20 June, 2014

The Capital Treatment

Imagine you had the opportunity to design a city.  Not just any city, but a capital city.  A city that would become a metropolis of national and international importance. What would you have it look like?  How would it be laid out?  

This was basically the question facing Brazil roughly 50 years ago when it decided to end the debate over where the new capital of the republic should be located and simply build a new city out of nothing in the dead center of the country.  Thus, in 1960, Brasilia was born.

From above, the main plan of the city looks like an airplane.  The body of the plane is mostly an open grassy mall, with the various governmental buildings, ministries, courthouses, palaces, etc. lining the sides.  The wings of the plane, situated in a north-south orientation, contain the living and commercial areas of the city.  

A floor-sized model of the city shows the "airplane" plan from above,
looking essentially east to west.
Designed by Lucio Costa with architecture by Oscar Niemeyer, who both aligned themselves with communist ideologies, the city was aimed to created a "Utopian" feel.  I went for a run down down the southern axis of the city and can equate it to an old Bugs Bunny or Roadrunner cartoon where the aforementioned protagonist is fleeing his foil - Elmer Fudd or the Coyote, respectively - and the background animation keeps looping over and over again. Strip of store fronts, parking lot, small park, residential strip, large park with bus shelter, residential strip, small par, parking lot, commercial area, larger street/intersection, and repeat. Tucked behind all of this is the same neighborhood layout again and again. If you lived here you would easily be able to find your exact counterpart house in the next neighborhood.

The wings of the plane are organized into "sectors" - commercial, hotel, recreational, etc.  Within the sectors are "quadrants."  It makes finding an address pretty easy, but at the same time there's not a ton of variety in urban design.  Every neighborhood is theoretically the same, making the communist subtext all the more apparent.  Being a UNESCO World Heritage site for design, few infrastructural changes are allowed to be made. 

A part of the National Museum, showing a lot of Niemeyer flair.
Standing outside the (top) of the Metropolitan Cathedral.
The entrance is below ground level.
The inside is spacious and full of light. 
The National Congress Building.
The Senate is under dome and the Congress is under the bowl. The towers are
offices and are purposely situated asymmetrically to the left for visual balance,
but I must be architecturally ignorant because it looks uneven to me still.
The newly remodeled Mane Garrincha Stadium, ready for World Cup action.
(More on that later...)

With all due respect to President Dilma, while Brasilia is an interesting and easily navigable city, unless i were coming here for a specific reason - oh hey, World Cup! - it probably could be done in one solid day.

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