Brasilia Brazil a national capital 194670

The idea of and the name, Brasflia, for a new capital for Brazil goes back to, at least, 1823 when José Bonifcacio suggested that the country's capital should be moved to Goias. The action to actually build a new capital began on 18 September 1946, when using the power invested in it by Article 4 of the nation's constitution, the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies voted to move the nation's capital from Rio de Janiero to state-owned land in the interior. The goal was to open up the centre of the country to significant development. The decision was a bold act of will.

In 1953, the Congress instructed the administration to select a site by 1955. A year later, the aerial photographic and interpretation company of Cornell University

Figure 7.2 President Juscelino Kubitschek.

professor Donald Belcher was hired to pinpoint a suitable site. The firm recommended one based on its topography, soil qualities, rainfall and winds. It has porous soil and summer rainfall, and is located at an altitude of a little over 1000 metres with a relative humidity varying between 55% and 86% over the course of the year. In 1956, with the site selected, Congress authorized the formation of a company NOVACAP (Nova Capital) to proceed with the development of Brasilia. Its only shareholder was the Brazilian Government. The whole process of development was pushed ahead by President (1956-61) Juscelino Kubitschek (see Figure 7.2) and some see the city as a monument to him.

In September 1956, NOVACAP announced a competition for the general plan of Brasilia. The requirement was that the entries: (1) show the proposed structure of the city, the location of its precincts, centres and lines of communication at a scale of 1:25,000 and (2) provide a supporting report. The competition was open to all Brazilian architects, planners and urbanists. A considerable body of data was assembled to assist the entrants. The winning entry was to be selected by an international jury (including Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer). From 26 entries it selected the scheme (see Figures 2.3 and 7.3a) by Lucio Costa, a consultant town planner, over those by Gon^alves, Millman and Rocha, MMM Roberto (see Figure 7.3c) and Rino Levi (see Figure 7.3b). Costa's selection was controversial because he failed to meet the criteria established by NOVACAP. He, nevertheless, had an idea that captivated the jury and, it seems, President Kubitschek. Oscar Niemeyer became the principal architect.

Costa presented a series of sketches on five cards. His plan was chosen because it was a 'noble diagram' supported by a

Figure 7.3 Plans for Brasilia. (a) The Costa plan with the satellite townships that had grown up by 1967, (b) the Rino Levi proposal and (c) the MMM Roberto firm proposal.

Figure 7.3 Plans for Brasilia. (a) The Costa plan with the satellite townships that had grown up by 1967, (b) the Rino Levi proposal and (c) the MMM Roberto firm proposal.

Institutional use Row houses Park

Service lane School W-3 Street Commerce Shops

Nursery school

Elementary school

Six-story apartments



Motor axis


Three-story apartments School park

Figure 7.4 The plan of the residential superquadras.

convincing report. The scheme featured two great axes. One axis, the monumental, would contain the capital complex; the other, in the form of an arc tied to the drainage pattern of the site, would house the residential and associated sectors. Conceptually the plan had four parts:

1 the government buildings,

2 the residential superquadras (superblocks), (see Figure 7.4)

3 the vehicular circulation pattern,

4 the city centre.

In his original report Costa said the lakefront should be reserved for recreation but ultimately the lake divided the totally planned world from that of the private lots on its south (see Figures 3.1 and 7.3a).

The plan has antecedents in two generic city designs of Le Corbusier: the City for 3 Million (1922) and the Radiant City

(1930). The dwelling units are of uniform height and appearance, and are grouped into superblocks with communal facilities and gardens. The administration, business and finance towers are located at the central crossing of axes. Thus Brasilia was a total urban design north of the lake with NOVA-CAP as the developer, Lucio Costa as planner and Oscar Niemeyer as architect. The team was responsible for the design and implementation of a single-unified product. Beyond the 'plano pilloto', it is a piece-by-piece urban design and satellite towns have grown up somewhat haphazardly plugging into whatever pieces of infrastructure were available (Figure 7.3a).

The funding of the infrastructure and buildings, apart from the foreign embassies and the private lots south of the lake, was provided and controlled by the central government of Brazil. Even so, significant changes were made in the plan due to political and economic


Figure 7.S Two views of Brasília. (a) The monumental axis; an early photograph and (b) the residential superquadras; an early photograph.

Figure 7.S Two views of Brasília. (a) The monumental axis; an early photograph and (b) the residential superquadras; an early photograph.

pressures and other architects became Brasília was built from the centre out-

involved but the design team remained in wards. The first phase involved the design charge and the main goal of making a sym- of the monumental axis and adjacent areas bolic centre for Brazil was fully achieved. to the east and west. When Brasília was inaugurated in 1960, 3 years after ground was broken, the main buildings on the monumental axis, the congress and ministries, the bulk of the highway system and several of the superblocks had been completed. The majority of the citizens of the metropolitan area, however, resided in towns that had sprung up around the construction site and many of the workers lived in construction camps and immigrants from country areas lived in flavellas (shantytowns). The total designed core of Brasilia itself became a city for the middle class (Figure 7.5).

As a symbol for the country Brasilia has been a great architectural success. The sculptural quality of government precinct has been much photographed. As a demonstration of Modernist ideals it has no peer. Brasilia has fostered regional development as intended and has become a major cultural centre. It has become a city. Many people enjoy living there. Brasilia, however, lacks the liveliness of Rio de Janeiro or Sâo Paulo. There is little street-life, no street corners as places to hang out. Its streets are not seams for life, but, rather, edges to superblocks and designed for the free flow of traffic. Yet the car ownership level is not what was predicted. The life of the city has become internalized. The city design represents the complete break from tradition, behav-iourally and physically, that the Modernists sought.

Major references

Del Rio, Vicente and Haroldo Gallo (2000). The legacy of modernism in Brazil: paradigm turned reality or unfinished project? Docomomo Journal 23 (August): 23-7. Epstein, David (1973). Brasilia, Plan and Reality: A Study of Planned and Spontaneous Urban Development. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Evenson, Norma (1973). Two Brazilian Capitals: Architecture and Urbanism in Rio de Janeiro and Brasflia. New Haven: Yale University Press. Holston, James (1989). The Modernist City: An Anthropological Critique of Brasilia. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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