Unoriginal impressions of Brasilia

by Chris Bertram on June 2, 2013

I’m in Brasilia for two nights, which is a little bit unexpected. I’ve travelled here for a Rousseau Colloquium in nearby Pirenopolis but it turns out I’m not going there until tomorrow, hence this opportunity to explore Brazil’s capital city.

I say, “opportunity”, but that is a bit misleading since the pedestrian here has to find the few footpaths that have been grudgingly placed along six-lane highways and then, when necessary, seize the chance to run across said highways in order to get from A to B.

As a new city, built on the red highland earth in the 1950s, Brasilia incorporates all the best town-planning theory of that era. It is rigidly divided into different zones or sectors, each dedicated to a particular function or activity. Commerce and government have their designated zones, and so do hotels. Apparently, nobody had the idea that the people staying in hotels might want to see anything other than more hotels …

Having said that, there is something magnificent about the fading modernism of the place, particularly the Congress Building and the Praca dos Tres Poderes. Oscar Niemeyer had a good eye for form and structure; pity the poor humans. On a bus tour this afternoon we whizzed past some government building, all clean and pure, but it seemed to be guarded by people dressed in something like Swiss Guards’ uniform: two different notions of how to project the state’s majesty, incongruously juxtaposed. But the strongest clash with the modernist ideal comes from nature, from the cracked concrete, the uneven surfaces, the red earth and plant life pushing through. A city of two million people where nobody lived before; a triumph of bureaucratic will, but for how long?

When I made some remarks along these lines on Facebook, Michael Rosen directed me to a clip from Robert Hughes’s The Shock of the New. As he puts it, “miles of jerry-built Platonic nowhere infested with Volkswagens.” Needless to say the film is followed by angry comments saying that Hughes doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Well 48 hours in a place hardly gives me the right to an opinion either, and, as a fan of James C. Scott’s critique of high modernism, I’m already ideologically predisposed. But Hughes seems broadly correct to me. Enjoy



Josh G. 06.02.13 at 10:50 pm

Le Corbusier’s legacy was truly vile. That man shouldn’t have been allowed to design anything beyond an outhouse.


Matt 06.02.13 at 11:24 pm

Thanks for liking to that, Chris. In addition to the like you quote, I really liked these: “The reality is worse than anything anyone has said about it” and “Nothing dates faster than people’s fantasies about the future”. Useful lines for many occasions.

But, I’m not always sure that “planed” spaces must be awful , even when strange and striking. 3 places I’ve spent time come to mind to me, only one of them really unpleasant: The Empire State Plaza in Albany New York, which is quite alien and not at home in the city, but striking, often functional, and enclosed enough by the city that it becomes a piece of it, as opposed to something oppressive. Next, the main campus at SUNY Albany- this is the awful one- high modern, contained, but set outside the main part of the city such that it’s almost impossible to get anywhere without driving. I found it extremely alienating, and a hard place to work. Finally, the planed city in Russia, Zelenograd (“Green city”), almost a suburb of Moscow these days because of sprawl, it was planned as a high-tech center for the Soviet Union (the silicon valley of the Soviet Union, supposedly) but, it mixed “micro-regions” of high-rise buildings with patches for forest (hence the name) that had very pleasant paths through them, and it was easy to walk to shopping areas, movies, etc. It was one of the stranger places that I had lived, but not at all alienating or inhumane, despite being essentially completely planned (by central planers, even, I suppose.)


Peter Murphy 06.02.13 at 11:41 pm

Matt: I doubt it’s as simple as “planned versus unplanned”. To paraphrase Hughes, Brasilia’s tragedy is when the designers thought about “space, not place”, and “about single, rather than multiple meanings”. It sounds like the people who designed Zelenograd were avoiding those flaws.

Brasilia reminded me a little of Canberra – another planned city with loops and roundabouts ahoy. But few of the buildings are that tall, and Walter Burley Griffin had no problem with the humble sidewalk.


