equality. Although the new city was built for the lower middle class extending to the higher classes, it still proposed a new form of social inclusion – or at least cohabitation. The exteriors of the different towers were designed similarly, whereas the interior makeup would differ from tower to tower. Next to towers with three generous apartments on each floor (210m2) were towers with 13 apartments per floor (51 m2). By mixing the different types of towers, residents with varying income levels would potentially live in relative proximity.

With Lúcio Costa and Oscar Niemeyer the development projects were headed by men with renowned reputations. Because Rio de Janeiro had recently lost its function as a capital with the construction of Brasilia, there might have been the need to put it back on the map with a dazzling plan, which went beyond the scope of the new capital city.

Burle Marx joined the illustrious team to design the tropical gardens of Barra and guarantee the preservation of nature during the urbanization process. In their advertisements, the real estate companies made clever use of the bucolic Barra and sold a lifestyle to go with it: ‘O paraíso existe: está aqui!’ (Paradise exists: it’s here!) or ‘Viva no paraíso: a nova forma de viver’ (Living in paradise: a new way of living) – or, after development started, ‘Paraíso Ocupado’ (Occupied Paradise).


“Now, on the other side, it seems clear, that a space of these proportions, and as accessible, can not be spared indefinitely. It would need to be urbanized at some point. It`s intense occupation is, already, irreversible.” (Costa:  Pilot Plan, 1969)

Major construction for Centro da Barra begins in 1970. A government work group, which includes Lúcio Costa, is constituted to deal with the paperwork of land evaluation and to coordinate the city`s involvement in the urbanization process. Many problems arise and already in 1972, newspaper headlines proclaim that Chagas Freitas, the acting governor of Guanabara, is withdrawing his support from the pilot plan.

The state-promised infrastructure, electricity, sewage and water system and access roads to take care of the heavy traffic are – if at all- sketchily developed at that time. Consequently construction is delayed and deadlines are postponed. This substantially endangers the construction companies and Desenvolvimento Eng. financially. Unlike Brasilia, the land needed for development was not state owned and land sales were not adequately controlled.  Numerous construction companies pushed in and proved to be commercially far more successful with the development of square buildings. Ignoring the original master plan, they started building smaller projects, condominiums and gated communities with catchy names such as: Sun Coast, Sunset, Aloha and Barra Summer Dream. Athayde, in comparision, had looked to great men of politics and the arts in Europe and the US as name-patrons for his buildings.

Costa`s guidelines were flexible. Each case  was specifically evaluated and room was left for interpretation. However when construction standards where finally fixed in a 1976 law, they interfered profoundly with both Costa`s and Niemeyer`s plans: more and more land was designated as building ground, open spaces were minimized, the vertical usage of space became more horizontal and parks, schools, libraries and museums, which can be seen in the drawings of Niemeyer, seemingly disappeared entirely from the construction plans to make room for commercial and shopping centers.

Múcio Athayde moves forward with the project in modified form. Of the 71 (76) towers, only four are integrated into his new project because the growing competition results in the fragmentation of the original Centro da Barra area. Niemeyer pulls out of the project and Múcio Athayde changes its name from Centro da Barra, coined by Niemeyer, to Athaydeville by the end of the 1970s.

Athayde launches a new advertising campaign in the local and national media, but without much success. This second campaign, much like the first, didn’t lead to the desired results. In the media, the small apartments were compared to pizza slices and regarded as too small and unpractical. Potential buyers were more interested in oceanfront apartments, and half of the apartments in the circular tower faced the mountains. Múcio Athayde sold apartments to finance the construction work, but still he did not finish the buildings. The two towers, which are inhabitated today, were completed by the construction company Encol.

Several times Athayde finds himself under investigation. The newspapers presented him as one of the first and more ruthless agents in the so-called “golpe imobiliário”, a property and real estate scam, in which buyers were tricked into advancing payments for completion of the building project; however, to keep the money flowing, construction was postponed under one pretense or another as long as possible.Others viewed Athayde as a politician, who suffered persecution during the dictatorship, and therefore his projects were not facilitated by government and financial institutions.

Bosque Marapendi e Parque Lúcio Costa 

“I am ashamed to go there. It`s a mess…, the real estate business had a  very powerful impact, thus the buildings all have balconies, but nobody really makes use of them as it is very windy. But to be able to sell, they needed to have balconies. So now the buildings are horrible and enormous square blocks, one after the other. Like Miami, rather: a suburb of Miami.”

(Oscar Niemeyer in the Documentary A vida é uma sopro, 2007.)

