04/06/2008 75 °F
I can remember learning about Brasilia as a child in the 1960´s, a new capital city being created from scratch in the interior of Brazil. In two years, the city will celebrate its fiftieth anniversary and, like the colonial cities we have visited, has been declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations. The concept of Brasilia was originated in the 1700´s as a way to make the capital safer from invasion and to facilitate development of the resource-rich interior. A competition was held in 1957 for the design of the urban plan and in 1960, the capital was moved here from Rio de Janeiro. This city was created on a monumental scale that has been rigorously faithful to designer Lucio Costa´s original concept and continues to be developed according to that plan.
The east-west axis of the city contains the governmental and commercial functions with the Three Powers Plaza terminating it on the east. Here, the executive, legislative and judicial branches of the government form a triangular border of this monumental and somewhat sterile square. What makes this an amazing place, though, is the architecture of Oscar Niemeyer. The buildings all clearly belong to the time when they were built and the monuments all fit in with the design. The beautiful arches of the Niemeyer buildings have become the iconic image of Brasilia.
Just west of the government ministeries is Niemeyer´s Cathedral of Brasilia, clearly more spiritual in its inspiration than the government buildings immediately adjacent. Niemeyer continues the use of curving elements that, here, have been formed into ribs in contrast to the arches found elsewhere.
The Brazilian climate makes it possible to incorporate landscape and integrate it into the architecture in very stunning ways. Niemeyer and Burle Marx collaborated on the Ministery of Justice shown below.
The residential axis of the city, perpendicular to the governmental/commercial, is a modernist "garden city" executed on an enormous scale. Built up of superblocks that each house about 2000 people in 6 story buildings, the population of the residential axis has grown to about 300,000 people. The buildings are built on "pilotis" or columns, that preserve a continuous public open space at the ground level. Scattered through the blocks are neighborhood retail, schools, churches, libraries, that serve groups of 4 or more superblocks. The buildings and spaces are beautiful and well used.
Finally, a building not designed by Niemeyer, the Dom Bosco Sanctuary. A stunning space with walls of blue glass that makes the roof appear to float above the ground.