Brasilia: An Attempt to Build the Future

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Brasilia, a highly promising and futuristic city was built in the Brazilian highlands in the interior of the country. Construction started in 1956 and was completed in 1960 where it was fully completed in 41 months, a phenomenal feat at the time given the scale and magnitude of the project. Funded by the government, the main purpose in building Brasilia was to create a new capital city, built entirely from scratch, inspired by modern architecture and applying forward thinking urban planning.  Perhaps the largest caveat of Brasilia is that it is a culturally and ideologically misplaced city, based more on European ideals rather than Brazilian ones.

Contrasting from the old world coastal capital of Rio de Janeiro, Brasilia sought to escape the country’s colonial history, focusing on the future of Brazil. Under the direction of Lucio Costa, the principal urban planner, Oscar Niemeyer, the principal architect and Roberto Burle Marx, the principal landscape designer, these three individuals pushed the boundaries of urban planning, constructing larger than life ideas.

Brasilia was stylized with clean lines, rational planning and the abundance of space. In fact so much space, that it was designed not for pedestrians but strictly for cars exclusively with large roads and superhighways. In one sense, the car and its technological promises failed Brasilia, proving that cities thrive on public transportation, local communities and mixed use spaces that included housing, commerce and public works together.

Deciding between Mixed-Use Development vs. Zone Development, Costa opted for the zone development. Theoretically, zoning is used to protect existing residents, businesses or to preserve “the character” of a community. Both concepts when used appropriately in context have their benefits and shortcomings. Brasilia failed in using zone development because it promoted a sterile living environment disassociating locals from normal activities of everyday city life.

Brasilia is considered to be a great place to work, however locals complain about not having activities and street life. Known a weekday city, locals have been known to fly to Sao Paulo or Rio de Janeiro for weekends. A sad reality Brasilia was designed with more focus on aesthetics and design rather than livability. A flaw that was realized much too late.

The problem that lies within Brasilia is that it is very much not a city. It is beautiful and an architectural marvel, but that aside and you left with an unlivable environment that resembles more of a tech company’s “campus” or Tomorrow Land from Disneyland. It misses natural aspects of the city – people walking around, store lined streets, offices nearby. The mixture of commerce and life does not exist which is ultimately its downfall.

The lesson that can be learned from Brasilia is the consequence of over planning, instead of trying to build something organically and the letting growth come from within. It is through the process of trial and error that we are able to determine what works best for a particular environment. Brasilia leaves little room for individuality and imagination, a key component in the livability of a city.

Brasilia was not entirely a complete failure and there were unforeseen success stories in its building.  Brasilia served as a tremendous source of hope and pride for the country. Architecturally, the speed in which the city was built set precedent on the standards for the pace of construction. Brasilia proved to the world the capabilities and ingenuity of it’s people. At the same time, Brasilia also promoted awareness and expansion to the interior of the country and the opportunities that it could bring.

Currently, Brasilia is the largest city in the world that did not exist at the beginning of the 20th century. Incredibly young, this city still has much time to prove that it can evolve into something larger. Something that can rival how cities should be built and more importantly, something that Brazilians can call their own.