Quite often when we think of Brazilian architecture, we think of names such as Oscar Niemeyer, Lucio Costa, Paulo Mendes da Rocha or Lina Bo Bardi. And yet, the identity and style of the nation’s healthcare architecture is owed to none of these architects. This task was achieved by Joao Filgueiras Lima, known as ‘Lelé’, who designed 6 hospitals of the Sarah Kubitschek network in Brazil, including its first and foremost location in Brasilia.


The building is Brutalist, an architectural style defined by an emphasis on structural technique, a devotion to exposed concrete, and the consideration of the structure as a formal element. This internationally-recognized style was introduced to Brazil between the ‘50s and the ‘70s via the so-called Paulist School, with Joao Batista Vilanova Artigas serving as its greatest exponent. The Sarah Kubitschek Hospital adopts the primary elements of this style and subtly introduces them in the very particular typology of healthcare architecture. It achieves spacial continuity due to the addition of ramps and natural light, introducing large openings and horizontal planes of exposed concrete – a true symbol of industrialization in architecture.


Photography by Leonardo Finotti



Inaugurated in 1960 as the Sarah Kubitschek Rehabilitation Center, the original building was intended to provide the new capital with a modern, functional medical center focused on rehabilitation and treatment of locomotor system disorders. It continued to expand and to provide service not only to Brasilia, but also to northern, northeastern, and central eastern regions of the country. In 1975, it was deemed necessary to expand the facilities and construct a new campus – a task which was assigned to Joao Filgueiras Lima and which materialized as the current Brutalist building, finished in 1980.



Influenced by the work of Austrian architect Richard Neutra, Joao Filgueiras Lima’s early projects took into account the relationship between architecture and landscape, as well as an interest in the rationalization and industrialization of construction. This understanding of architecture as being tied to the concept of “progressive attention” was key to the hospital’s design.

The functional structure is organized according to the potential causistries of a rehabilitation patient, from invasive surgical procedures to gradual rehabilitation. This concept of “progressive attention” anticipates two key aspects:

  • The existence of facilities that can provide various levels of attention: a first one primarily focused on human resources and materials, an intermediary with hospitalization and patient care rooms, and finally, facilities aimed at providing outpatient services.
  • Comprehensive patient mobility between one level and another, according to their therapeutic needs.



This approach allows for cost rationalization at each stage of the operations. Construction expenses decrease because the most costly facilities are located within a limited area. Additionally, the duplication of services – a frequently observed trend in mainstream hospitals – is avoided.

Another important consideration that was kept in mind when beginning construction was the creation of an environment that would stimulate the patient’s reintegration into society. The architectural design moves away from the confinement of classic hospitals and includes extensive green zones within the complex, with adequate space for social and cultural activities which facilitate patient interaction.


Photography by Leonardo Finotti



These days the Sarah Kubitschek Hospital Network, or Rede Sarah as it is known in Brazil, is still functional and includes 9 new centers located all over the country. It has become a reference hospital in Latin America regarding medicine specializing in patient rehabilitation and locomotor system treatment.

The work of Joao Filgueiras Lima, Lelé, is an important factor in hospital buildings’ transformation towards new paradigms. His architecture contributes to the healing process, prioritizing visual and environmental comfort and the well-being of all users.