RIO DE JANEIRO – Hotel Nacional, an Oscar Niemeyer creation that was a Rio de Janeiro landmark until it closed more than two decades ago, is back in business as part of Spain’s Melia chain.
“It is a hotel full of stories, a hotel with a soul,” Rui Manuel Oliveira, Melia’s vice president in Brazil, told EFE, recalling the era when the Nacional was the first choice in accommodations for the powerful and the famous when they came to Rio.
Inaugurated in 1972, the 32-story circular building in the posh seaside neighborhood of São Conrado bears the unmistakable signature of Niemeyer (1907-2012).
The style of Brazil’s premiere architect is noticeable everywhere in the building, from the entrance that offers guests a magnificent view of the sea – what Oliveira calls the “wow effect” – to the rooftop heliport in the shape of a blossoming flower.
The gardens surrounding the hotel were designed by Burle Marx, one of Niemeyer’s closest collaborators.
For the Nacional, the days of wine and roses came to an end in 1995, when the government had to step in to preserve the already shuttered hotel.
In 1998, the city declared the building part of Rio de Janeiro’s architectural heritage and mandated that any redevelopment project would have to keep as much as possible of the original structure.
Melia has invested roughly $130 million to bring the Nacional back to life.
Though it proved impossible to have the Gran Melia Nacional Rio hotel ready in time for the 2016 Rio Olympics in August, Oliveira said he was confident about the hotel’s prospects.