Brasilia – city without soul
Imagine starting a city from scratch with some of the most talented architects and town planners in the world. Forty-five years ago, under the Presidency of Juscelino Kubitschek, Brazil decided to do just this and founded the Brasilia as the new capital.
It was a modernist dream, led by work of urban planner Lucio Costa and architect Oscar Niemeyer.
On paper it embodied all the latest thinking on what makes a city work well. Brasilia is divided very neatly firstly into into zones for living, working, leisure and travel, and then each zone is sub-divided into grids with roads joining them all.
In residential areas, everyone had their local amenities within their block of the grid, lived in buildings no more than 6 stories high, and had an average of about 25 square meters of green space per resident, a measure considered ideal by UNESCO standards.
Sounds perfect? Well, no.
I have definitely come down on the side of all the Brazilians who said to me in complete incredulity: "You’re going to Brasilia?? Why?" Not that I regret coming. It is an intriguing place and there are definitely things to be admired. Some of the architecture such as the Congress building and the Cathedral with their simple shapes, use of light, and layout are stunning.
But I do share the lack of feeling and warmth for the city. Emotionally Brasilia has left me completely cold – rather like the uncoated concrete which clads most buildings.
I have just spent a few days exploring the city, which has meant getting buses to buildings at addresses like W3 N, Qd 708, Bloco B, learning to sprint across 8 lane-motorways as cars bear down at you great speed (due to the complete absence of pedestrian crossings), and finally ending up every day in vast shopping malls which seem to be the main places to eat, go to films or log-on to the Internet.
Yesterday, I tried to find a good cafe outside to watch the sun go down. The big TV tower which has a cafe half-way up seemed a good bet. It had closed. I then wandered several grids recommended in my guide book to find only cafes next to a road clogged with traffic heading home.
Still my view is not shared by everyone. Daniela, a friend of my former flatmate, who lives here loves it. She fled London (definitely my favourite city) to come here, fed up of "manic streets" and "stressed and miserable people." She loves the wide-open spaces, the rational layout, the ease of life and the climate.
But for me, that is not what a city is about. Cities are about tangled histories, intriguing dark corners, erratically different neighbourhoods, the irrational and the untidy.
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