Studio MK27’s Tropical Modernist Architecture Returns to Venice Biennale

by | 27. Aug 2018

Article | Residential | Venice Biennale 2018

Architect Marcio Kogan and his Studio MK27 have captured the limelight for their advances in Brazilian Modernist design, in part through producing fictional films about the studio’s real-life architecture project unveiled at the 13th Venice Biennale.  Kogan’s atelier, which returns to Venice this year, is helping chart the future of the Brazilian architecture movement with designs like Jungle House, a ziggurat-like structure integrated into a forest-saturated mountain that stands sentinel over the turquoise seas off Brazil’s east coast.   

Each day at dusk, as the sun disappears into the Brazilian Rainforest, the uppermost level of Studio MK27’s Jungle House comes alive with color, reflecting the orange-red light and then the silver sparkles that paint the sky-dome above the site.

The infinity pool that caps the structure acts as a liquid mirror, projecting the changing colors of the cosmos.  During twilight’s magic hours, its ripples move across glowing orange clouds, a blue crescent moon and a starry night sky.

Studio founder, and filmmaker, Marcio Kogan has positioned visual devices like this throughout Jungle House: a slate of glass beyond the pool is a portal to the nearby sea, while lattice screens marking the perimeter of the living spaces below capture freeze-frames of the paradisiacal forest and colorful wildlife animating the site.

This blending of architecture and art is complemented by the positioning, inside the structure, of a floating sculpture by Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson: “Reversed Silver Moon”, a polyhedron-shaped celestial orb, casts constellations of light throughout the space.

“For Jungle House,” says Kogan, “the main idea was to insert the house into the landscape while maintaining the connection to the surrounding Atlantic Forest.”

MK27’s Tropical Modernist designs enmesh architecture into the surrounding environment. Photo by Fernando Guerra, courtesy of MK27

MK27’s Tropical Modernist designs enmesh architecture into the surrounding environment. Photo by Fernando Guerra, courtesy of MK27

Asked to build the project along a steep slope, the studio developed an ingenious design that cantilevers ascending cubic masses above the surface of the site as if they were generated, like crystalline cliffs, by the mountain’s topography.

While most designers would have cut into the encircling forest to construct a playground and observation decks, MK27 incorporates these elements inside the structure, preserving the surroundings as a tropical sanctuary.

The studio likewise extended and enhanced the forest canopy: the species-rich rainforest is now so closely enmeshed with the architecture that it almost seems poised – in imitation of the film Jurassic Park – to take over the entire structure.

While visitors gathering at its peak can see the Atlantic Ocean hovering beyond the emerald forest, residents in the quarters below are surrounded by the jungle life that gives the project its name.

The surrounding Atlantic Forest has been marked as a natural – but threatened – wonderland “of outstanding universal value” on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

Jungle House is surrounded by the jungle life that gives the project its name. Photo by Fernando Guerra, courtesy of MK27

Jungle House is surrounded by the jungle life that gives the project its name. Photo by Fernando Guerra, courtesy of MK27

European conquistadors began massive logging operations upon touching down in Brazil 500 years ago.  Now, the ever-expanding mega-city of São Paulo threatens to one day absorb the tropical reserve.

To forestall scenarios like this, the UN is calling for architects to push forward its sustainable development goals with designs that foster a planet-wide ecological renaissance.  With the global population projected to reach 11 billion people by the century’s end, and the explosion of mega-cities worldwide, the UN is calling on designers to develop cities and structures that regenerate the environment for future generations.

Kogan’s eco-protective designs fit in perfectly with this appeal.

The pool at the peak of the ziggurat reflects the colors of the cosmos. Photo by Fernando Guerra

The pool at the peak of the ziggurat reflects the colors of the cosmos. Photo by Fernando Guerra

Kogan muses, meanwhile, that the Modernist architecture movement has been on a global odyssey since being launched in Europe a century ago.

When it reached Brazil, young architects started reshaping Modernism’s designs in line with the country’s tropical environment and culture.  Then, architectural advances originating in Brazil began rippling around the world, partly fueled by design breakthroughs showcased in Brasilia, the new capital sculpted by leaders of Brazilian Modernism.

MK27’s Osler House in Brasilia, a geometric structure cantilevered across an azure cube of water, reflects on the origins and ongoing evolution of Brazilian Modernism.

Osler House in the world-watched showcase of Brasilia. Photo by Pedro Vannucchi

Osler House in the world-watched showcase of Brasilia. Photo by Pedro Vannucchi

Global showcases like the Venice Biennale and the World Heritage site of Brasilia are spreading Tropical Modernist designs around the world. Photo by Pedro Vannucchi

Global showcases like the Venice Biennale and the World Heritage site of Brasilia are spreading Tropical Modernist designs around the world. Photo by Pedro Vannucchi 

Experiments by Brazil’s architectural avant-garde continue today, Kogan says, and will drive new mutations in the movement into the future. Some of these advances can be viewed at the Brazilian Pavilion of this year’s Venice Biennale.

MK27’s entry in Brazil’s “Walls of Air” exhibition in Venice is a fantastical “Children’s Square,” a forest-covered labyrinth and theatre for youths to explore.  Replicating this square, which melds the simple geometric shapes of Modernism with the tropical wildlife and waterways of Brazil, across the continents could help transplant the design aesthetics and eco-protective philosophy of Tropical Modernism into mega-cities around the world.

MK27’s “Children’s Square” is part of Brazil’s “Walls of Air” exhibition at this year’s Venice Biennale. Capped by a geodesic dome, the square could be replicated in even the coldest mega-cities across the globe. Rendering by Miguel Muralha, courtesy of MK27

MK27’s “Children’s Square” is part of Brazil’s “Walls of Air” exhibition at this year’s Venice Biennale. Capped by a geodesic dome, the square could be replicated in even the coldest mega-cities across the globe. Rendering by Miguel Muralha, courtesy of MK27