Designing Future Cities: Brasilia

Imagine if you will a city of the future. What does it look like? What characteristics and features would it have? For many the well-laid out and carefully planned capital of Brasilia with its monuments, wide avenues, modernist architecture and efficient transportation might be close to the answer.

It looks like an airplane if looked at from above, or at least that’s the idea of Brasilia’s layout anyway. It is one of the world’s most well-planned administrative centers, a far-cry from the bloated former capital of Rio de Janeiro. Though I’m still not necessarily convinced that it works as a city to live in. Much of its architecture is the brain-child of Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, one of the world’s most well-known architects with cooperation from Lúcio Costa and Joaquim Cardozo. Brasilia was created with the purpose of having the capital in a more central location, though it’s literally in the middle of nowhere as historically the large populated centers are close to the coast, over 1000 kilometers away.

Government buildings designed by Niemeyer
Congreso Nacional

DSCN0902Legend has it that Italian saint Don Bosco, founder of the Salesian order,  was the one to have conceived of a futuristic city  that would govern Brazil. Today there are many references to Don Bosco and the Salesians because of this purported legend. Indeed under the presidency of Juscelino Kubitschek, one of Brazil’s most well-achieved presidents, a futuristic city arose under the guiding hand of modernism. It took 40 months to complete the now UNESCO recognized capital.

The stained glass cathedral that relies heavy on natural light to illuminate is a modernist interpretation of outstretched hands coming together in prayer. While not exceptionally large, its unique architectural style has won it recognition globally as part of Brasilia’s modernist buildings. Likewise the National Congress building employs this same style of wide open rooms, large windows and sleek corners to create a truly unique working environment. The bicameral legislature of senate and congress each have their own unique flair to them but make use of a regular dome and an inverted dome with two large towers overlooking the complex.

DSCN0866DSCN0870Under the vision of Niemeyer and Costa, the city took on a socialist ideology with buildings and transportation being owned by the government for people to use, meaning in effect that laborers and ministers could live within the same building; an idea for which Oscar Niemeyer was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize by the USSR. While future governments would deviate from this idea, the concept held by the initial architects was one of utopianism rooted in the communist ideals of Niemeyer.

Ultimately with the military coup in 1961 that deposed President João Goulart, left-leaning professors and academics were forced with going into exile or being arrested or worse. The greatest irony, Oscar Niemeyer the designer of the new capital was forced into exile by those that came to have control over the capital due to their disdain for his support of the Brazilian Communist Party.

Kubitschek memorial

Following the end of military rule in 1985, Niemeyer returned to Brazil, offering once more his talent to the city of his construction. The Memorial to Juscelino Kubitschek now sits in front of the National Congress, a reminder to times when one dared to dream of the future and put those dreams into action. In the end perhaps that is what Brasilia means, a dream of a future despite reality but a hope that continues to shine for those who came before and those who will come next.


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