P O'Neill 06.03.13 at 12:16 am

One aspect of it was a developing country trend as also seen in e.g. Islamabad which leaving aside other issues in trying to get around the place, never envisaged a role for pedestrians. Then you’ve got the Arab mutations of this where an obsession with shapes that looked cool on a map (e.g. Kuwait City’s concentric circles) joined with the engineer’s lust for ramming an expressway through the “old” city (e.g. Cairo). Now you’ve got a region wondering why its citizens seem so alienated from its capital cities. The contrast between Istanbul and its former imperial hinterland cities in terms of being a city for people is pretty stark, and this weekend the former’s residents showed their attitude to the pave it over mentality.


marcel 06.03.13 at 12:28 am

I’ve never been to any of the places mentioned above but from what I’ve heard about them, they would all be vastly improved if they could be, as Matt puts it, planed. This has not worked out so well in the US (where it’s called urban renewal), but that involved areas that had developed organically unlike these deliberate cities that satisfy someone’s shadowy vision of the platonic ideal of a city.


Tom Slee 06.03.13 at 12:30 am

Correct or not, Hughes’s tumbling sentences are always hypnotically entrancing. I believe everything he says.


PJW 06.03.13 at 2:03 am

Looks as if the place might have some Ruin Value.


Thiago Oppermann 06.03.13 at 2:10 am

I am not sold on these analyses of the failure of high modernist city planning. First, they aren’t exactly disasters comparable to forced collectivization; it’s more that they fail their utopian goals where other cities, often with much worse design or lack of it, fail to have utopian goals. In the case of Brasilia, it would be sensible to compare it with unplanned third world cities that experienced dramatic population increases: it starts to look a lot better put next to the boom towns of Amazonia and Mato Grosso, or even western Rio.

Second, you’d probably want to find a city founded in the 1950s: the critique that it is impossible to design a livable city, to predict all the organic complexities of communal life, etc… might be true, but that doesn’t mean that given enough time people won’t be able to make a living city from utopian bones. And that is what happened in Brasilia; much of the discourse about its ‘failure’ is that it evolved into something not foreseen by its designers. Sure, people have to work against the grain to do so, but that’s also the case with other cities.

On the other hand, there is a distinctive social texture to these designed cities. Brasilia and Canberra are probably awful places to visit, but they are not such bad places to live in. Public life tends to be less visible to a casual visitor – the effect is especially dramatic in Latin America, but Canberra is also notorious. I’ve driven across Canberra on a Sunday afternoon and not seen a single person, but Canberra is actually not a bad place for arts, it has a cosy literary scene, it used to have a great music scene before the ANU liquidated its music school. Brasilia was probably second only to Sao Paulo for its punk scene in 1980s. It’s like Liverpool had bad weather, Brasilia had brutalism. The very alienating nature of the architecture turns out to be like a petri dish for new social forms.


Donald A. Coffin 06.03.13 at 3:23 am

I can’t find it now (my books by her are still packed away), but somewhere Jane Jacobs has scathing things to say about Brasilia…


LFC 06.03.13 at 3:31 am

Josh G:
Le Corbusier’s legacy was truly vile. That man shouldn’t have been allowed to design anything beyond an outhouse.

I think the issues here are mainly about city planning and ambitious state-directed projects (I haven’t read ‘Seeing Like a State’, but isn’t that what Scott meant by high modernism?), not architectural style.


LFC 06.03.13 at 3:38 am

Personally I like ‘modernist’ architecture, at least more than a lot of the stuff that followed it.


John Quiggin 06.03.13 at 5:06 am

Canberra represents the ideal solution. Build lots of modernist/fascist/neoclassical buildings, then hide them all behind lots of trees. It works perfectly to the extent that, viewed from the right elevation, the city looks like a forested plain, dotted with occasional inhabited clearings


Tony Lynch 06.03.13 at 7:02 am

I hailed a taxi.
“Take me to the city centre” I said.
“Mate” he said, “this is it.”


hix 06.03.13 at 9:22 am

Tonys story could have happend to me in any city in Florida, they all look like they have no city center to the European eye.


