Brasilia, a capital created ex nihilo in the centre of the country in 1956, was a landmark in the history of town planning. Urban planner Lucio Costa and architect Oscar Niemeyer intended that every element – from the layout of the residential and administrative districts (often compared to the shape of a bird in flight) to the symmetry of the buildings themselves – should be in harmony with the city’s overall design. The official buildings, in particular, are innovative and imaginative.
Brasilia, a capital created ex nihilo in the centre of the country in 1956, was a landmark in the history of town planning. The 20th-century principles of urbanism, as expressed by Le Corbusier, have rarely been applied on the scale of capital cities. Only two noteworthy exceptions exist: Chandigarh and Brasilia. Its creators intended that every element, from the layout of the residential and administrative districts (often compared to the shape of a bird in flight) to the symmetry of the buildings themselves, should be in harmony with the city's overall design. The official buildings, in particular, are innovative and imaginative.
The idea of building a capital in the interior of Brazil is an old one, having been proposed on various occasions since the end of the 17th century. When elected president of the Republic of Brazil in 1955, Juscelino Kubitschek made the creation of the capital city a symbol of his policy to upgrade the image of the entire country, to expand industry, and to undertake major construction projects. In 1956 he appointed a commission to determine an exact location for the city and set up an executive body to carry out the construction work. In the same year, Oscar Niemeyer was made Director of the Department of Architecture and Urban Affairs, and Lucio Costa won the competition held for the plan of Brasilia. This choice brought back together the members of a team that had already proved its worth, Le Corbusier having previously been consulted for this project.
The definition of an urban ideal based on the separation of functions, the incorporation of vast natural spaces, and a street plan whose wide traffic lanes broke with the tradition of narrower streets, was implicit in the theoretical training of Costa and Niemeyer. However, the practical development of their own style meant that the primary functionalism of the International Style would be rejected in favor of solutions better adapted to the Brazilian context. In this regard, it may be recalled that Niemeyer had built, in 1942-44 at Kubitschek's request, the group at Pampulha, after having designed, in collaboration with Costa, the Brazilian pavilion at the New York World's Fair in 1939.
The 'pilot plan' that Costa drew up for Brasilia was one of great expressive power. As he himself described it, it was born of the initial gesture of someone designating a place and taking possession of it: a cross formed by two bars intersecting at right angles. This figure was then adapted to the topography and the natural slope of the ground: its orientation was improved by curving the arms of one of the crossbars. The curving north-south axis traces the layout of the wide transportation artery. Along it are the residential zones separated into superquadrats, all practically self-contained, and each possessing its own commercial and leisure centres, green spaces, schools, churches, etc.
The perpendicular east-west axis, known as the Monumental Axis, links the administrative sections of the new city, which became the official capital in 1960. Oscar Niemeyer's most renowned edifices were built there. They are noteworthy for the purity of their forms and their obvious monumental character, the result of an intelligent balance between horizontal and vertical buildings, rectangular volumes and curved surfaces, and the raw, unfinished materials and polished exteriors of certain structures.
Among the most beautiful buildings in the urban landscape of Brasilia are those sited around the Plaza of Three Powers, the Planalto Palace, or the Hall of Government, the Congress, with its twin skyscrapers flanked by the cupola of the Senate building and by the inverted cone of the House of Representatives, and finally the Supreme Court. Other structures of an exceptional artistic quality are the Esplanade of the Ministers, the cathedral, the Pantheon of Juscelino Kubitschek and the National Theatre. Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC