• SPa

Casa das Canoas / Oscar Niemeyer

Some Context

Observing architects' houses is always an extremely interesting game. This case is no exception, indeed, I consider it one of the most pleasant examples on the subject.

This is the famous residence of Oscar Niemeyer, situated in São Conrado, in the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. You can explore the beautiful surroundings navigating through Google Maps of course, using this reference:

"São Conrado, Rio de Janeiro - State of Rio de Janeiro, 22610-210, Brazil".

And now, let's try to dive into the landscape.

The morphology of the territory of Rio de Janeiro is simply crazy. Sudden elevation changes and breathtaking sea views are clearly the standard of the landscape, and along with that, the incredible lush greenery and of course... the climate!

That said, it is not surprising that the great Brazilian architect (1907 - 2012) decided to build his residence there.

a clipping image from Google Maps

I strongly recommend that you do a search of Rio by pictures. I don't think there is a city as rich in shapes in the whole world.

It is plausible, in my opinion, that precisely this (pre-architectural) element influenced Oscar Niemeyer's conception of architecture. I mean, if a person is born in that place, he can only be attracted by the sinuosity of the landscape. There is no alternative. And while this may be true for any designer, in this case the abundance of forms is on average higher.

This might explain Niemeyer's fascination with organic forms even better. Obviously there are also other cultural factors, but it seems to me that this is a point to add to the reasoning.

So that said, let's go deepr into the topic.


The roof, made with a concrete slab, is an organic design element that recalls the shape of an inlet, as can be seen from its extrapolation. But, more generally, the whole project is made up of various superimposed layers of organic forms.

Each layer follows an apparently casual and, so to speak, natural logic.

In fact, from a top view perspective, you can read at least three levels that define the general design of the residence: the roof, the swimming pool and the base. Each layer follows an apparently casual and, so to speak, natural logic, so as to communicate in a particularly effective way with the surrounding natural context, as if the building were a natural extension of the landscape.

The plan

The architecture of Oscar Niemeyer, as it is known, was largely influenced by Le Corbusier. They also collaborated on various projects, the most famous of which is certainly the UN headquarters in New York. This influence is also visible in the "free" conception of the floor plan of this house: the structure is completely detached from the facade. Even better, the notion of a facade itself is misleading in this case, actually. It is as if he wanted to arrive at the natural consequence starting from Le Corbusier's premise about the so-called free plant. The interesting thing is that even if you extrapolate the pillars from the project, you don't read any grid, in the classic sense of the term (In Le Corbusier's Villa Savoye the structural grid was essentially a regular matrix). A much more... free plant.

The living area, thanks to the use of large windows, blends completely with the outside, hence, the sight of vegetation (particularly lush at those latitudes) is a constant experience. This is a recurring theme of a lot of modernist architecture, of course, think of Philip Johnson's Glass House, which is a bit of a paradigm for this idea, or the van der Rohe's Farnsworth house) The new construction technologies had made it possible to relieve the facades, but this had gone hand in hand, more generally, with a change in taste, the idea of a life more open to the outside which favors cultural exchange and observation of the surroundings.

a view of the 3D model

The consequence of this is that the design of the elevation drawings has substantially become irrelevant, since they are no longer able to fully describe the articulations of the composition.

a rendered image of the pool and entrance

Public / Private

The distribution of the interior spaces is characterized by the clear separation of the private area (the living room and the dining area), located on the access floor, from the private area (the rooms), located on the lower level, near the small creek that flows alongside the base, so as to create a sort of sensorial continuity with the swimming pool above.

One of the most spectacular elements of the intervention is the large mass located in the center of gravity of the house, a large stone that touches all the spaces as if to act as the pivot of the entire project.

The stone is in fact partially immersed in the pool, but then continues to the interiors, even occupying part of the staircase leading to the lower floor.

This idea of using natural elements is quite recurrent in organic architecture. The best example of this is Frank Lloyd Wright's Kaufman house, the famous Fallingwater, where natural stone is used for the entire flooring.

But more generally it's the location of the building, which seems to want to demonstrate the idea of perfectly blending the natural with the built environment. Exactly as it happens for the Niemeyer's house.

Regarding this kind of communicative urgency, I like to recall the famous words of Alvar Aalto: "The ultimate goal of the architect...is to create a paradise. Every house, every product of architecture... should be a fruit of our endeavour to build an earthly paradise for people."


Starting model credits (from 3D Warehouse)

'Residence of architect Oscar Niemeyer, designed and built between 19951 and 1953 at Canoas road. It is based on the 'as built' plans made available by the 2018 research project 'Brazilian houses of the 20th Century, lead by Beatriz Santos, Ph.D., from the Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.'


Link to my model

The model has undergone some changes, in accordance with a photographic documentation study. Some pieces of furniture have also been added. Feel free to use it and enjoy it.