M2S 06.03.13 at 10:13 am

Thanks for sharing the video, and your personal impressions too. I moved to Brasília as a nine-year old and lived there until my mid-twenties. Hughes speaks about being there twenty years since its inauguration, which would place his reporting in the late seventies. It was indeed a strange city, seen from the scale of the individual. Brasília had no ‘street life’, and neighbours could live years next door and not know each other. If this sounds natural in a planned administrative city built in the middle of nowhere, there are few things that could be as alien to Brazilian national identity at the time, and even today. It was built for cars, embodiment of modernity at the time (Brazil had been ‘trying to industrialize’ aggressively since WWII), and conceived for a quarter or a fifth of its current population.

The building of the city, accomplished in four years is a tale unto itself and would deserve a discussion in its own right, for this hurried construction tells a lot about what Brazil was, and hoped to be, at the time. Much of that ‘developmentalist’ dream was destroyed a few years after, with the dictatorship. And the urban design of that capital and its remoteness to the larger urban and economic centres of the country certainly helped to keep political unrest off its streets for the 21 years of authoritarian rule. I recall vividly being among a million marching citizens calling for Fernando Collor de Mello’s destitution in 1992, and when the protesters arrived on the broad, open expanses of the ‘ministerial esplanade’, we would feel dispirited by our own smallness in comparison to the grandeur of the open space, of its total indifference to our presence. Certainly this was a deliberately sought-after effect. Bravo, Lucio Costa.

And yet, having lived there, I can say that there are many aspects of its odd, unnatural organization that can be greatly enjoyable. And despite all the anonymous, ‘ahistorical’ spaces on which it was designed, the urban plan and the buildings themselves have evolved by their use, by the obstinate refusal of the pedestrian to be wiped out entirely, by the refusal of ; there is an interesting ‘peoples history’ of Brasília that cannot be seen from its core, but that explains the numerous ‘satellite cities’ surrounding Brasilia, and the social dynamics that have shaped the city, its environs, and the broader Centre-West region of Brazil. Brazil would have been a very different country without Brasília, and I dare say a far smaller country had this capital not been built.


M2S 06.03.13 at 10:16 am

(There’s a bit missing there: ‘by the refusal of individuals to have their history blotted out by the “progressive” and forward-looking nature of the project;’)


John Quiggin 06.03.13 at 10:41 am

An Australian impression of our leading modernist architect, the subject of a famous defamation action establishing a defence of fair comment for cartoonists


Phil 06.03.13 at 10:42 am

I wish ‘urbanism’ or a similar term was commonly used in English – l’urbanisme means so much more than ‘town planning’. But it isn’t, which gives Debord’s chapter on ‘urbanism’ in The Society of the Spectacle an unwarrantedly abstract and ‘theoretical’ air. Posts like this – and polemics like Hughes’ – are good for giving content to the U-word:

Urbanism is the modern fulfillment of the uninterrupted task which safeguards class power: the preservation of the atomization of workers who had been dangerously brought together by urban conditions of production. The constant struggle that had to be waged against every possible form of their coming together discovers its favored field in urbanism. After the experiences of the French Revolution, the efforts of all established powers to increase the means of maintaining order in the streets finally culminate in the suppression of the street.

I read those words for the first time on my first visit to Milton Keynes. I looked from the page to the landscape and the landscape back to the page…


Tom Slee 06.03.13 at 11:08 am

On Phil’s point, I recently read and was wowed by David Harvey’s essay collection, “Rebel Cities”, part of which is a plea for urbanism as social movement (especially Chapter 3 and 4). Current events in Turkey were sparked by development plans for a park.


Kieran Healy 06.03.13 at 12:58 pm

A supercharged Canberra.


Alex 06.03.13 at 3:35 pm

conceived for a quarter or a fifth of its current population

“You keep using that word failure. It doesn’t mean what you think”?


ajay 06.03.13 at 5:04 pm

Looks as if the place might have some Ruin Value.

You know who else was concerned that his massive building projects should look good as ruins in centuries to come? (Really, he was.)

Good point from Alex at 21, which also goes to 4’s “Now you’ve got a region wondering why its citizens seem so alienated from its capital cities” – the inhabitants of Egypt aren’t alienated from Cairo to the point of not wanting to live there. Cairo’s over 9 million people. Islamabad is growing fast.

But, vaguely related: which famous Egyptian architect is this talking about?

