Costa, Niemeyer and Brasília

When my friends learned about my trip to Brazil in 2017, they immediately reminded me about their pasalubong (mementos) from Rio de Janeiro – a ref magnet would do as long as it had the photo of “Christ, the Redeemer” or the Sugarloaf Mountain in it. But my actual destination was Brasília.

My friends confused Brazil’s federal capital with the country itself. This is understandable because most of the time, popular images of Brazil are the cities of Rio and São Paulo, and the tropical forest of the Amazon.

But Brasília?

The JK Bridge (Photo: SAP Tiatco)

I did not have to secure a visa to enter Brazil. But going there – depending on the route, it takes about a whole day (24 to 26 hours) of flying. My route was Manila (MNL) – Dubai (DXB) – São Paulo International (GRU) then land travel to São Paolo Domestic (CGH) and finally to Brasília (BSB). The route was the cheapest – really, really cheapest compared to the next higher price: Php 89,000.00 versus Php 156,000.00 (MNL – IST – GRU – BSB).

Enthusiastically doing a selfie in-front of the Cathedral

Brasília was the brainchild of urban planner Lúcia Costa and architect Oscar Nieyemer. The plan was to move Brazil’s capital from Rio de Janiero (coming soon my own take on this UNESCO World Heritage Site) to a strategic location, literally the centermost point of the nation (although there are Brazilians who argue that the idea of “centermost point” is not a literal positioning but a very ideological assertion). Roberto Burle Marx was invited to join Costa and Nieyemer to do the landscaping of the city.

The House of Congress and the Supreme Court (Photo: SAP Tiatco)

In relation to the construction of a modern city was the construction of buildings where important government institutions would be strategically housed.

Today, the three governmental branches of the Federal Government of Brazil are located in the city: the Executive (headed by a President), the Legislative (equivalent to the House of Congress) and the Federal Supreme Court.

Costa and Nieyemer also included in the planning buildings for cabinet offices, housing for government employees and foreign embassies.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs Building (Photo: SAP Tiatco)

Locals in the city call the federal capital plano piloto (planned pilot) because of the literal maneuvering and engineering of a federal district and the architectural shape of the city: an airplane.

JK Memorial (Photo: SAP Tiatco)

Through the leadership of the then Brazilian President Juscelino Kubitschek (Brazilians call him JK), construction of the city began in 1956. According to the brochure distributed during the tour I joined in, JK is a leader who favored long-term planning and who set high goals for Brazil’s future. I supposed history books identify Kubitschek as the father of modern Brazil. This assumption is based on the monument/memorial erected for him at the “center” of the federal district.

The National Museum (Photo: SAP Tiatco)

In 1987, Brasília was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site (complete inscription here). According to the synthesis of the nomination: the federal district is “a definitive example of 20th-century modernist urbanism.” In relation, the construction was part of JK’s national modernization project bringing together “ideas of grand administrative centres and public spaces with new ideas of urban living as promoted by Le Corbusier (another important architect in the history of modern art – his works are in my bucket list) in six-storey housing blocks (quadras) supported on pylons which allowed the landscape to flow beneath and around them.” Costa and Nieyemer’s urban design is often cited as the intersection of the monumental and the thoroughfare axes.

The Metropolitan Cathedral (Photo: SAP Tiatco)

Inscribed for its outstanding universal value, Brasília is considered a singular artistic achievement, “a prime creation of the human genius, representing, on an urban scale, the living expression of the principles and ideals advanced by the Modernist Movement.” This is especially manifested in the monuments such as the Cathedral, the National Museum, the National Library, the National Congress, the Supreme Court, Don Bosco Cathedral, among other monuments and parks around the city.

Inside the magnificent Don Bosco Church (Photo: SAP Tiatco)

At the end of my trip, I also wondered whether some people were displaced in the construction of this modern federal city. Some people I asked were unsure if displacement really occurred.

But then, I am aware that in the history of mankind, modernity is often invoked and asserted at the expense of others.

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