Yesterday Cine Chat discussed the documentary Chronicle of the Demolition (Crônica da demolição) by Eduardo Ades. The film focuses on the recent urbanisation of Rio de Janeiro and the consequential reorganisation of the city space, protagonising the no-longer existing Palácio Monroe. The Palace, built in the twentieth century in Cinelândia in the heart of the city, was once the State Senate House. Recently demolished, the ruin has haunted the recent debates surrounding Rio’s architectural patrimony.
Journalist Cristina Grillo, who led the conversation, got straight to the point: why was the Palace destroyed? Alex Nicolaeff, one of the architects interviewed, replied just as incisively: “The main reason? Hard cash. That spot is worth a lot of money. Don’t believe any of that rubbish you might have heard about the metro, because the original plans for the new line deliberately avoided the building.” Nicolaeff continued: “Architecture is a social art. Every new reform, every renovation, ends up costing a fair amount of money. That building was the fruit of society’s hard-earned money, but there was a convergence of social, political and economic factors that led to its being demolished. The masses were no longer interested in the Palace.”
Architect Margareth da Silva Pereira highlighted that urban changes in the city began when Rio lost its status as the capital of Brazil, and the political centre of the city started being broken up. But according to da Silva Pereira, the new developments were not just physical, but also social. Previously, Rio had been a centre of activity, with public squares and streets buzzing with hustle and bustle. When Rio lost its political relevance there was a corresponding emptying of these areas, both of people and buildings. “It’s difficult for me, as a teacher, to see pupils and citizens alike trying to comprehend the city when they are so distanced from it”, da Silva Pereira added.
Eduardo Ades, who wrote, directed and produced the film, revealed that
his research took over one year. Ades let slip that he spent hours in the national
library, in the national film library and various other locations that house
important archives. Without this
well-preserved information the project would never have been possible, he said.
The cinema was, unsurprisingly, filled with architects and architecture enthusiasts. Aside from contributing animatedly and illuminatingly to the debate, these figures reminded everyone of the importance of this work as a wake-up call. The film recalls the fact that defending our public spaces is a duty, in the face of massive globalisation and continual urbanisation that threaten to wash away the identities of our cities.
Pereira, enthused and relieved to see such a passionate response from the audience, said: “I just want to say I’m grateful that this new generation is still actively thinking about our cities, and that this is a subject being projected onto our cinema screens.”
The conversation continues outside the cinema (outside the box?) in Praça Mahatma Gandhi, where the film crew have drawn contours on the floor marking where the building once stood. The installation will remain open until tomorrow.
Adapted by Gill Harris from an original by Juliana Shimada.
Photos: Natália Alvim