“X was concerned about modern development and the construction of high-rise buildings in Cairo and other ancient cities in the Middle East. He believed that the large, impersonal, and often ugly apartment blocks built in the 1960s and 1970s had ruined old neighborhoods, and took away privacy and dignity from people. X’s own family moved into such an apartment block in 1990, which to him was “a shabby symbol of Egypt’s haphazard attempts to modernize and its shameless embrace of the West.” For his thesis, X focused his studies on the ancient city of Aleppo in Syria. He explored the history of Aleppo’s urban landscapes and the general themes of the conflict between Arab civilization and modernity. X criticized how the modern skyscrapers and development projects in Aleppo were disrupting the fabric of that city by blocking community streets and altering the skyline.”


js. 06.03.13 at 5:25 pm

Hmm, I actually think it looks brilliant, though building a city around the automobile is quite unfortunate. Anyway, if one cares to look beyond bizarre modernist architecture = fascism! claims, here’s a longish piece on Niemeyer from several years ago: from the (NY) Times


Charlie W 06.03.13 at 5:59 pm

#18: not sure. From experience of working with developers, I think the suppression of the street is perhaps more to do with wanting shoppers to never leave the premises. A street is shared (it’s a gap between properties); the inverse of the street is therefore the mall, where all circulation spaces are entirely within a single ownership. The removal of any space for public assembly is incidental to this commercial driver. Further, the car makes the mall possible, in that building a large mall is much more affordable at a city fringe, and cars allow people to get there. Air conditioning is another enabler.


Substance McGravitas 06.03.13 at 6:04 pm

Air conditioning is another enabler.

As is heat. It’s understandable if people want to drive here and there rather than window shop if it’s 40 below.


Charlie W 06.03.13 at 6:06 pm

I’d also want to stress that modernism – the style – has very little to do with the phenomena and processes which have led to what I think most contemporary designers would now call anti-urbanism: i.e. atomised, car-dependent, public space deprived patterns of development. Modernism just happened to come along at more or less the same time. If it hadn’t, you’d have gotten much the same thing, only rendered in Art Deco, or Frank Lloyd Wright-ish, or whatever. Everyone was excited by the possibilities of cars when they were new (and helicopters, even) and it makes no sense to single out Le Corbusier or Niemeyer or any modernist.


Charlie W 06.03.13 at 6:08 pm

#25: Torontonians never go above ground in winter, I’ve heard.


Substance McGravitas 06.03.13 at 6:11 pm

This is the +15 map of Calgary. Bridges from one building to another in the downtown core. I think Minneapolis has something similar.


Igor Belanov 06.03.13 at 6:32 pm

Charlie W @26

Quite right, there is a difference between modernism as a style and modernisation as a process, or an ideology. Park Hill in Sheffield was intended to offer ‘streets in the sky’ and a community spirit plus mod cons, and separation of people and cars was supposed to work to the benefit of pedestrians in theory. But there is also something of an overlap. Politically the appearance of modern offices, flats, schools, roads was thought to provide evidence of progress, and a thriving vigorous economy, while the application of technology in the form of prefabrication, new construction methods etc., would get rid of housing waiting lists and avoid labour and resource shortages. Many architects, engineers and planners of the ‘modernist’ era were noted propagandists of these kind of features, or tended to have grandiose hopes about the social benefits of their designs.


etbnc 06.03.13 at 7:03 pm

Brasilia is also one of the cities examined in the documentary film, Urbanized. I spent a couple of days in the city shortly after seeing the film. I found the criticism of the place resonated with my experience visiting it.

I went from Brasilia to Quito, Ecuador. Quito seemed more functional, albeit chaotic.


Cranky Observer 06.03.13 at 7:12 pm

etbnc @ 7:03:
Jane Jacobs would say (and did say) that it is functional _because_ it is chaotic.



Trader Joe 06.03.13 at 7:20 pm

Toronto is well connected underground in the central city. Houston is much the same except its summer, not winter, when no one is on the street.

Cincinnati, Calgary and Minneapolis have in common extensive sky-walks that allow one to move between and among the buildings without going outside (although sometimes a quick pop out and back might save a bit of walking).

The facilitator in all of these ventures was the creation of a sprawling retail network throughout the skyway/underground such that building owners were willing to turn over the related space of their building in exchange for the rents (often a cut of the revenues generated) from the commerce. A good selection of shops in or near the building also helps maintain higher rents for general tennants too (or so I’m told).

