Brasilia | Living in Utopia
Words by Lily McFly
Visuals by Bruno Candiotto
In 1956, The Plano Piloto (Pilot Plan) won a contest out of 5550 projects competing, giving Lucio Costa, the urban planner, and Oscar Niemeyer, the architect, a unique opportunity to plan and build an ideal city from scratch. President Juscelino Kubitschek had an idea to construct a capital in the deserted centre of the country, hundreds of kilometres away from major cities, to bring progress to the interior of Brazil. “He wanted to build a city that would represent Brazil ,” said Niemeyer in an interview with the BBC in 2000. The city of clean lines, rational planning, and social equality was designed, constructed, and inaugurated in 41 months.
As soon as Brasília was completed, it was both praised an criticized. Niemeyer’s futuristic architecture, space-age shapes, and aesthetic simplicity was celebrated by the leading critics. However, utopian ideal hasn’t really worked out with Brasilia. According to the original plans, Brasília was designed to house government authorities and staff. But during the construction period, many Brazilians from all over the country migrated to Brasília. For many, the utopian city was an opportunity for a better life. But Brasília was not built for poor, weak, or uneducated people, so all migrants had to either go back, or live in the satellite cities. Utopian city became a “fantasy island” surrounded by poor and disorganized regions.
When the first man in space, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin visited Brasilia, he said, “I feel as if I stepped on the surface of another planet.” The city is a monument of Modern Movement ideals. For its modernist spaciousness, Brasilia has been criticized by many for failing its social purposes. Huge amounts of space make it difficult for pedestrians, the population is spread out and dependent on the automobile. Its infinite expanse of the landscape is not designed for humans. But a utopian city a priori can’t have the ‘ingredients’ of a normal city: chaotic streets, messy narrow sidewalks and randomness of buildings, shaped by the layers of time. Instead, it has magnificent architecture, large grassy plains, with the horizon stretching away endlessly, and the low-lying cloudscape that makes you feel like you’re on the dome of the earth. And because of that flatness of the city, Niemeyer’s buildings look so hauntingly beautiful. In other words, Brasilia is not just a city; it is a city with a unique image. It was planned to do so much more than just to provide a space for living and working. The greatest achievement of Brasilia was the creation of a new cultural image for the country.