Set in luxuriant vegetation just outside the city of Belo Horizonte in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, the Inhotim Cultural Institute marries art, architecture and landscape. As a botanical oasis, it boasts thousands of plant species. As a centre for contemporary art, it hosts dozens of international works set in undulating landscaped grounds. As an architecture, it operates an amalgam of artworks and exhibition spaces including galleries for a range of coordinated events or dedicated to the works of a single artist. With its natural “collection” of botanical species and meaningful insights into how art and architecture can intertwine, the park complex delivers an emotional experience that is both sensory and cultural.
The young architects of Brazilian practice Arquitetos Associados were given the brief of designing three buildings, each with its own specific style and function in keeping with the multi-facetted character of the park. One gallery is dedicated to the artist Miguel Río Branco; another, the Educational Centre, is named after landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx; the third, the Cosmococa Gallery, houses the distinctive installations of this avant-garde group that actively involve the spectator in a sensory, tactile experience. Each building reflects the attitude to art expressed by the works on display, relating to its surroundings with different strategies.
Being able to work directly with Miguel Río Branco led to the creation of a pavilion that blends materiality and sensory refinement. Taking up a suggestion by the artist himself, the gallery stands in its landscape like a naturally outcropping mineral. Architecture and artwork become one and the same.
The building develops over several gradients making the terrain a fundamental part of the architectural programme. This is underlined by a paved pathway rising on the west perimeter and leading to an intermediate level where it opens out into a square flanked by a coffee shop and sheltered by the Cor-Ten steel and concrete of the adjacent gallery. A stairway leads from the square up to the exhibition halls.
Inside, the basement hall is a half-sunken square volume with double-layer concrete walls: an outer perimeter with a ramp of stairs at one end; and lower, inner walls letting in natural light from three sides on which large artworks are hung. The upper level is a windowless block, its Cor-Ten clad steel frame a prism-shaped wedge projecting into the landscape from its base.
The abstract geometry is further underlined by the texture and rusty gloss of the cladding slabs whose luminosity varies to great effect with the changing light. Inside, only the artworks are spot-lit in an otherwise darkened, introverted space.
The Cosmococa Gallery, in contrast, is set into its sloping terrain. The roof - reached by an external stairway on the perimeter - serves as a terrace-cum-bridge. The building comprises five separate, multi-purpose square environments that follow on from one another in labyrinthine style. The solid architecture is hunkered down into its natural setting, its locally sourced grey stone cladding adding to the sense of impregnability. In contrast, the bare un-rendered concrete walls within provide a discreet backdrop to the exuberant works of art.
The Burle Marx Educational Center houses a library, auditorium and coffee shop area. The horizontal architectural programme conforms to the extensive site, a feature emphasised by the accessible roof garden running the length of the building. Different length wings, each with large expanses of transparent lights protected by fixed-element sun shading, enclose an open inner court. The gentle gradient on the southern side is the natural site for a small amphitheatre.