A win-win for these downtowns and not something entirely ‘planned’ up front but rather something which emerged over time.


Tom Slee 06.03.13 at 7:28 pm

Substance #28: This is the +15 map of Calgary

… as immortalized by Don McKellar in Waydowntown, wherein “A group of young employees bet a month’s salary, winner takes all, on who can last the longest without going outside”.


casino implosion 06.03.13 at 8:12 pm

@27 You’re actually thinking of Montreal.


maidhc 06.03.13 at 8:41 pm

M2S, thank you for the interesting observations. It’s an question whether an unsuitability for political protest is merely a byproduct of automobile-centric design or a deliberate feature.

The new urbanism now being touted to replace the car-based city seems to feature the replacement of actual public spaces by privately owned quasi-public environments from which political speech can be excluded.


novakant 06.03.13 at 9:14 pm

The results of urban planning can be awesome, e.g. Haussmann’s Paris and the lack thereof can be awful, e.g. London.

But modernism and urban planning have generally speaking been a toxic combination – I say that as a great admirer of modernism in other disciplines (and even with regard to architecture if we only consider private homes for rich people).


Tom Hurka 06.03.13 at 9:58 pm

1) In Toronto it’s the business centre that’s connected underground. The expensive shopping district, on Bloor Street, isn’t. There people walk outside in winter.

2) I grew up in a planned suburb of Toronto (the archetypal 1950s planned Canadian suburb, in fact), and it was brilliantly done. Lots of green space, separate walking routes between neighbourhoods, and many roads (crescents, cul de sacs) that didn’t have much car traffic. They were perfect for road hockey, which we played constantly. And there was lots of neighbourhood socializing, house to house. Later Canadian suburbs cut corners, e.g. on the green space, and weren’t nearly as successful. But this was 1950s planning at its best, and it was great.

3) The neighbourhood initially had an open-air shopping centre, where you walked between stores in winter. In the 1960s it became an enclosed mall. Recently the mall was torn down and the stores are now open-air again. The idea seems to be that the enclosed mall is a thing of the past, or now something down-market.

4) That said, one thing I heard in Calgary, about the +15 system, is that the standard town plan was developed in Italy, for cities with Italian weather. Northern cities with serious winters don’t have that weather and are being silly if they retain a layout that presupposes it.

5) But THAT said, I have no desire to live in Brasilia or any place like it. I’m now in an Edwardian neighbourhood that I suspect Chris would approve, with barely any hint of modernism. And well-built enough that it will stay that way.


Jeremy 06.03.13 at 11:08 pm

Matt @2, interestingly, when looking for more about The Shock of the New, since it was before my time, I happened to recognize Empire State Plaza in a different episode. Shortly before that part, I swear that colonnade he’s walking through reminds me of SUNY Albany, though it’s actually Fascist Italy. Definitely an interesting bit on what he calls “the architecture of state power,” and how it looks just like “the architecture of democracy.”


Matt 06.03.13 at 11:50 pm

Thanks, Jeremy. I can say that I always found the Empire State Plaza interesting, not alienating. There were often free concerts there, for example, with people sitting on the steps of the State Historical Museum, or the bureaucrats we’re told we can’t imagine eating their lunch outside. I’m told that The Egg (the very odd and distinctive concert hall) was a great place to hear classical music, though my meager stipend at the time tended me towards the free concerts. So, I wonder if Hughes is taking things too far here, really. (I’ll add that the Stalinist architecture I’ve seen is nothing like this at all- the “wedding cake ” buildings in Moscow are 100% different, as was the (sadly now gone) old Hotel Moskva and the buildings most associated with Stalinism.)

I am no expert on this stuff, but I do think that this sort of architecture is not itself the problem, but rather, whether it’s integrated into anything, whether the whole setting makes it oppressive or not. I found the main SUNY Albany campus deeply depressing, but that was because it was so isolated, self-contained, and hard to get to, while I liked the Empire State Plaza a lot. This makes me suspect that Hughes while hitting many important points, might be trying to make too general of a point.


