Palacio Itamaraty as example of sustainable architecture

The Palacio Itamaraty was inaugurated in 1970, when green architecture was not as trendy as today. However, it is one of the best examples of green building that I ever visited. Le Corbusier said that architecture is invention, as Oscar Niemeyer liked to remember. In this building, Oscar Niemeyer invented simple solutions for efficient sustainability.
Sustainability in architecture is simply defined by three main aspects: ecological, economical, and social.

Looking at the volumes of the Itamaraty, we could imagine that Oscar Niemeyer took inspiration in the Law Assembly of Chandigarh of Le Corbusier, designed a few years before. But looking at the large arches, the reference with the architecture of the classical Rome is also evident. Oscar Niemeyer inspired himself from the architecture of various ages in order to design a building with great proportions and monumentality. The serious of this building reflects very well the importance of its function: the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Oscar Niemeyer decided to let the reinforced concrete structure – built locally – visible, and not cover it with marble panels as on other buildings of Brasilia, as did also Le Corbusier and the Brutalisti.

Palacio Itamaraty - JBH

The glass façade of the ground level and the first level are protected from sun radiations behind the large arches. On the third level, the glass façade continues to create a balustrade for the roof. This solution allows a sufficient sunlight illumination and doesn’t bring direct radiation which could considerably increase the temperature inside the building.

Palacio Itamaraty - JBH

On the north façade some windows can be opened, and the south façade is completely open, without any window, on a garden designed by Burle-Marx. This simple invention allows not only an easy illumination of the inner space without the need of any artificial lamp, but also a great aeration using crosswinds and large inner volumes. Even during the hottest days in Brasilia, the open space stays at a reasonable temperature.

Palacio Itamaraty - JBH

Palacio Itamaraty - JBH

All the building is surrounded by a large water bath, in which it reflects itself and seems to float. Behind the poetical invention, there is also a great sustainable invention. Brasilia is in the center of Brazil and its climate is “tropical of altitude”, and 8 months of the year are particularly dry (less than 20% of humidity). The water bath gives humidity to all the buildings and helps to increase the comfort for the users.

Also the garden on the south façade isn’t designed just for an aesthetical reason. The vegetation filters the radiation of the sun and the humidity helps to regulate the temperature, as do the water bath.
On the third floor, most of the surface is occupied by garden. This is one of the five points of Le Corbusier’s modern architecture, and this garden, also designed by Burle-Marx, increases the comfort in the building. The roof is protected by a large pergola which creates an interesting play of light and shadows.

Palacio Itamaraty - JBH

No air conditioning, lights off, windows open for natural aeration, vegetation and local materials,… These are all solutions that respect the ecological and economical aspects of sustainable architecture. Moreover, sunlight illumination, regulated temperature, comfy and silent spaces, gardens and terraces as meeting points are also great solutions on the social aspect, the third main point of sustainable architecture. This is an example of real green architecture.

Credit photo: Jean-Baptiste Hurstel

by Jean-Baptiste Hurstel


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