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Thursday, February 21, 2013


A spectacular view of Brasilia's Presidential Palace on the right and the
office towers of the Congressional Palace to the left.
Virtually all the major cities of the world are centuries (sometimes millenniums) old...except for one. With a population of 2.5 million people, Brasilia is the largest city on earth that did not exist at the beginning of the 20th century. Brasilia, the capital of Brazil, is barely fifty years old. A few days ago (02-08-13) I mentioned Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer in connection with his work in designing New York's United Nations Complex. In doing so, I touched briefly at the end on his most important architectural effort, in designing the major elements of his national capital. In rereading what I wrote, I found I gave the impression Niemeyer was solely responsible for Brasilia being one of the most beautiful capital cities today. Actually, he was only one of three designers.

Lucio Costa's "Big Bird" urban design of Brasilia.
Besides Niemeyer, the principal architect, there was also Lucio Costa the urban planner, and Roberto Burle Marx the landscape designer. Located in the central highlands some 500 miles northwest of the previous capital, Rio de Janeiro, the new Federal District Lucio Costa surveyed in 1956 was a 2,240 square mile blank canvas spread out next to a picturesque lake. Few artist ever encounter the opportunity to create on such a vast scale. Costa's plan called for a central axis at one end of which would be the Plaza of the Three Powers consisting of the Congressional Palace, the Supreme Court, and Executive offices. The Presidential Palace (Palazio da Alvarado) was situated off to one side on a peninsula jutting out into Lake Paranoa. At the opposite end of the broad central axis would the various municipal buildings. Arching off to the north and south of his central axis would be the residential areas of the city. The whole plan, from the air, resembles a bird with the Plaza of the Three powers being the head.

Brasilia's Congressional Palace as designed by Oscar Niemeyer, 1960
In a very real sense, Lucio Costa primed the canvas allowing architect, Oscar Niemeyer to paint the picture of a brand new city in a style marking the best of what Modern Architecture had to offer at the time. His Palacio da Alvorado (Palace of the Dawn, top) is possibly the most beautiful head of state residence in the world. Likewise, Niemeyer's Congressional Palace complex  with its twin monolithic towers, domed Senate, and bowl-shaped House of Delegates, rivals other legislative structures of its kind anywhere in the world in its sheer stately simplicity. Add to these his National Cathedral (bottom, right) and National Library (bottom, left), combined with the impressive repetition of identically shaped government office buildings along Costa's central axis (below)  and the overall effect is a kind of Utopian city of the future. Still more impressive is the fact that the whole basic city was constructed in a mere forty-one months. 
Brasilia's rhythmic office architecture.

Brasilia's National Library,
Oscar Niemeyer
Brasilia's National Cathedral,
Oscar Niemeyer

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