The construction of Brasilia was a response to a political and conceptual impetus. It was an attempt to redesign the geography of the country by shifting the position of the centre from its economic and historical location along the eastern coast toward the hinterland—to literally the geographic centre of the national territory. The hinterland of Brazil had never been inhabited, and during the Portuguese colonization it had been a refuge for slaves who escaped from the coast. For this reason alone, Brasilia had no direct economic or social reason to be founded. Yet, its construction was accompanied by the most daring political programme: the new capital would have to be able to present the ‘imaginary’ of modern Brazil to its citizens. It would become the new cultural centrality for an entire country on the verge of breaking—once and for all—with its colonial heritage. Lucio Costa won the national competition for the master plan of the new capital at the beginning of 1957, presenting his idea with a text and few handmade sketches. Following the construction of the Ministry of Culture and Education in Rio in 1936, Costa was appointed head of the Office for the National Historic and Artistic Heritage (SPHAN) and from this position was able to direct a very specific process of thorough reinterpretation of past, present and future. In those years, Costa produced a new architecture that was the synthesis of modernist, regionalist or neo-colonialist attempts to distil a new language for the Latin-American res-publica. The result was the creation of an architectural ‘order’ at the service of the public domain that had little to do with the European orthodox modern tradition of the Athens Charter but that would offer a formal vocabulary for the creation of exceptional formal and typological solutions.
In the Plano Piloto it was Oscar Niemeyer who largely used this ‘order’ with great invention, while Costa concentrated on offering a precise palimpsest for the disposition of these monuments. While in Chandigarh, the new Capital City of Punjab, Le Corbusier concentrated on the architecture of the Capitol, leaving the development of the city itself to his collaborators, Costa left the monumental buildings to Niemeyer and focused on the design features of the open space, of the greenery and the vegetation and in creating the basic civic iconic form of Brasilia: the Superquadra, a 300 x 300 m composition of radically simple residential slabs interwoven with a complex system of open space.
Contrary to the common accusation of Costa’s project, the contemporary city (meaning the complex of the Plano Piloto and the various satellite towns constellating the federal district) is closely related to the Plano Piloto. The contemporary urban dimension is the confirmation of a territorial project already contained, in its constituent principles, in Costa’s original project (as clearly stated in the competition report by Costa). In other words, the Plano Piloto was not simply a plan for the city but the result of research into the definition of an example for the definition of a city-region to be built in the federal district. In short, it was a prototype for the definition of a new territorial order.
The critic has always interpreted the relationship between the satellite towns and the Plano Piloto as troubled. Sociologists and city planners have described Brasília’s satellite towns as the embodiment of social injustice and the reason for the failure of the political project inherent in the idea underpinning the new capital. Without wishing to ignore these problems, it is far more relevant to emphasize the intrinsic qualities of this urban paradigm, today abandoned in a limbo between full recognition and neglect.
The project The Completion of Brasilia addresses Brasilia by building on the principle of Costa’s project and focus on the present geography of the satellite cities in the form of an archipelago of archetypical building and public spaces.
The project aims to transform the original idea of the Plano Piloto into a more self-aware regional model by imbuing each of the satellite cities with that dignity that marks the difference between an urbs and a civitas—infrastructure and centrality—and that is, as Costa wrote, “the virtues and attributes appropriate to a real capital city.”
Each satellite city is transformed by deploying simple architectural actions aiming at the definition of its border condition, intended as the crucial place of a possible confrontation with the political dimension of the territory. The border of each settlement is projected as an accessible public space, a linear garden where leisure activities can happen; along the linear garden, within the pockets created by the path along the border, the project advances the insertion of the Patio, an open space framed by basic architectural element. Along the border, in the places of relation between the linear garden and the street pattern of the satellite city, the project inserts the Galleria, a simple linear architectural device meant to offer the basic infrastructure for the nourishing of local commercial facilities.
At the metropolitan scale, the territorial dimension of the city is fostered by establishing a collective transportation system connecting all the cities within the federal district and breaking the centre-periphery relation of the actual public transportation system. The linear forest, a dense plantation of trees connecting different satellites cities or scattered urban fragments, rephrases the monumentality of the green lawn of the monumental axis in the Plano Piloto by deploying a different architectural vocabulary and multiplying its representational meaning over the entire region.
Following the same logic, confronting the high population growth index of the federal district the project considers a further step in the future development of Brasilia. It projects a vision for a new model of growth that goes beyond the urgency of the status quo in the form of a vertical city model, or immeuble-cité. Each immeuble-cité, a city in the form of a building, is located along the linear forest and offers a possible completion of Brasilia by exemplifying what a metropolis could be and by offering a clear paradigm for the development of the contemporary city.
This project is part of the Berlage Institute’s ongoing research to redefine the idea of the city as a political institution. Its aim is to focus on the relationship between architectural form, political theory, and urban history by means of large-scale polemical projects. This project is the result of the 2006–2007 yearlong studio taught by Pier Vittorio Aureli and Martino Tattara, and completed by the following Berlage Institute second-year participants: Adolfo Despradel, Elena Gissi, Sahil Abdul Latheef, Lama Sfeir,
Melisa Vargas, Miha Pesec, Yvette Vasourkova, Juan Bernardo Vera Rueda, Zhongping Wu, and Shanshan Xue.