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QUEENS UNIVERSITY BELFAST

SCHOOL OF PLANNING, ARCHITECTURE AND CIVIL ENGINEERING

ESSAY

URBAN DESIGN AS ART

BRASLIA: A UTOPIAN EXPERIMENT IN MODERN URBANISM

ARC3024 History and Theory of Architecture III Brbara Ferronato dos Santos 40117808

07/01/2014

Essay Outline Braslia: a utopian experiment in modern urbanism

Considering urban design simply as an expression of art may lead to a response somewhat limited to a citys necessities. Planning a city demands knowledge and understanding of a large range of fields and probably the most important of those might be observing the city itself. The design of Braslia was created as a response to a recurred desire of an inland capital, being materialized in the 1950s during the term of President Juscelino Kubitschek, with an urban scheme created by the architect Lcio Costa. The paradoxes involved in the modernist plan of Braslia revealed that the reality of the Brazilian society at that moment wasnt the major focus. Instead, the construction of a city based on the Modernism premises and utopias has revealed the complicated direction and consequences that the city and its population still undergo after years Braslia was built. The construction of Braslia was seen as a significant potential key to ensure the social and economic development of the nation. As Holston (1989) says: The New World mythology complements Braslias foundation as an instrument of economic and political development. The matter is that this new idealized plan was considered an instrument of progress and above all, for the planners, as a product of the urban design art, disregarding many of the contrasts in which Brazilian society was immersed at that moment and even afterwards.
But more critical accounts lambast the utopian blueprints of the government and their master planners for an attempt to create a future that radically departs from the past, but fails to generate a city to which rights are equally available to all sections of society. It has been noted that informal settlements have appeared within Braslia, and satellite areas of the city have had the effect of producing inequality in housing and employment conditions. Public space hasto some extent been privatized through the eradication of the street and

zoning systems. Meanwhile, public access to amenities is often dependent on wealth: many connections presuppose car access, which is limited to the wealthy. (Williams and Donald, 2011) The Costa plan set up the outline of a controlled environment in which the city was conceived as a single unified work of art. (Evenson, 1973)

Even though many of the aims of the government and the planners were achieved by this bold citys design, many of the Brazilian societys needs were not contemplated by it.
Although the design provided a beginning for Braslia, it did not provide guidelines for expansion, and it would be inevitable that some modifications in the plan as well as a number of additions would be necessary. The major weakness of Costa plan lay in the relatively static quality, and although the overall conception had merit, it is increasingly evident that a more comprehensive and flexible scheme was needed. (Evenson, 1973) Half a century later, Brasilia is the fourthlargest metropolis in the country and the home of more than two and a half million citizens. Yet fewer than 10 percent are residents of the Pilot Plan area. While the original nucleus accommodates chiefly the upper middle classes, by far the greater portion of the population, covering a wider social range, lives in the twentyseven satellite towns that now exist in the Federal District. (Macedo and Ficher)

We need art, in the arrangements of cities as well as in the other realms of life, to help explain life to us, to show us meanings, to illuminate the relationship between the life that each of us embodies and the life outside us. We need art most, perhaps, to reassure us of our own humanity. However, although art and life are interwoven, they are not the same thing. Confusion between them is, in part, why efforts at city design are so disappointing. It is

important, in arriving at better design strategies and tactics, to clear up this confusion. (Jacobs, 1961)

The city is not a simple composition of built spaces and voids. It is an expression of social life. In the meantime, it is also a way of influencing social relations as its configuration and uses play an essential role in its own dynamics. Therefore, urban design should not be reduced to a civic art. The planning of cities is directly connected to the rise of good quality areas and harmful ones. Braslia reveals itself as great example of urban design based on very theoretical concepts, as it is much closer from a movements utopia than of reality, what brought the city and its inhabitants a series of losses.

Braslia: a utopian experiment in modern urbanism Planning a city demands knowledge and understanding not only of the concepts that governs the present urban design theories. It makes necessary to consider the historicizing and social contextualizing premises that are always attached to the places and the people who inhabit or will inhabit those urban spaces. As one of the greatest exemplar of a city planned according to the Modern Movement premises, Braslia, the capital of Brazil, has come as a very interesting study case, since its design was based on the idea of something completely new, disconnected from any attributes of the past. At the same time it was seen as a social and economic propelling instrument for the nation. Most of all, it is an exemplar of urban design taken as an art expression, disregarding much of the reality of where it was settled, which led to the creation of an unsuccessful utopia. The idea of an inland capital for Brazil was recurrent, according to registers from the middle of the eighteenth century, with the recurrent idea of a New World supported by the construction of a new capital in the Central Plateau of Brazil (Holston, 1989, p 16). Nevertheless, only in the twentieth century this idea started to become something close to reality. Getlio Vargas, in the 1930s was responsible for the creation of a new constitution, which incorporated the ordinance of a new capital located in the geographic center of the country. He was also responsible for a plan which main objectives were the conduction of the nation to modernization, as well as social and economic progress. However, only in the 1950s, under Juscelino Kubitscheks administration this goal was achieved. Also included in a movement, with the slogan 50 anos em 5 O Plano de Metas (Fifty Years of Progress in Five Years) which aimed to get the nation out of its underdeveloped condition due to the lack of efficient social and economic public policies in the history of the country (Evenson, 1973), this goal, the building of a completely new capital, was seen mainly as a propellant instrument of progress, at the same time it was considered a symbol of the new nation and its capacity of fast development.

