Brasilia, an ideal urban concept ?

In topic: Architecture


This question has puzzled architects and urban planners over and over again. Brasilia, the utopian dream of Oscar Niemeyer may have some clues for the final answer.

The promise of a bright and better future. That moment in time when everything seems possible and all aspirations are projected forward to a yet-to-be-defined future. This belief in perpetual progress is the main thought behind “urban planning”. In the 20th century architects started engaging in constructing a better society for the future. Urban planning and the concept of restarting became completely relevant.

But also today, in the 21st century, 150 new cities are in the making. Mainly in Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America. Particularly popular in emerging markets, the idea of “building from scratch” is part of a broader strategy to take a leap from agricultural economy to one based on services.

The dream of Brasilia

One of the very few times in history where a whole nation unites behind the belief in a new beginning, behind the belief in the success of such a large-scale operation. That happened in the case of Brasilia in the mid 50s. A new capital city for Brazil, one that would have no colonial legacy, no baroque or classical architecture, no slums. A city of clean lines, rational planning (Lucio Costa was the urban planner of Brasilia) and space.

The reality

More and more modern urban planners argue that Brasilia may be an architectural miracle, but it is not a city. Simply because it does not have the ingredients of a city: the messy streets, the indigenous complexity, the mingling of residential areas and office blocks. To put it quite bluntly: Nobody is living above a cafe or a small shop, because there are none. Brasilia has become a sort of an office campus for a government.

This is the greatest lesson urban planners have to learn from Brasilia. Niemeyer has created startling architecture but that alone doesn’t make a city. Instead of separating everything to different zones, urban planners today favor mixed-use neighborhoods. A city built from scratch, a city that is absolutely planned, has first of all to be a city. And this means that it has to surprise you, to intrigue you, to make you want to discover every corner of it.

*The images of top French photographer Vincent Fournier capture Brasilia’s utopian appeal

17 / 12 / 2021