A family event brought me back to Brasilia and led me into some of the insides of living in this city which has always been an intriguing place to me. “The infra-structure is good”, tells me a young resident. “Traffic is good, there are many options of restaurants and violence in the Pilot Plan is low. But people who live here are somewhat snobbish and making friends, if you haven’t lived here for a long time, is difficult. Being in school has helped me. If you depend on meeting people only through work it is much harder.” Young male residents go further. I was puzzled to hear that, in a city in which there are so many young and single people, meeting someone from the opposite sex is a struggle: “If you can pick up a girl in Brasilia, you can pick up a girl anywhere in the world.” The perception of my interlocutors is that the longer time residents prefer to keep a distance, and being invited to someone’s home, for example, is very rare. Goiania, a city located a couple hours from Brasilia, is different, I am told. It is much more welcoming. So how does a city of almost 3,000,000 inhabitants manufacture this kind of loneliness?
Some believe it has to do with its history and architecture. Brasilia was intentionally designed and created to bring economic development into the Brazilian inner regions. It did not grow, like cities often do, as a result of spontaneous human activity and passions, and therefore has a somewhat controlled atmosphere. There is a certain “air”, reinforced by the austere – though strikingly elegant – geometry of Brasilia’s architecture. This sense that establishing human bonds is difficult to do may also be connected with Brasilia’s wide open spaces and the effort that it requires to traverse them. Inaugurated by President Juscelino Kubitschek (1902-76) on April 21 1960, Brasilia’s design incorporated the sensations of standing in the middle of the remote and sparsely populated Brazilian central plateau. Parks and large open spaces separate highways, buildings and city blocks, creating physical distances between people that you can only conquer in a motorized vehicle of some kind.
By all standards, Brasilia was the result of outrageously visionary acts, which I thoroughly admire. What if someone came to you and announced that the capital of the United States was going to be moved to the middle of Wyoming or Montana? Well, this is kind of the feeling many people may have had when the government of Brazil announced the beginnings of the construction of Brasilia, in the late 1950’s. Additionally, not only a new city was being built from scratch in the middle of the widespread and empty savanna (read nowhere) but it was being designed like no other.
The main buildings of Brasilia, mostly government buildings, were imagined by a man that was to become a national myth: Oscar Niemeyer. Niemeyer’s architecture, screaming with defiantly simple geometrical shapes characteristic of modernism, were lined up along the city’s plant, the Pilot Plan, or Plano Piloto, in Portuguese.
French born Brazilian architect Lucio Costa was responsible for the Pilot Plan and brought a truckload of unconventional creativity to the city, starting with its layout in the shape of an airplane. At the cockpit is Congress, sided by Palacio do Planalto (the President’s office) and the Supreme Federal Courts, in what is called the Plaza of the Three Powers (Legislative, Executive and Judiciary). The wings of the airplane, the South Wing and the North Wing, are lined up against the shores of the artificially built Lake Paranoa, meant to difuse the extreme dryness of the local climate with its evaporation. Its moist breeze blows onto the “Superquadras” or carefully designed self-sufficient city blocks combining residences and commerce and abundant wooded and leisure areas.
For needs beyond what the Superquadras offer, residents transport themselves to the different sectors: the Bank Sector, the School Sector, the Hospital Sector, and if they are lucky, to the pompous Mansion Sector in the South Lake, where some of the most expensive real state in the world rests. I must admit I am not proud and not at all impressed by the exaggerated display of wealth seen in the South Lake area. It immediately smells of corruption or shall I say stinks? Surely to me that is enough to quell any romantic inclination.