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The Building of Brasília
by Regina Maria Prosperi Meyer

The determination of Juscelino Kubitschek's government (1956-1960) to press ahead with development produced some elegant examples in terms of city planning. The transfer of political power and the economic initiative into the hands of the industrial bourgeoisie reinforced the urban culture. Whilst the growth rate of the Brazilian population during the 1950s was 3.16%, urban growth in Brazil reached 7.38%. This dominance of the city over the countryside was reflected in the Brazilian urban network complex. The spatial and functional distribution of this growth produced an urban scenario in which São Paulo emerged as the national metropolis. The "Target Plan" devised by Kubitschek and his team, to be executed within four years, contained a "target synthesis" that was to have great impact: the construction of the new capital, Brasília.

A major national contest involving all the important names in Brazilian architecture and city planning was won by the architect and planner Lucio Costa. Schematically, the design was conceived according to urbanistic principles laid down by the International Congresses for Modern Architecture, especially those formalized during the 1933 Congress and recorded in the Charter of Athens, published in 1942 and proposing strict zonal functioning based on the activities of living, working, leaisure and travel.

According to Lucio Costa, the scheme "emerged from the primary gesture as a result of someone earmarking a place or taking possession of it: two axes crossing at right-angles, in fact, the sign of the cross". He started work on adapting the local topography to the draining away of water in the most appropriate direction. There was an evident preoccupation to apply the most advanced principles of road design to the planning of this city. Cross-roads were eliminated by means of interchanges at lower levels.

The north-south axis was given the function of a through route, with central high speed traffic lanes. Lateral lanes were intended for local traffic distribution leading directly to the residential area. The transversal east-west axis, known as the "monumental axis" was for the civic and administrative centre, the cultural area, the commercial leisure centre, the city administrative sector. The complex of buildings designed to house the legislative, executive and judiciary authorities, forming the triangular Square of the Three Powers, was visibly prominent. Beyond the National Congress Building, occupying the western part of the square near the intersection of the axes, is the monumental Esplanade of the Ministries.

The solution found for the residential sector lay in the creation of a large grid system. The development is in the form of squares two hundred and fifty metres long, set on either side of the roadway and framed by a wide band of vegetation. Inside these huge square formations are residential blocks arranged in a variety of ways but conforming with two principles: a maximum of six floors and vehicular traffic rigorously separated from pedestrian traffic.

From the point of view of spatial relationships, Brasília's strict zoning system is on three scales: social, residential and monumental. The first relates to the leisure and business sectors; the second to the residential sector and the third, to the complex formed by the Three Powers Square and the Esplanade of the Ministries.

The architect Oscar Niemeyer was responsible for the design of all the public buildings in the capital. There is a strong and perfect relationship between the Draft Plan conceived by Lucio Costa and Oscar Niemeyer's architectural designs. Both created a city that was planned as a whole and viewed as a single global entity.


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