The first premise is that the plan for a new city can create a social order in its image; that is, one based on the values that motivate its design. The second premise projects the first as a blueprint for change in the context of national development. It proposes that the new city should be a model of radically different social practices. (Holston, 1989)

Figure 1. The map expresses the centrality of the new capital, evidencing its distance
from other state capitals of the country. The occupation of the Central Plateau, was also seen by its important role of densify the interior of the country. (Staubli, 1966)

The creation of a company managed by the government, regards as the initial measure for the construction of Braslia. NOVACAP, this new corporation, would be responsible for the direct construction of the new city (Evenson, 1973). Nevertheless, a design should be established, and the way found to set it was through a national competition, which jury was composed by many international jurors. The competition held in 1956, and was won by Lcio Costa with his city plan based on Modernist concepts. The architect Oscar Niemeyer would be responsible for the design of the buildings, in other words, by the detailing of Costas Plan. Lcio Costa may be considered as one of the direct ones responsible for the establishment of Modern Movement ideals in the Brazilian culture and his statement ensures his trust in Le Corbusier principles, not as one example among several others, but as the Holy Scripture of Architecture (Lcio Costa in Evenson, 1973). Under the influence of Le Corbusiers theories, especially after his two visits to Rio de Janeiro, in 1929 and 1936, discussions concerning the role of the architect and urban planner regarding the city as an instrument of social changes, as well as an expression of a new technological era, had raised and become the main discourse of the a new generation of Brazilian architects. Yet, this group was not only composed by the young, it was also part of it, a mature group of architects that had actually paved the road for changes, since they could no longer find adequate responses for the city and architecture problems in the traditional concepts, especially those ones based on Beaux-Arts theories which had large influence, particularly on the Architecture School of Rio de Janeiro. The Modern Movement ideas were officially settled in the Congrs Internationaux dArchitecture Moderne (CIAM) through some manifestos, which the most important one was The Athens Charter. These manifestos indicated objectives for the new modern city plan, based on the establishment of five functions that were initially four. These were housing, work, recreation, traffic and public core for administrative activities (Holston, 1989, p 31). Lcio Costas plan of Braslia represented the embodiment of these ideas that represented a special influence over the architects and urban planners politically aligned with the Left, as it also

brought the ideals of the city that should belong to everyone, regardless of the economic or social conditions. The design of Braslias Plano Piloto (Pilot Plan) was apparently based on the establishment of two main axes crossing at right angles which represented the main traffic roads of the city, seeking a separation of the motorized transport and pedestrian flux, as Le Corbusier had proposed, based on highways precepts. From the main motor axis, the streets for local traffic were designed. The monumental scale is established in the Eixo Monumental (Monumental Axis), running east to west, where the government administration buildings are settled, revealing itself as public core from the modern city (Staubli, 1966). In the Eixo Monumental, the main realizations from Oscar Niemeyers architecture in the capital may be found. The buildings express the main concepts of Modern Architecture as well as the unique characteristics that Modern Brazilian Architecture has earned in an outbreak of original creativity.

Figure 2. The draws of Lcio Costas design for Braslia emphasizes the creation of both axes crossing at right angles, the posterior adaptation of North-South axis to the natural conditions of the site, such as water drainage and topography and the settlement of the other functions in this structure.
(Staubli, 1966)

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The housing scale is represented by the Asa Norte and Asa Sul (South and North wings) arranged along the north-south axis. They are composed by superquadras (superblocks), another concept presented by Le Corbusiers ideals for the modern city, each one with an arrangement of apartment blocks built over pilotis, with a predetermined height that should be respected. These buildings, in the form of slabs, were positioned at right angles to one another (Evenson, 1973) and the free space between them represents the main green areas of the city that were thought as the main spaces for leisure and recreation.
Costas scheme represented the most complete realization of the French architects urban design. Like Le Corbusier, Costa sought to provide a way to have ones cake and eat it to enjoy the benefits of a technically advanced. Le Corbusier had viewed the modern city as a symbol of mans technical control of his environment, once defining the city as the grip of man upon nature. A human operation directed against nature. In similar spirit was Costas observation that Braslia was a deliberate act of conquest. (Evenson, 1973)

The residential units were designed, in connection to the citys plan, with the proposal of equality. The slabs were very similar in sense of access to the amenities of the urban fabric, as well in their physical characteristics, as faades, materials application and their settlement. Braslia, as a result of the embodiment of Modernist ideals, would find in these marks the security of full coexistence of different social classes, and no social stratification.

