27. CFM Beira

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If you secretly harbour only a tiny miniscule fetishist of 1960s architecture, Mozambique will give it so much stimulus that it cannot resist any more and will have to come out of the closet sooner or later. In my case, I have considered myself a moderate case until now. That is – until I entered the train station in Beira on a short visit passing through, one of those special experiences entering a space you knew would be special, but could not quite predict how would be in reality. My architectural heart felt that deep warmth which comes from the sensation of real art, when everything makes sense and the world is whole if only for a moment and you have to write a blog post to celebrate.

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It is almost all of it preserved, the original woodwork, mosaics, clocks and lettering on the electric signs of a Gesamtkunstwerk where all the pieces are specially designed. You are only to a very small extent disturbed by the new BCI and MCel adverts which also have entered this building, a building which transports you into a separate realm as soon as you enter. The special quality of the space is timeless, like with truly idiosyncratic and consistently specific work.

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Vertical surfaces are to a large extent of dark varnished wood patterns, while horizontal surfaces are mosaics. However, large wall murals of mosaics are also found both on the inside and the outside of the great hall and the entrances to the office building, both with people and scenes of work, as well as abstract geometrical patterns. All this inside what appears a thin shell stretched between slender curved reinforced concrete arch elements of an impressive span, fitted with glass walls so large and with so small profiles that they in 1966 when new, must have been the state of the art and are still pure elegance.

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Entering this great hall, you see through the rear glass facade, an office tower rising behind the concrete shell, with movable sunshades and a small element of concrete geometric elements creating shadows and a sculptural depth so typical of the best 1960s architecture in Mozambique. In Beira there are numerous examples of apartment blocks, hotels and offices in exemplary versions of this style – at times with playful details of colour and mosaics, like in the train station. In fact, mosaic patterns reminiscent of the floor in the CFM hall are found on balconies around the city, all of it maybe with a reference to the black and white Portuguese and Brazilian stone patterns found on city pavements from Lisbon to Ipanema. The playfulness an colour of pattern and detail may in fact be a characteristic of the city’s architecture as such.

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The three architects who together designed the train station in Beira, João Garzio do Carmo, Paulo Melo Samapio and Francisco Castro, were responsible for a lot of the impressive and creative architecture of Beira, a city growing rapidly due to the new railway, in the period in question. Inspiration was found in Brazil, and the curving modernism of Niemeyer is clearly seen in other works by Garizo do Carmo and Melo Sampaio, especially the church in Manga by the brothers do Carmo and the now empty Motel Estoril with its undulating curvatures and beautifully sculpted facade elements by Melo Sampaio. Do Carmo was born in Beira and working together with his brother, a painter and mural artist, creating works where the integration of art and architecture in a total work, was the ideal, as with the work of other great architects in Mozambique at the time exploiting the total expression of plastic art, painting and architecture in the same work. The work on the CFM terminal in Beira was divided between the three architects in this way: Melo Sampaio was reponsible for the great hall, Garizo do Carmo for the terminals and Castro for the office building.

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Considering how much attention modernist architecture in Maputo is getting at the moment, it is much less easy to find information about the architecture of other cities of Mozambique. (Exceptions: Magalhães and Gonçalves ‘Moderno Tropical – Arquitectura em Angola e Moçambique 1948-1975‘ in particular and to a lesser extent Fernandes ‘Geraação Africana – Arquitectura e Cidades em Angola e Moçambique 1925-1975‘) My eminent colleagues Luís Lage and Júlio Carrilho at the Faculdade de Arquitectura in Maputo have, however, together with a Portuguese colleague, finished a book on the architecture of Beira, currently in press in Lisbon. Judging from the book made by part of the same team about Maputo for the same publisher, I can’t wait to see the full-page bright colour photographs from Beira in the same style.

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Old postcard

Old postcard

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About Silje

Architect and PhD Candidate based in Copenhagen, Denmark, but working mainly with heritage conservation and urban development in Ilha de Moçambique 2011-13. You can contact me on macutiblog at gmail dot com
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6 Responses to 27. CFM Beira

  1. jorgen eskemose says:

    yeah….. CFM beira ia really a master piece in the modern movement in the Gobal South. Salute to Beira and Silje for remindig us all. I have been in the building quite a few times breathtaking it is ….each time..

    Jørgen

  2. alexandre antonio says:

    Hi Silj it is very interesting Alexandre

  3. Interesting post! Beira is indeed fascinating when it comes to the architecture. Thanks for sharing, now it all makes a little more sense now!

  4. Pingback: 28. À propos the Grande Hotel, Beira | Macuti

  5. Pingback: 29. Hotel Chuabo, Quelimane | Macuti

  6. Carlos Beca says:

    Surfing through the web found this blog. I was born in Beira and my Dad worked for many years in this building. At the time it was new and definitely a landmark in the city. Sampaio was my teacher of Architecture Design in the then called Instituto Industrial da Beira. It was a long time ago. This is one of the few buildings that seems to be ok in the city. I have not been back since 1975 and miss it tremendously. There is a new reality there which is not what I envisioned for Mozambique when we were basically forced out in 1975.
    I just decided to leave a comment as I was once part of the soul of this country.

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