A Capital So Orderly It's Alien ; Design of Brasilia Aims to Show Modernity and Equality of Social Classes

By Waldstein, David | International New York Times, June 24, 2014 | Go to article overview

A Capital So Orderly It's Alien ; Design of Brasilia Aims to Show Modernity and Equality of Social Classes


Waldstein, David, International New York Times


In a country known for its flair for improvisation, Brasilia stands in jarring contrast, a city so orderly, it is hard to believe it is really in Brazil.

The Brazilian flag reads, "Ordem e Progresso" -- "Order and Progress" -- which is somewhat curious in this wonderfully jumbled and beautiful country. For an outsider who has visited the samba- infused nightclubs of Rio de Janeiro, the Amazonian jungle or Sao Paulo, with its ramshackle favelas and snarled traffic, order is not what springs to mind.

Until you arrive in Brasilia.

In a country known for its flair for improvisation, Brasilia stands in jarring contrast, a city so orderly, it is hard to believe it is really in Brazil.

"You can't find samba, you can't find a street corner for a beer, and you can't find football," said Henrik Brandao Jonsson, whose book "Fantasy Island: The Brave New Heart of Brazil" explores the history and culture of Brasilia. "They don't even have favelas in the central city. It is totally alien for Brazil."

For many, one of Brazil's signature sights is the soccer played on the beaches along the shimmering Atlantic Ocean. Brasilia, roughly 580 miles northwest of Rio, is not even on the coast.

There is soccer, though.

On Monday, Brasilia was to host Brazil's final Group C match, against Cameroon, at Estadio Nacional, one of the stadiums built for the World Cup. It was designed to fit in with its vast surroundings, where most streets' names are not words, just numbers and letters.

Brasilia, a relatively young city, is at its heart a showcase for Brazilian modernism, much of it designed by Oscar Niemeyer, the Pele of Brazilian architecture. It is also known for its broad avenues, with free-flowing traffic and so-called superblocks of calm residential life. Brasilia, although the country's capital, is distinctly un-Brazilian: too rigid and, yes, too organized.

"Love it or hate it," said Nelson Sousa of the Federal District's office of communications, who grew up here. "Everyone agrees it is different."

Jonsson, a strong critic of Brasilia for its dehumanizing scale, at least acknowledged, "It is very relaxing to go there straight from Rio."

Started on a scratch of grassland on a 3,800-foot plateau in 1956 and inaugurated in 1960, Brasilia was invented by politicians and bureaucrats for politicians and bureaucrats. Also planned by Lucio Costa, it is now Brazil's fourth-largest city.

The concept, initiated by President Juscelino Kubitschek by constitutional decree, was to move the capital from Rio to a city that signified Brazil's thrust into modernity and that incorporated social equality, with all the classes living side by side. Many of the working-class and poor residents, however, have been relegated to the outskirts of the city, in far less organized satellite towns. …

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