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Brasília: Building a city from scratch

Brazil’s capital city Brasilia is a World Heritage site but is it a good place to live and work?

Brasilia was planned from scratch as an ideal city and built on an empty plateau. Niemeyer was the architect and Lucio Costa the urban planner.

The idea was, in Niemeyer’s words, “to build a new capital to bring progress to the interior of Brazil”.

Built in the country’s heartland, Brasilia was to be the opposite of the old coastal capital Rio de Janeiro. Brasilia would be without the colonial legacy, without baroque and classical architecture, without slums.

This was a new city of clean lines, rational planning, and space. Huge amounts of it. Built to be traversed not on foot but in the motorcar.

The issue is not whether it’s a good city or a bad city – it is just not a cityRicky Burdett, London School of Economics

From the air, the city was designed like an airplane – this was an era in love with air travel. The wings were where Brasilia’s bureaucrats would live, the fuselage where they would work in sparkling new ministries.

“I didn’t design the layout of Brasilia. I just did its architecture. And it’s a place where the buildings count for a lot. The city is flat. The horizon stretches away endlessly.

“President [Juscelino] Kubitschek wanted to build a new capital. But he didn’t want to build just any old capital. He wanted to build a city that would represent Brazil. So I dedicated myself to finding a new solution, something that would attract attention,” said Niemeyer in an interview with the BBC in 2000.

His architecture certainly attracted attention.

By common consent his buildings for Brasilia are elegant and astonishing.

“Hauntingly beautiful” and “absolutely magical” is how the British architect Norman Foster describes some of Niemeyer’s buildings in Brasilia. “A great body of work by a great architect.”

“There’s a wonderful optimism and beauty and light about them. They make life richer for everybody who uses them,” says Lord Foster. He calls Niemeyer’s presidential palace, in particular, “a gem”.

But what’s it like to live in Brasilia? …[    ]

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Posted by Kelly Barajas

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