Brasilia notes

Could this be the strangest city I have visited?  And yet the people, the mood, the food, and the culture all seem quite normal, whatever that means.

I had not realized how much the city center was patterned after the Washington Mall, yet with modernist rather than classical buildings for the government, and with a modernist layout.  On each side of the major highway is “Crystal City on steroids,” with five-lane highways, boxy skyscrapers, and a huge bus station straddling the main road.  It resembles an old science fiction movie and yes I like old science fiction movies.  View here, and it really looks like this!  It is no wonder that the aliens chose Brazil to visit.

There is also a private sector presence here.  Don’t forget the neat bridge.  Here is my favorite church in town, Dom Bosco.  Here is the fine Palacio Itamarati.

The Memorial JK is an egotistical political monument.  It was built by Niemeyer in 1980 to honor the founder of Brasilia, Juscelino Kubitschek, former President  of Brazil, which is in turn a way to honor Niemayer.  Kubitschek’s remains lie beneath a skylight in a granite tomb, and the coffin reads O FUNDADOR.  The surrounding rooms are full of insufferable photos, suits, medals, and tie clips.

The clouds and skies are first-rate.

The home of the vice President is surrounded by ostriches.


Have the buildings undergone regular maintenance? A lot of the pictures online are old and the buildings show the graying that a lot of Modernist structures like that get. It always saddens me when that happens and I'm hoping that they've all received a good sandblasting and scrub recently.

Kill it with fire.

Somewhat difficult for concrete buildings a mile apart.

Wasn't that why James Scott criticized the construction of Brasilla in Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed,?

Brazilian architecture's central motif seems to be the types of complex poured-concrete structures for which Oscar Niemeyer is famous. It's so ubiquitous in part because Niemeyer himself is so prolific. The impression I have is that he is as prolific as he is because for the last few decades, his "designs" consist basically of broad outlines done in Sharpie on white paper, which he then leaves for his engineers to figure out how to build.

Some say that the true genius behind many of Niemeyer's most famous works was Joaquim Cardoso, the civil engineer who worked with Niemeyer on several of Brasilia's best-known structures, including the two presidential palaces (Alvorado e Planalto) and the building that houses the Congress (the one with the dome, the bowl and the two towers).

I suspect those large birds are rheas, the South American equivalent of ostriches.

So do all "manufactured" capitals have the same design? Because D.C. and Canaberra have the same layout, both patterned after Paris.

Depends when they were manufactured. My guess is that those cities built after 1945 might bear a striking resemblance to post 1945 DC architecture while those built earlier will probably resemble London architecture of the same period.

Yes, whenever I go to New Delhi the sights of London haunt me...

Bangkok isn't very London-ish either. New Delhi was designed by Edwin Luytens but is far less European-looking than Calcutta or Bombay. Bangkok imported some European (French, perhaps?) architects before WWII and there are some great examples of that influence in some of the royal palaces as well as the grand old Hualamphong train station.

Tyler observed:

"The home of the vice President is surrounded by ostriches."

Smart move - if Brasil's vice-presidency is anything like the U.S.', their Vice President might otherwise escape.

Wow, I didn't realize how much the National Assembly looked like the UN building. I know they are both Niemayer so I shouldn't really be surprised. At least this concrete monstrosity is much more beautiful than the Brutalist crap that comes next.

Hello, Tyler!

I didn't understand why you linked the picture of the Procuradoria Geral da República building with the "private sector" words. This building is the office of the Procurador-geral da República, the authority somewhat equivalent to the US Attorney General. Did I miss something?

(I'm no architecture geek; however, if you are looking for interesting buildings built by private companies I'd suggest you to look at the Setor Comercial Norte: I find these buildings pretty beautiful but again, I'm no architecture geek.)

Also, welcome to Brasília, it is a honor to have such a respectable visitor :)

Correction Tyler: the building you linked as "private sector presence" is actually the PGR - the Attorney General office (National Prosecution office).

Private sector buildings can be found in the specific areas destinated for them, just around the central bus station (Rodoviária) - near the hotels. Thouse would be the Banking Sector (South and North) and the Commercial Sector (South and North) (

and when you sit in the modernist airport of brasilia waiting for a connection the people walking by of every description are yet unmistakably not european not north american not asian - but of a unique country of the future - where handsome couples with children boarding the planes walking politely mystified up and down the aisles are kindly directed to their seats by countrymen sympathetic immediately to their illiteracy -
viva brasil!

Have any of the readers seen both Brasilia and Islamabad and can make comparisons between the two cities.

I see someone beat me to the rhea. We call 'em emas. Strangely enough they're not emus.
God I miss that sky. Nothing else much. The weather of course. And the mall is a much more pleasant experience to walk down. No widest regular road in the world on both sides of you, and down there there aren't any museums right nearby, just the ministries. I guess I traded in one planned out capital for another.
I reeeally miss that sky.
Minha cidade natal.

Modernist architecture - I just don't get it. I don't understand any of the symbolism or politics behind it; it just makes me feel sad. It must be a generational thing.

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