LFC 06.04.13 at 1:25 am

ajay @22

Unless I’m much mistaken, your ‘X’ is not a famous architect but rather is Mohammad Atta, a major figure among the 9/11 plotters. But the fact that he shared certain criticisms of high-modernist-urbanism (or whatever you want to call it) is only “vaguely related” (yr phrase) to anything…


ezra abrams 06.04.13 at 2:51 am

if someone *really* believed in global warming, and that GW is serious, they would eschew jet travel, a notorious source of green house gas, and give a video talk instead.

but, it is a lot easier to, say, limit SUVs driven by rednecks then fail to deliver your pearls of wisdom across the globe


Rich Puchalsky 06.04.13 at 3:17 am

“if someone *really* believed in global warming, and that GW is serious, they would eschew jet travel, a notorious source of green house gas, and give a video talk instead.”

No, this is kind of silly. There is no amount of voluntary action that will make enough of a difference. We either start to replace major infrastructure, or we don’t. Dropping the use of current infrastructure by 10% — a whopping amount for any likely summation of voluntary reductions — won’t do it.

I’ve disliked this trope from the beginning. It deflects people from what has a chance of working (political action) to guilt-inducing absorption in personal behavior that has no chance of working.


bad Jim 06.04.13 at 7:04 am

Medieval cities with narrow curving streets are much more congenial to pedestrians than rectilinear grids in climates with hot summers. Extensive plantings compensate to some degree, and it’s nice that deciduous trees shade less in winter, but quite often certain straight streets become distinctly unpleasant for hours on end. I’m half persuaded to advocate feng shui as a method for city planning, if only as a shortcut to an approximation of centuries of organic or chaotic growth.

Rich Puchalsky, you might like this piece from Monday’s L.A. Times, “The climate change guilt trip”, because it agrees with you (as do I).


Peter T 06.04.13 at 7:24 am

Medieval cities were planned – tanneries and shambles downstream, produce markets near the main gates, smaller markets in the centre, large-ish central space for meetings outside the main church, a clear ring road just within the walls are all common features. It’s worth paying attention to who planned them, and how, because they often created very livable areas.


ajay 06.04.13 at 8:22 am

Unless I’m much mistaken, your ‘X’ is not a famous architect but rather is Mohammad Atta, a major figure among the 9/11 plotters. But the fact that he shared certain criticisms of high-modernist-urbanism (or whatever you want to call it) is only “vaguely related” (yr phrase) to anything…

Spot on – I was a bit sneaky there, Atta was an architect, and he was famous, but not for being an architect (rather the reverse). But I think it’s fairly relevant to the discussion that the high-modernist planning of his home city and others in the region may have helped to build his anti-Western and anti-modern outlook… we were, after all, talking about how rebuilding cities might have alienated their population! Maybe I should have been more explicit.

Medieval cities were planned

Good point. And another factor that they were often planned for: defence. (This is most obvious in places like Tabor in the Czech Republic, where the street plan was deliberately designed to confuse Catholics, but it’s a big factor everywhere.) City walls, citadels, water security, fields of fire and so on are all major constraints in city planning.


Jesús Couto Fandiño 06.04.13 at 8:41 am

Ok, I know that there is an historical context for this, but “street plan designed to confuse Catholics” sounds so surreal… like what, 3 streets named God Street at different parts of the city but they are the same for numbering?


John Quiggin 06.04.13 at 9:30 am

Rich, your troll alert system definitely needs work. This was not only a post by a known troll (tolerated here because we are wishy-washy liberals), but a standard rightwing talking point, utterly irrelevant to the discussion here. DNFTT.


ajay 06.04.13 at 11:00 am

Ok, I know that there is an historical context for this, but “street plan designed to confuse Catholics” sounds so surreal… like what, 3 streets named God Street at different parts of the city but they are the same for numbering?

That was the way it was explained to me by the nice lady at the tourist office. And I did wonder if it meant there was a Homoousion Street and a Homoiousion Street that led in completely different directions.
Or lots of mutually contradictory street signs with pictures of the Pope on them. Faced with two signs at the same junction saying “HIS HOLINESS SAYS: LEFT TURN ONLY” and “HIS HOLINESS SAYS: NO LEFT TURN”, both equally Infallible, the average Catholic might seize up and start emitting smoke from his ears, rather like one of those supercomputers that Captain Kirk used to out-think on a regular basis.