. The residents of the superquadra are forced to live as if in the as if in the sphere of one big family, in perfect social coexistence, which results benefits for the children who live, grow up, play and study in the same environment of sincere camaraderie, friendship, and wholesome upbringing. And thus is raised, on the plateau, the children who will construct the Brazil of tomorrow, since Braslia is the glorious cradle of a new civilization. (jornal da NOVACA in Holston, 1989)

Inevitably, this propose failed not only in consequence of the opposite aims that permeated the ideas of the government leaders and urban designer and architect, as discussed forward. But first of all, its lack of success settles on its essential utopian premise. A drastic social stratification was one of the main characteristics of Brazilian society at the time Braslia was designed, and even afterwards. The denial in observing the existing cities, their dynamics and conformation, as well as the present social conditions, led Costas plan to fail. One of its critical points was that the (proposed) design and organization of Braslia was meant to transform Brazilian society (Holston, 1989). What leads us to one of its most complicated weaknesses, is the fact the Braslia wasnt effectively designed for the Brazilian people in its actual condition, it wasnt designed for what people were, but instead, the plan was made for what people would become someday, being the city itself the changing propeller. Jane Jacobs has positioned herself as one of the main critics of modernist urban design. In The Death and Life of the Great American Cities, the journalist and great observer of the city emphasizes, based on her vision, that art and city dont represent convergent ideas. When we deal with cities we are dealing with life at its most complex and intense. Because this is so, there is a basic aesthetic limitation on what can be done with cities: A city cannot be a work of art. (Jacobs, 1961) Clearly Jacobs tightly rejects the ideals of the orthodox city planning, as she calls the modernist urban design. The vision exposed in her book may seem a bit exaggerated when applied to all attempts of urban design. Still, in Braslia, her accusation seems to find the perfect target, since the plan of the new city was the embodiment of Modern Movement precepts, disregarding most of the social contrasts in which Brazilian society was immersed, as well as the observation of existing cities and their failures and successes.
They (planners) assumed that the social contrasts of Brazil were in Braslia already negated.(Holston, 1989)

The refusing response to the typical life in Brazilian cities, once more, is revealed with the establishment of big roads of traffic segregating the pedestrian circulation. Even the local

streets, werent designed for pedestrian use. People should enjoy the outdoor recreation in the superquadras, leaving the streets for its main functional role, the circulation. This idea operates on the promise that city seek the sight of emptiness, obvious order and quiet (Jacobs, 1961). The designation of streets to this simple purpose, eliminates the public and social activities by it supported. In Brazil, where streets have a typical reinforced role in social activities, being a promoter of meetings and people interaction, the initial lack of street life, was not seen as an innovation, but as the feeling of something missing that was actually rooted in the culture of the Brazilians.
One of the most profound shocks of migrating to Braslia is the discovery that it is a city without crowds. It is not the absence of crowding that migrants complain of, but rather the absence of the social life of crowds that they expect to find in the public places of a city.... The absence of an urban crowd has earned Braslia the reputation of a city that lacks human warmth. (Holston, 1989)

Another factor that has contributed to the maintenance of utopia Braslias plan status, was the discrepancy between the government leaders aims and the ones from the planners of the city. For Braslias construction, a great number of workers was required. As commonly happens in Brazil, even in the present days, most of them came from Center-West and Northeast, this last one, still one of the poorest regions of Brazil (Epstein, 1973). As the city was built, a phenomenon that supposed to be temporary, according to the planners view, had become a permanent reality of Braslia. The workers who achieved the dream of the new city, were not intended to leave the Federal District. Due to financial issues or even to the feeling of right to the new city, the candangos, as those workers used to be called, would require the right to a residence in Federal District. As a response to those requirements and in an attempt to maintain the main Braslia character, the planning of cidades satlites (satellite cities) started to take a shape. The planned satellite cities that originally should be supplied with urban and community facilities, were built with the minimal amenities that could be provided. Actually, this lack of

investment on the city designed for the workers, is no more than a reflection of how Brazilians politicians frequently deal with low-income people, denying them the right to better conditions as a real opportunities of social mobility. It represents a recurrent happening observed in Brazils history. As it can be observed, even in the present days, the Northeast sector of the country, from where a significantly part of the candangos are from, still suffers exactly with the same issues from the seventeenth century.
By denying residential rights to the construction workers, it intended to keep the Brazil they represented from taking root in the inaugural city. The difficulty with this solution is that it destroyed the utopian project. The government planners necessarily and even unconsciously used the only means available to secure their objective: the mechanisms of social stratification and repression that constitute the very society they sought to exclude. In so doing, they introduced the principles and processes of this society into the foundations of Braslia. (Holston, 1989)

