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Published: March 18th 2008
Terry Gilliam must have been inspired to name his 1985 movie "Brazil" - after seeing this utopian view of the future from 1960.
"Fifty years of progress in five" moving the capital from Rio de Janeiro to a plateau in the undeveloped interior. President Juscelino Kubitschek, Architect Oscar Niemeyer, urban planner Lucio Costa and landscape architect Burle Marx - undertook this momentous feat - designing a city with a layout like a aeroplane - the central section containing all the governmental and civic buildings, the two wings the residential and military areas.
The city was planned on a vast scale, it's unclear if this was to allow greater future development in between the blocks or if because in the future everyone would have a car.
Vast numbers of lawyers, ministers and other civil servants migrated to the new city - and took up new lives in the surreal landscape of gleaming white concrete, manicured parks and eight lane highways. I don't know if they planned for the fact that city would need serviced, doors opened, shops staffed, gardens tended, but in response it seems that favelas have sprung up on the outskirts housing these workers. These workers and
vast numbers of others don't have the requisite car, and so a sprawling desolate bus station has somehow been wedged into the centre of the city between the wings - now additionally providing shelter to homeless and beggars. It seems that they didn't plan for everything - the main transport hub (rodoferroviária) to other states also lies 7km outside the city.
What is it with planned cities? - it seems as though the worst places to be a traveller are the ones that are planned. There are very few places to cross the six to eight lane highways, the buses are so infrequent that a cottage industry has sprung up where locals with cars check the bus queues for passengers and cram four in the back seat on the way back after a day shopping, there is nowhere to eat when you're hungry, it's all concentrated in one area.
It's oft said that cities or countries aren't built for the comfort of the visitor but for the residents. I can clearly see that this isn't true - while watching a couple of girls too young or poor to own a car trudging through the rain past the hostel
to well - I have no idea where - there is nowhere near - it's a 10min walk to the bus-stop that has maybe one bus every few hours.
This city has been constructed for the comfort of the elite and the memory of the architects.
Maybe though it is the fault of the car - if you plan around the assumption of transportation where 5 mins is worth an hour by foot - everything spreads. Back in the days when Paris was planned - the horse and cart would have ruled the highways - so the fastest that the elite could have travelled would have been maybe twice the speed of the lowly walking classes. Maybe planning on this scale is why it's seems to work so much better.
Could we do better today? - put people first build a city which assumes that everyone is on foot, an integrated transport system that allows environmentally friendly methods to be the most important - what would Sir Norman Foster do given a canvas as grand as this?
But despite it's problems the architecture is fascinating, conceived at a time when the height of modernism was
gleaming white concrete rather than the polished glass and steel of the last decades. I was happy to wander for a day contrasting stormy skies with the stark geometric forms.
There is a lone HI hostel situated nicely out of walking range of anywhere - Hostel Brasilia - but make sure you ask any taxi drivers for Abergue do Juventude - currently 38R$ per night - it's the cheapest place by far to stay in Brasilia.
131 (rodoviária - rodoferroviária) and 143 (rodoviária - hostel) two buses that are useful - have stands on the west-end on the north side of the bus central bus station.
Going up the TV tower is free - 105 meters up has great views.
Mondays - nearly all museums and public buildings are closed.
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