Brasília: A modernist capital

The capital city of Brazil is unusual in that despite the ancient civilisations of the country, and the metropolises constructed from the Portuguese invasion onwards, Brasília only came to be in the mid-20th century.

Rio had been the capital city of the country since 1763 when, in 1957,  it was decided that a more centralised capital was necessary for such a vast country. Brasília was therefore planned from scratch in 1957 to demonstrate Brazil’s modernity, wealth, and optimism for the future, a key part of President Juscelino Kubitschek’s plan for “50 year’s progress in 5.”

A powerhouse of Brazilian design took on the project: Lúcio Costa, Oscar Niemeyer, and Roberto Burle Marx. From a bird’s eye view, the city is shaped like an airplane, an homage to Le Corbusier, who Costa collaborated with and greatly admired.

Within this unusual shape an entire city was planned, from a Cathedral and parks to social housing and government residences. Each project was undertaken with the design trio’s particular creative eye, resulting in an awe-inspiring final result that was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Modernism is a key founding principle of the city, conceived as it was just after the second world war, from which Brazil had emerged relatively unscathed, but still victorious thanks to a certain level of participation. The concept is carried out not just in each individual building, but in the layout and conceptualised idea of how a city should be.

As the world celebrated the Millennium in 2000, Brasília was in the incredible position of being the biggest city in the world that had not existed at the beginning of the century.

 

Today, the planned capital city continues to grow in size, and has also proved a magnet for tourists to the country. Architecture fans in particular come to take in the incredible avant-garde works of a city unbridled by an ancient layout or the weight of a particular history. It may be home to the city’s bureaucratic and political life – and it lacks Rio’s beaches – but Brasília has a magical quality all its own as the physical embodiment of a nation was filled with hope for the future.

All photography by Joana França.