Figure 3.
Buddy, I built this city. This advertising from Esso Oil Company for Braslias inauguration aimed to point to the candangos and the right to the city that they built and which could never been enjoyed by them. (Holston, 1989)
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The Pilot Plan area that, according to Lcio Costa, should be destined to residents from different social classes, promoting a coexistence of people in different economic conditions, but still, all of them with the ensured right to the new city, that should become a symbol of the new Brazilian society, less stratified, and more equal, gradually distanced from these ideals. With the governments endorsement to the establishment of an open housing market in the Plano Piloto, the access to a housing unit in Braslia, became restrict to those with greater economic condition (Decker, 2000). Progressively, the low-income population and even the medium-class started to migrate, when not already established there, to the peripheral satellite cities. Paradoxically to Costas plan, wealth had become a crucial condition to own the right to Braslias city, either as a condition to inhabit the city, or simply as a condition to circulate in the Plano Piloto, since many connections presuppose car access, which is limited by the wealthy. (Williams and Donald, 2011). The requirement for a new capital set by the Brazilian government in the early and midtwentieth century as the symbol of progress of a young and in development nation, in a first moment, seemed to be aligned with the ideals of the city proposed by the Modern Movement, as it carries the character of a new ideal built based on the technological and industrial advancement. However, Braslia was actually built, over the settlement of two paradox principles, which became evident after its construction. Lcio Costas plan proposed, even that implicitly, that the new city should be designed to achieve the aims of the Modern Movement, which assumed that the main role of the city was to ensure social transformation through its design, creating an egalitarian city, what should be reflected in society as a whole. Nevertheless, as the city was consolidated, the government revealed its interests in economically exploring the city, as well as in maintaining the social stratification structure recurring in Brazilians society, on the new city that should represent a symbol of not only economic, but also social progress.

Figure 4. This map scheme evidences the necessary expansion of the city beyond the
Plano Piloto and how the original plan of Braslia failed to contain the population growth. Originally the plan would contain the population of 500,000 residents. The reality, is that more 2,500,000 inhabit Braslia and their satellites cities. (AA Graduate School)

Still, Lcio Costas design retained a serious weakness that very possibly would have made impossible the success of his endeavor, if it were not for the other contradictions. Considering his design as a simple expression of Modern Architecture, disregarded from social contrasts of Brazil, Braslia was seen as a denial of those contrasts and an undeveloped past, as it was its role to be a new solution for these issues. The guidelines for a future development and expansion of the city, also had not been provided by Costas plan. The Plano Piloto presents today only 10 percent of the Federal District population, which is mainly composed of upper

middle classes, by far the greater portion of the population covering a wider social range, lives in the twentyseven satellite towns that now exist in the Federal District (Macedo and Ficher). The modern utopian experience of Braslia reflects that a city plan may not be simply regimented as a work of art. Above all, a city is a reflection of society, and even though positive changes in inhabitants lives are possible of being implemented through its partial planning, it is always of major importance that the context of the existing society guides any design, as well as the observation of the existing cities as a laboratory of the urban science.

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References and Bibliography


" " Decker, Thomas (2000). The Modern City: Revisited. Spon Press: London. Epstein, David (1973). Brasilia, Plan and Reality: A Study of Planned and Spontaneous Urban Development. University of California Press, Ltd. London, England. Evenson, Norma (1973). Two Brazilians Capitals: Architecture and Urbanism in Rio de Janeiro and Braslia. Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts. Hartford. Holston, James (1989). The Modernist City: An Anthropological Critique of Braslia. The University of Chicago Press. Chicago. Jacobs, Jane (1961). The death and life of great American cities. John Dickens and Conner Ltd. Northampton. Staubli, Willy (1966). Brasilia. Verlagsanstalt Alexander Koch GmbH. Germany.

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Williams, Austin and Donald, Alastair, (2011). The lure of the city, Pluto Press. Santos, M. Milton (1964). Brasilia, a Nova Capital Brasileira. Caravelle (1963-1965), No. 03, pp 369-385. http://www.jstor.org/stable/40851588 [13/12/2013]

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Macedo, Danilo Matoso and Ficher, Sylvia. Brasilia: Preservation of a Modernist City https://www.getty.edu/conservation/publications_resources/newsletters/28_1/brasilia.ht ml [14/12/2013] Projective cities Architectural Association Graduate School http://projectivecities.aaschool.ac.uk/wpcontent/uploads/2012/11/Gabriellazslide6.jpg> [12/2013]

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