50 years of Brasília

Brasília celebrates 50 years of president Kubitschek’s expansion to the mid-west
In the mid 1950’s, small planes glided above the savannah in the central plateau of Brazil: vast pastures, bare earth roads with difficult access, houses scattered sparsely. On board those small aeroplanes, geographers, architects and government officials mapped out the land that would host the new Brazilian capital. From high above, they picked out the farmhouses and dropped down a note which read: ‘we want to buy your land. This soil will be part of the new federal capital, Brasília.’ The episode is engraved upon the memory of pioneer Jofre Parada, who was one of those in charge of acquisition of the land that would become the Federal District.

In 1956, the president Juscelino Kubitschek pushed forward an old national project: relocating the capital to the central plateau, an idea which emerged more a century earlier, in 1823. Built in under four years, Brasília completes its 50th year on 21st April.

Today, large aeroplanes glide across the skyline of a city of nearly 3m inhabitants, where the empty spaces of barren land are becoming more and more scarce. Since 1960, the city has turned into a giant, still rapidly expanding. The evidence is in the landscape which, when seen from above, reveals the diversity of Brasília and the Federal District.

The urban centre of the capital today is a mosaic of cultures from all over Brazil. “It was taken over by those true Brazilians who built the city and stayed there legitimately. In truth, the dream was smaller than the reality. Reality was bigger, more beautiful. I was satisfied and felt proud for having contributed’’, said urbanist Lúcio Costa in 1987, the year the capital became one of UNESCO’s World Heritage sites.

The innovative lines of the Pilot Plan

‘Brasília has been promoted worldwide for over 40 years for the exceptional character of its architecture and urbanism’’, tells historian Jarbas Marques, ex-director of Historical and Artistic Heritage.

The merit was not solely the result of the work of hundreds of pioneers who sweated away to erect those monuments in less than four years, nor of the genius of architect Oscar Niemeyer, creator of the principal buildings and palaces in the new capital. The grandiose project of Brasília came from a small idea which the urbanist Lúcio Costa presented to president Juscelino Kubitschek in 1956. The project report for ‘Plano Piloto’ begins with the request of an apology, for its simplicity.

The project which won the competition in 1957 and that gave life to the city was ‘’borne of the primary gesture of someone who designates a place or takes charge thereof: two axes crossing at a right angle’’. This is what Lúcio Costa’s report stated, with a letter that presented the urbanist’s idea: the activities divided in sectors, residential blocks, green spaces, and administrative centre.

The modern axes of the capital

For those who live in Brasília, the city is no mystery. Everything has its precise address: the residential blocks are identified by numbers that follow a logical and Cartesian order. The zero point is the Plano Piloto Bus Station, where the two main axes meet. The extensive Monumental Axis hosts the governing centre of the country: the Ministries Esplanade, the National Congress, the Palácio do Planalto, and Praça dos Três Poderes.

Commerce has its own sector, such as hospitals and banks in the north or south. And in the same way, everything has its own space reserved in sectors: clubs, hotels, industries, embassies. In Plano Piloto, the main avenues are parallel and cross the city in only one direction, being North to South. The wings represent two main axes, that cross the Monumental Axis from East to West.

All of the composition of avenues which do not cross, curves and residential blocks is harmoniously complemented by generous green spaces that gave the capital its nickname of ‘Garden City’. Brasília is one of the greenest cities in the country.

Architecture Everywhere

In the gardens of the superblocks and also of the monumental palaces of the capital, another name of modern Brazilian architecture springs forth: Roberto Burle Marx. Graduating in Arts from the University of Berlin, the landscape architect returned to Brazil in the 30s and started working with tropical plants and the Brazilian flora. A friend of Lúcio Costa, he was invited to take part in the urbanistic project of the new capital, colouring and decorating the Plano Piloto with his works.

The presence of Burle Marx can be noted in various famous spots in the capital. In the gardens inside the National Congress and Itamaraty Palace, and on the streets of south block 308. Burle Marx was also responsible for the landscape project of Parque da Cidade, one of the most pleasant places of Plano Piloto, a meeting point for Brasilienses (locals) and Brazilians living in the capital.

Southern Entertainment Sector

In creating the sector themes for the urban centre, Lúcio Costa planned one for entertainment: “mixed in equal measures, part Piccadilly Circus, part Times Square and part Champs Elysées’’. Next to the crossing of the two main axes, the Entertainment Sector hosts a commercial centre, the National Theatre, the Museu da República, The National Library, and one of the oldest and most eclectic buildings of the city, CONIC.

In the heart of the city, CONIC is the synthesis of diversity of Brasiliense culture. The centre comes together in the same space, bars, restaurants, churches, art galleries, sex shops, offices, bookstores, Afro beauty salons, music shops, amid others. ‘’CONIC inspires culture, be it in the presence of literature, theatre or in music’’, says Ivan, owner of a kiosk for old books for over 28 years in the centre of the building.

At night, the place becomes a meeting point for the local youth and avant-garde of the city, who throw parties in underground galleries of the building, whilst at the same time, members of the Universal Church of The Kingdom of God hold a vigil in search of miracles. People play poker games and go to bars and generally have a good time. It all happens amidst the busy street cutting through the centre of the building, which is popular with the city’s sex workers in search of clients and vice-versa.

The capital comes to its 50th anniversary holding true to the principle characteristic it established since its construction: its diversity. By morning, the city is awash with suits and white collars, but at the end of a hard day’s work, the most varied types mingle together in chaotic harmony.

50 years in 5 –  50 years later
The 50th anniversary party of the city reflects the eclectic culture of Brasilia. The monuments on the Ministries Esplanade are the setting of a varied program, including sports, circus presentations, religious music and great names in Brazilian music. Singer Daniela Mercury, country duo Bruno & Marrone and bands NX Zero and Paralamas do Sucesso share the main stage of a concert on the evening of 12st April. The party starts in the morning, with international volleyball matches, followed by a parade for children. In the early afternoon, Catholic artists precede gospel groups, who perform later in the afternoon. The party will wind up with a big fireworks display at the Ministries Esplanade.

Not all Brasilienses are happy with the festivities of the city’s 50th anniversary. The party, which originally promised international artists like Paul McCartney, ended up being overshadowed by a recent political crisis in the local government, leading to Governor Jose Roberto Arruda’s mandate being revoked, and the local government’s situation is still unclear. Ex-governor, current Vice Governor Paulo Octavio (who resigned), and many other members of the local government and legislative power are involved in a corruption case that shocked the country in November 2009. JD

by Flávia Ribas

One Comment

  1. No. But now i will. Thanks for that.

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