The Pilot Masterplan.
It is not easy to understand Brasilia without the help of a plane that orientates us. His extension is enormous (5.814 Km2) and the eyes get lost in the horizon of the high plateau with some wavy and soft hills. The elegant vegetation in a territory before arid and dry, the water of the great artificial lake Paranoá (of 65 km2) and the formally beautiful and simplest architecture, work of the architect Niemeyer, they are the only obstacles that make stop the look on having directed her to the infinite. Because of it it is important to obtain a map of this extensive city in order that, once in our power, we are capable of understanding the idea that Lucio Costa exposed on having defended his project.
“The city must be planned for the tidy and efficient work, but at the same time it has to be vital and agreeable, as well as suitable for the intellectual development”.
“The plan has born of the initial gesture, with which anyone locates a place and takes possession of him: two axes that are cut in right angle forming a cross”.
That is to say, such a widespread belief of which the plane of Brasilia was created inspiring by the silhouette of a plane, it is not true. A simple appropriation of the area by means of two axes, one of North on South, and other one of East on West, was the simple gesture of the expert hand that draws a plane to arrange a territory. This idea was adapting to the topography of the area. One of the axes made to itself curved and of there that the city could be alike the form of an airplane. To this initial idea there added others that Lucio Costa explains in his memory and that I will try to summarize, departing from her, from the current reality and from his transformations throughout last years.
The axis North – South, long axis or principal axis has 20 km from length and 350 m. Of width. It is formed by a highway of six rails in every direction (¡!) that crosses the city, comes from the exterior space, joins the heart of the city – crossing of both axes – and uses as principal road link. Actually, Brasilia has designed for the car, which makes his tour almost impossible afoot due to his big distances and his gigantic scale. This, joined a public scanty transport, supposes a serious problem for the daily life of the citizens and influences his conviviality. Of six rails of the principal highway, two of them are for urban traffic, other two for rapid traffic and the last one for heavy vehicles. In this sense, as well as in great others, Brasilia was anticipated to the future. Though it is not clear that the future of the past is the today present.
In this principal axis there place the residential zones separated from the highway for leafy lines of woodland. In the secondary crossings with the routes of penetration, – tunnels that certainly have remained narrow and in which there are multiple cloggings of entry to the condominiums – the equipments are located.
The housings are big rectangular “superblocks” constructed on piles and inspired by the unit habitacional of Le Corbusier. Nailed between green spaces, with zones of parkings, each of them can shelter approximately 3.000 persons. In total there is hundred twenty “superblocks”.
Every block has six heights, well-considered distance in order that the mothers could call his children who play below in landscaped areas or under the porches protected from the inclemencies of the time. A good idea for a good one to live of the families.
The “superstables” or residential units have from eight to eleven “superblocks”. A local unit or condominium her form four “superstables” as well as his complementary services placed to a top level, since it are the primary school and the day-care center, the ambulatory one, trades, a chapel and a social recreative club. Equipments of the first need placed near the housings to propitiate local activities.
The landscaped zones are designed by variation, beauty and profusion of tropical, classic woodland of a warm climate though benign, own of the ecosystem to which it belongs.
The same thing does not happen with the fronts of the blocks, identical stylistically, that they grant excessive monotony to the set, which has a difficult solution. Though the residents use the frames of concrete of his apartments of different way, storing bicycles or other chattels, steadying itself – across slant of it – a certain individuality, one does not stop wondering because Niemeyer did not give content to other architects in the design of the blocks. Or at least of his fronts. Neither his orientation has been born in mind. Identical blocks are orientated arbitrary giving his opposite to the Sun or placing behind him.
But the most interesting aspect of the housings, under my point of view, was his igalitarian aim, that is to say that were designed in order that persons of different income were living through meetings and were related between yes, senseless of class. This was tried across the creation of residential basic, identical units between yes, formed by apartments placed in identical blocks. With the same front, since already all constructed on piles, they all have been said, the same height, by the same material, all by garage. Kubitschek was wishing that the city was lodging to an opened company and without social distinctions. Bankers and federal deputies would live to side of choferes and employees of the Congress. But this purpose, I believe, it does not have anything to see with the uniformity and the monotony.
The unit of class was not obtained in the practice. First, because the population increased considerably and of an initial forecast of 600.000 inhabitants it came near to the current ones 2.500.000 that are distributed, partly, in marginal areas, areas of misery, favelismo and poverty. Many suburbs spread up to a distance of 40 km from the center. In addition the peasants came to thousands, as soon as the city was inaugurated, in search of a better life and they were not fitting in the “superblocks” destined to the original population. Many of the workers of the construction – the “candangos” – that they had coexisted of equally to equally with architects and civil servants sharing show restraint and I fill with enthusiasm, also they wanted to remain, but they had to conform to the big huts of wood where they had lived during the years that the work lasted. Later these housings were considered to be illegal constructions. After a time they were consolidated and provided with urban infrastructures. To the set there was called he A Free City. Others were displaced to the CEI (Center of Eradication of the Emigrant). Of there there arose the suburb Ceilandia, one of the most populated, placed to 24 km from Brasilia and that nowadays consists of 350.000 inhabitants.
