History - Brasilia, From past to present
From as far back as the start of the 19th century, many
Brazilian rulers had dreamed of a more centrally located, inland capital. An inland capital would relieve the overpopulated coastal regions of Brazil. Furthermore, it would give the Brazilian federal government more influence on the exploitation of the inland resources and thus a better grip on the economy.
Finally, in 1955 the then president Juscelino
Kubitschekordered to give it a shot: the new capital, Brasilia, had to be build.
It was symbolic of the optimistic and progressive times to project Brasilia in the middle of the Cerrado, one of the least populated and poorest parts of Brazil.
It was president Kubitschek’s ambition to develop and bring prosperity to the entire country of Brazil, even the most disadvantaged corners.
Niemeyer and Costa, sketching the new capital
Brasilia at the drawing table
Order and Prosperity’ was the Brazilian government’s parole and to maintain the positive spirit in Brazil, Kubitschek had promised the nation ‘Fifty years of progress in five’
President Kubitschek in front of his new savannah ministeries, late 1950s
|Kubitschek succeeded: Brasilia sprung out of the ground in less than four years and on 21 April 1960 Brasilia replaced Rio de Janeiro as capital of the Brazilian federation.
That said, it took a lot of effort to move civil servants from the coast out of ‘the most beautiful city in the world’ to Brasilia, the new avant-garde utopia in the highlands.
Also, only after decades all foreign embassies had finally been moved to Brasilia, sometimes after tough diplomatic threads to other countries.
From 1956, thousands of candangos, poor labourers from north-eastern Brazil, have worked around the clock to construct the visions of Kubitschek’s Three Musketeers: Lúcio Costa (urban planning), Roberto Burle Marx (landscaping) and of course,
architect Oscar Niemeyer. They did not only want to create a new capital city for Brazil: Brasilia had to be a monument symbolizing ‘Order and Prosperity’.
The Brasilia team was highly inspired by the European modernism of famous but controversial architect Le Corbusier, one of Niemeyer’s tutors. The main idea was that modern cities like Brasilia should be divided in separate districts for the purpose of living (in high-rise apartment complexes), working, governing and recreation. These areas should be interrupted by wide green zones and connecting highways.
And so it happened. Brasilia was built in the pattern of an airplane (or hummingbird, as the more environmentally responsible fellow man might say), a tribute to the then starting era of jet aircraft.
While the urban areas were planned in the ‘wings’, the main buildings of Brasilia like the congress, the presidential palace, the supreme court, the national theatre and the cathedral were situated in the ‘fuselage’ of the airplane.
|Brasilia Cathedral under construction, 1960|
This wide boulevard is called the
Monumental Axis of Brasilia(Eixo Monumental).
Each of Brasilia's urban zones has its own purpose, for instance there is a hotel district, bank district, embassy district etc. The residential districts are divided in several blocks (Superquadras) and each block has its own school, shopping mall and church. Everything is intertwined by large open spaces of parkland and connected by multiple lane roads.
Brasilia's latest addition: The new National Stadium, 2013
|Today, the capital of Brazil is still mainly a ‘work city’; in the weekends and on holidays the residents of Brasilia leave the city for other places and at night some of Brasilia's zones become completely deserted.
In the course of time, many favelas (shanty towns) arose around Brasilia's ‘airplane’ layout, occupied among others by the offspring of the candangos who built the city.
On the other hand, the GDP per capita of Brasilia is by far the highest among the larger Latin American cities.
While the original plan contained for 400,000 residents, in the 21st century more than 2 million people call Brasilia – some still reluctantly – ‘home’...
More on the history of Brazil