Few remnants in the urban landscape of Barra da Tijuca nowadays reflect Niemeyer`s Centro da Barra plan. The West zone of Rio symbolizes the takeover of private profits over public interests.

Nowadays Rios nouveau riche have erected a fortress of gated Barra da Tijuca. In the real estate advertisements you can read that the neighborhood is ‘favelafree’ and safe. Today, not much remains of the tropical forests and the once beautiful lagoons are polluted with sewage water. Public facilities were replaced by fully privatized institutions and even the open urban centers were closed off with fences and walls. Barra has become a loose conglomeration of shopping centers, parking lots and gated communities. With its incoherent architecture and disintegrated population it converted into an anti-city.

In 2004 the name Athaydeville was changed into Bosque Marapendi and Parque Lúcio Costa, to relieve the district of the somewhat unfavorable connotation connected to the failure of completing the Abraham-Lincoln-Tower. This huge deterioriating construction ruin next to its completed twin (the Charles de Gaulle Tower) and among the shiny glass facades of the surrounding (square) buildings sticks out like a sore thumb.

The monumental difference between the Centro da Barra plan and its realisation led Niemeyer to distance himself on several occasions from his involvement in Barra da Tijuca`s urbanization. Of the 71 towers planned for the Centro da Barra project, only three towers still remain today: the Ernest-Hemingway-Tower (Torre G) near the beach as well as the Charles-de-Gaulle- (Torre A) and the Abraham-Lincoln-Tower (Torre H) on the Avenidas das Américas. A fourth (Jean Jacques Maritain) was under construction, but needed to be torn down due to a construction error. Only Ernest-Hemingway and the Charles-de-Gaulle-Tower are inhabited, whereas the Abraham-Lincoln-Tower remains a concrete skeleton: 254 of the 454 apartments were sold, but could never be inhabited by their owners. Instead they are obliged to pay property taxes. To this day, 45 years later, the tower is still uninhabitable and decaying.

Several attempts were made to restart construction but all have failed in the light of judicial processes still involving the Abraham-Lincoln Tower. Nevertheless the Homowners Association of Torre H (Associação dos Adquirientes da Torre H), founded in 2004, is working on solutions for these problems and they are hopeful to take up renovation and construction soon.

We are already building Rio 2000, 30 years in advance (2012) 

The Video, ‘We are already building Rio 2000, 30 years in advance’ (2012) is based on a script for an advertising film of 30 min also found in the abandoned archive. The script, originally written in English, was most likely commissioned by Múcio Athayde for the World Expo of 1972 planned to take place in Barra da Tijuca in its initial stages of urbanization.

Except for a few minor changes the original script was kept unchanged. In the script the plot, for example is laid out solely in a showroom with a miniature model of the masterplan of Centro da Barra, whereas the film is set in and around the ruin of the Abraham Lincoln Tower. Thus the contrast between the promised urban paradise, promoted in the 70ies, on the one hand, and the dystopian scenery of the Abraham Lincoln tower together with the polluted and hectic landscape of Barra da Tijuca on the other, becomes  evident.

Conceptually the film team tried to follow the script as closely as possible, even though limited access to the tower for the film crew and actors and a few other conditions, like the requirement to wear the white Homeowners Association T-shirts all actors are wearing, influenced its execution.

The plot is set in 1971 and made up with four characters that come together in the showroom of Múcio Athayde’s development company, Desenvolvimento Engenharia. Paul Carrier from France and John Righter from the USA are two architecture students who studied together at Harvard University. They won a travel grant and came to Barra da Tijuca to research the Centro da Barra project. When they arrive at the construction-site the Brazilian salesman guides them through the tower and explains Niemeyer`s projection of Centro da Barra to them. Later they meet an engineer working on the project who enthusiastically praises Niemeyer’s inventiveness and the way he introduced the new way of living environmentally conscious.

The video premiered 2012 in an abandoned showroom in Barra da Tijuca, together with a Miniature model of the Masterplan of Centro da Barra. It is accessible on the Internet:

Expo-72 –  World Exhibition 72

To commemorate the 150th anniversary of Brazil’s independence, the Brazilian government already in 1968 implemented a Work Group/ to plan and apply for the World Exhibition in 1972 – Expo 72 located in Barra da Tijuca.  Judging on the material found in the archive Múcio Athayde greatly advocated and supported this undertaking.

In a four page document with the name: ‘Plano Expo 72’ from the archive, we can read how the PR campaign with television commercials, radio jingles, pamphlets, interviews, advertisements and billboards were envisioned.