Definitively, Brasilia has turned into another stratified city, socially speaking. The original blocks only could have sheltered the workers of the government, civil servants, politicians or military men. That is to say, to the first settlers who in addition met between yes criteria of class, and those that the Government attracted to the new city with excellent salaries and living conditions. The rest located in cities satellites, some of them for high-level civil servants acquisitive, to the shores of the artificial lake Paranoá, which was not contemplated in the original plan or “Pilot Plan ” either.
As Lucio Costa was exhibiting in his initial memory, it was a question of
“of preserve his intact beauty, landscaping it with wood and fields of a natural and rustic way, so that the urban population could enjoy his simple pleasures”.
Let’s go now to the axis East – west, short or Civic axis of 5 km from length, also so called Monumental Axis. It is the most attractive for the visitor, though actually the whole city is of a great formal beauty. It has been in this axis where Niemeyer has managed to form an architecture that we might call sculptural, based on sober elements, with a minimalist bold composition and of impossible curves. He itself designated it as
“a space for the imagination “.
The crossing of both axes is realized in three different levels by the idea of improving the traffic and of avoiding semaphores. Really three levels become excessive. But, though it seems to be incredible, they are not infrautilizados, since the traffic is very abundant.
From the top level of the crossing, the vision of the perspective of the Monumental Axis is impressive, spreading almost up to the infinite on both sides of the highway. It is possible to think that it obeys a baroque beginning more than to one of the Modern Movement. It is capable of creating a surrealistic or magic atmosphere that manages to bewitch the senses, though also there is perceived a denial of the human scale or, to understand itself better, a lack of humanity. It produces, inside his great beauty, a sensation of monumental excess; it is as if one was sorry that he was lacking the necessary forces to travel all this tour.
In the oriental part of the axis from the crossing, they find the most representative buildings of the new political center: The Palace of the Government also called Planalto’s Palace, headquarters of the executive power; the Courthouse, headquarters of the legislative power and the National Congress, headquarters of the Assembly and of the Senate. These three buildings meet concerning the great Tres Poderes Square, in the shape of equilateral triangle, called by Lucio Costa “ The Versailles of the people”.
Since Francisco Bullrich writes,
“the buildings covered by the dome of the Senate and the Assembly from off and in the light of the twilight, they look like flying saucers floating on a platform, on the verge of landing or to take off.”
Between them, the building of the Secretariat, placed also in the axis of the composition, arises from the land as a missile. Other buildings are raised alone or create between them lines of force and of tension.
Between the Palace of the Panalto and the Supreme Court there are 400 m. And this oriental part of the Monumental axis has 2 km. This can give us an idea of the scale about which we are speaking, about the distances that it is necessary to cross not only for the visitors if not for the own civil servants of the Government, to happen from a building to other one in the middle of a blazing sun. As we said initially, Brasilia has lights and shades.
Continuing in the oriental part of the crossing of both axes, a wide esplanade appears to a top level, the Ministerial Avenue, where all the buildings have the same form and orientation.
In this zone one finds also the building of Post office, wide zones landscaped of lawn and vegetation, several Departments and the Autonomous Agencies. The State Departments and of Justice they occupy the corners, the Military Departments, an independent square and the remaining ones form a sequence, each one with an area of parking deprived. The last one of the line is the Department of Education. The Cathedral has been located at the end of the axis by intention of heightening it. Also this axis complements itself with the National Theatre and other cultural buildings.
The western part of the Monumental Axis has in his center the Tower of Radio and Television and ends with the Municipal Plaza. Of symmetrical form, in the margins, there are located the recreative center, the Hotels and the economic and business area of the city.
In the Monumental Axis of Brasilia, Niemeyer obtains a great harmony of set, thanks to the symmetrical forms and studied perspectives, forcing the effects as suggests the historian Benévolo,
“up to the point of deforming his meaning, presenting them isolated of the habitual context as if it was a question of opposing objects. His architectures acquire, this way, a surrealistic intonation (…) and some details – for example example the elements of marble polished and turned as if they were bones of animals – they present an undeniable similarity with certain images of surrealistic painters, from Dalí to his contemporary Brazilians, as O. de Andrade Filho. and A. Bulecao.”
Many of the public buildings are surrounded with water sheets that fulfill several functions: to increase the dampness of the air, to reflect and to heighten the simple volumes or the night lighting, and to transmit a suggestive and romantic environment. The like that one creates a striking frame of wide and beautiful esplanades. Formed with very simple elements, the constructions are capable of expressing the whole symbolic load that needs the new capital.
Cristina García-Rosales. Architect
Madrid. April 2012