But the actual explanation is that the city was built by the Hussites, who were under threat from the Catholics at the time. The street plan was designed to be confusing to anyone attacking it, and was (ah ha ha ha) agnostic as to what faith they followed. Speaking as a lapsed Presbyterian, it certainly confused me.


Ronan(rf) 06.04.13 at 11:41 am

Or, relatedly, Atta could have been driven by his engineering background

Or anything, I guess


Marcelo 06.04.13 at 12:32 pm

Amigo, ninguém te obrigou a vir pra cá. Veio pq quis.
Se não gostou, a saída é por onde entrou.
Beijos e boa viagem!


trane 06.04.13 at 8:42 pm

Interesting post and comments, thank you all.

Re: Le Corbusier’s legacy:
I saw a remake of his wooden summer house at an exhibition here in Denmark. It was really cozy and nice and fine.

There are pictures of it here:

This somehow seems to link up to one of James Scott’s points, namely that democracies curb high modernist thinking. In any case it seems Le Corbusier would not have liked to have his vacation in Brasilia.


Ed 06.04.13 at 8:55 pm

“Well 48 hours in a place hardly gives me the right to an opinion either”

No offense, but 48 hours in a place does lead to very superficial opinions. You should have gotten out to the superblocos, the planned residential sections, and your opinion would have been different. Every capital city looks distorted if you only see the monumental spaces and the hotel district.

As for the car thing, there are plenty of busses, and the traffic circulation plan mitigates the car centric nature (inevitable in the 1950s) of the scheme.

The city did outgrow its planned population, so there are the favelas you get elsewhere in the world, but its contradictory to complain about everything in the city being planned and then to complain about the existence of favelas, which are exactly the sort of organic bottom up urbanism critics of Brasilia claim to admire, in the same post.


Daniel 06.04.13 at 11:51 pm


>>Unless I’m much mistaken, your ‘X’ is not a famous architect but rather is Mohammad Atta, a major figure among the 9/11 plotters.

??? How could you bungle your own reference? No, it is not Atta whom you referred to but Hitler and Speer. Both had the aesthetic conceit that architecture should be designed with an eye towards how it would look, centuries after decay and ruin. Ha, both lived long enough to see their impressions realized.


Tony Lynch 06.05.13 at 2:50 am

I think Aristotle first proposed street planning designed to thwart enemies. In the Politics (IV.-V) he argues that thew ideal state will have a grid structure of the kind Hippodamus of Miletus pioneered, but with the streets running transversely (so that any enemy who wants to get to that non-Canberra thing, the Centre of Town, will have to zig zag (with all the blind corners this implies) to get there). Looking at the street plan for Tabor, this doesn’t seem to have been their strategy (more like a mess of string).


LFC 06.05.13 at 3:50 am

Daniel @52
If you take the time to read ajay’s whole comment at 22 you will see that he refers to more than one person. Atta is indeed the last reference.


David 06.05.13 at 4:10 am

See also The Squares of the City by John Brunner for a fictional appraisal.


Tony Lynch 06.05.13 at 7:44 am

Re-reading Aristotle on the design of the ideal city, I think he might be the ancient world’s Le Corbusier.


ajay 06.05.13 at 9:45 am

53: interesting on Aristotle; those descriptions of perfect philosophical cities always remind me of the terrifying uniformity of Corbusier’s plan for Barcelona, or indeed Catalhoyuk.
Tabor is indeed a mess, but my impression was that the point was to have narrow streets that diverged from entry points, so that the attacking force would get gradually dislocated, and no right-angle turns or straight roads. It’s also got an extensive system of catacombs, enabling the defenders to follow rule one of streetfighting: avoid streets.


Chris Williams 06.06.13 at 10:19 am

In a rare moment of symbolism, it seems that Istanbul’s teargassed Lady in Red is . . . an urbanist:

Says her colleague:

“Akgün admitted: “I’ve been trying to teach my students for four years about the importance of urban planning. Now they finally understand what we are saying.””

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