Furthermore it was planned to show miniature models, photographs and an advertisement film. Nevertheless, the Expo-72 never took place. President Medici decides to cancel the Expo-72 and invest the resources of the Expo-72 into the conclusion of the first stage of the Federal University Campus (UFRJ) of Rio de Janeiro. The Expo-72 was supposed to greatly advance the construction of Centro da Barra as well (as the implementation of Lúcio Costas Pilot plan) and promote it to a larger and international audience.

Much as the constructors of the Olympic village today the Work Group responsible for the realization of the Expo-72 put an emphasis on the events legacy to the carioca population such as new public transportation, infrastructure and a research center (With the Expo `72 Barra da Tijuca was supposed to become the biggest Latin American Science Center).

Torre H

It was Torre H (Torre Abraham-Lincoln) which first caught our interest -and held it for over 6 years.

Because it was guarded, it took us some time and persistence to obtain permission to enter and photograph. One of the rooms on the first floor was completely filled with papers and folders, which at second glance revealed themselves to be Desenvolvimento Engenharia`s paper work dating back to the late 1960s -and most likely dropped here after it came back from the police investigation connected to the bankruptcy charge.

The construction company had started selling the apartments in Torre H in 1969 and had promised buyers that the tower would be inhabitable by 1972. However, while deadlines were stretched again and again, the buyers went on investing with the hope of receiving the keys to their apartments before long. When nothing happened, many of the owners reported what they regarded as a real estate scam to the authorities and tried to sue the company but with little success. The construction company negotiated settlements with a few of the apartment owners, offering plots or other valuables in lieu of the apartments, even though the worth of the objects offered was below the initial  investment. The majority of the owners were never contacted and their lawsuits could not be concluded.

In 1975, construction halted for the first time for a longer period, but Desenvolvimento Eng. promised to resume work shortly. In 2005, when Desenvolvimento Engenharia declared bankruptcy, work on the tower was entirely abandoned by the construction company.

Reportedly already in 2004, 300 families from the nearby communities squated the building. For the first time the frustrated apartment owners, who were scattered all over Brazil, were given an impulse to join forces in conquering their property: they funded the Associação de Adquirentes da Torre H  to initiate a plan to finish the construction. Heraldo Araújo da Silva, an engineer, who worked with Múcio in construction and also apartment owner, acts as president of the Association.

Because the squatters seem to have been extraordinarily well-organized, some  observers and local researchers believe the squatting had been orchestrated, perhaps by one of the local politicians –  or maybe by Múcio Athayde himself, so that his company would officially be declared bankrupt by the Department of Justice. Although Desenvolvimento Eng. was  already once declared bankrupt in 1993, the verdict was reversed two years later.

In 1997, the Tower Ernest Hemingway was also occupied by squatters for two weeks: about a 100 apartment owners invaded the construction site to force its completion. As a result, the Ernest Hemingway was finished and the apartments were turned over to the owners in 1998. The Charles de Gaulle Tower was already inhabitable in 1990, 17 years after its proclaimed completion.

To help with the maintenance costs, the Home Owner Association rents one of the small houses on one side of the compound as a small pension and lunchroom, and the grounds around the tower are used as a parking lot and a car wash during the week. The tower itself often functions as an oversized advertisement pillar, which before the Olympic Games has been reserved to advertise Nike products.

In the 1990s Athayde put his efforts into a new enterprise in Miami with a new construction company: The Blue and Green Diamond Condominiums. After similar problems of financing unclear business strategies as in Centro da Barra, both were completed in 2000.

Today, Oscar Niemeyer’s great-grandson, Paulo Sérgio plans to finish the tower, proposing a glass façade similar to the Ernest Hemingway Tower.


The teacher Antonia Castro de Almeida from Barra da Tijuca suggested in a newspaper survey (O Globo: 01.05.2003) when asked about her opinion about the name-change from Athaydeville into Bosque Marapendi and Parque Lúcio Costa that the history of Athaydeville should be remembered  in a museum.

Taking up the challenge of this suggestion, the aim – or new beginning – of Paraíso Ocupado would be, in cooperation with the Homeowners Association of Torre H, to establish a museum. Construction plans, documents and miniature models could be exhibited in the renovated Torre H so that the particulars and circumstances of Barra da Tijuca`s urbanization history would be remembered.

After all „the best way to foresee, is to look back“, in the words of Lúcio. If this history of Barra da Tijuca had been remembered accurately, maybe some of the problems and conflicts, which arose in the 2016 Olympics urbanization process, could have been avoided. Because the establishment of a museum is yet a distant goal, we are organizing and launching an online „museum“ to impress this history into public consciousness and give impulses for future research.