Brasília - an analogy of modernism

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2012
19 Pages, Grade: 9


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. The political vision – Juscelino Kubitschek
2.1 Introduction
2.2 Kubitschek’s determination
2.3 “50 anos en 5”
2.4 The old capital – Rio de Janeiro
2.5 Kubitschek’s Legacy

3. The urban planning – Lucio Costa
3.1 Introduction
3.2 Le Corbusier
3.3 Athens in Brazil
3.4 “A Superquadra” – Costa’s urban vision

4. Designing a capital – Oscar Niemeyer’s aesthetics
4.1 Introduction
4.2 International Style

5. Modernism and Modernization
5.1 Brasília as epitome of a new Brazilian society
5.2 Plan and Reality

6. Conclusion

7. Bibliography

1. Introduction

In 2002, the UNESCO has decided to reward the UNESCO World-Heritage certificate to Brasília, Brazil’s capital of not more than a mere 50 years. How could a planned city become the sole urban development of the 20th century to be awarded this prestigious recognition?

This paper will analyse the creation of the new Brazilian capital Brasília that has been inaugurated the 23 of April 1960. The main concern of this paper is to show how it was possible to create a complete new city from scratch within only seven years time.

In order to do so, it is crucial to analyse the three main political and artistic figures behind this mega project, namely then-president Juscelino Kubitsch, urban planner Lucio Costa and architect Oscar Niemeyer.

All three of these men had a different motivation to be involved in the project. We will analyse how they became part of it and what their motivation and ideologies were that they tried to express in the project. This means that we will analyse the political and historical context that permitted a shift from Rio de Janeiro as capital to the newly founded city in the interior of the country. Then, we will explain the process of planning and the original intentions that were meant to be part of the Brasília project and are expressed in creation of the so-called “Plano Piloto”. When talking about Brasília, its distinct and widely known architecture is another point that will be looked at closely as it can be understood as the epitome of the different ideologies surrounding the project.

At the end, we will then juxtapose the artistic term “modernism” and the sociological term “modernization” and see in how far they are of validity when talking about Brasília. Further, we will then take a look onto contemporary Brasília and try to see how the visions of the three main men behind this project work out.

This paper will be closed by a conclusion that will link the stated sections above and give a general interpretation of the project Brasília.

2. The political vision of Juscelino Kubitschek

2.1 Introduction

In this chapter, we will analyse the motives president Juscelino Kubitschek had in regards to Brasília. Why was it so important for him to build a new capital from scratch in the vast, unpopulated lands of the Minas Geris region and why was he determined to finish his project within four years time.

We will try to show what his vision was, what motivated him and what he left behind. His biography “Por que construí Brasília” will be used as the main academic source in regards to this chapter.

2.2 Kubitschek’s determination

Juscelino Kubitschek can be viewed as the main political force behind the Brasília project. He gained in-depth knowledge of planned cities during his stay as mayor of Belo Horizonte, a city that was planned over a rather long duration. Kubitschek was very much enthusiastic about a new Brazilian capital. He saw this as the chance to give the country new economical impulses but also a chance to finally gain more access to the rich hinterland of the country with all its natural resources. We have to understand that Brazil never had a “Frontier” or “Go-West”-movement like the United States experienced in the 19th century[1]. This mentality of exploring the country helped the United States a lot to tap their resources and economically and politically grow as a nation. Brazil on the other hand, is by far the biggest South American country and had its main focus on the Atlantic Coastal line of the country where all the major cultural, economical and political centres of the country were to be found. We have to envision thus a nation that is incredibly diverse in its self, which has not yet made use of its possibilities that lie in the West and Amazonas. Hence, the building of a new capital in the “interior” was not only a question of good urban planning, but it was to be a symbol for a newly awakened Brazil[2]. To Kubitsch, modernism was everything, it was the chance to show the world, that Brazil would finally leave behind its post-colonial archaic structures and move on to become the nation he envisioned.

Because of the Brazilian political system that did not entitle Juscelino Kubitschek to run a consecutive second term for office of president, he was determined to finish the new Brazilian capital before the end of his presidency. This explains very graphically, how it was made possible to plan, build and finish a brand new city within only four years time.

In regards to Brasília, the term “modernization” needs to be understood not solely as the economical development of a nation, but also the desire to consolidate the government, centralize it and to give it a new modern face that would represent the new era that Brazil and the Brazilians would approaches after the inauguration of the new capital[3].

2.3 “50 anos em 5”

In 1955, Juscelino Kubitsch made the statement that he wanted to achieve “fifty years of progress in five years of government”. His “Target Programme”, a nation wide master plan including more than thirty development projects in order to achieve social progression and economical growth within the country, accompanied this slogan. The far more important and also prestigious project was of course the construction of Brasília, which thus enjoyed ultimate priority. Brasília was believed to be the analogy of a modern and advancing Brazilian society and according to Kubitsch, it would fundamentally contribute to the allotment of the far West of Brazil[4].

With the determination of Juscelino Kubitsch, the project of Brasília was finally given a go in 1952. The organization “NOVACAP” was founded in order to maintain the conception and building of the new capital.

Kubitschek was determined to finalize this project, or respectively to maintain a progress into it, that would eventually lead to a point of no return within his presidency. His famous quote “50 years of development in 5 years” is symptomatic for his term as president. Another term important to understand Juscelino Kubitschek is the so-called “desenvolvimento”, the constant governmental ordering of projects in the country to bring the needed modernization to the country throughout the mean of “modernism”.

The construction of Brasília and the several other projects in the country were not only favourable for the Brazilian economy, also the employment rate was rather low because of the demanded work labour for his mega project. The state had to invest a lot of money into the economy in order to finance it. This lead to an increasingly high inflation rate which would later on leave Brazil uncompetitive on the international markets which played out favourably for the military dictatorship from 1961 onwards, that abused this fact in order to justify their strict regime.

When reading his biography in regards to Brasília, it becomes clear to the reader, that Kubitschek was not very interested in a visual vision of his project as long as it would meet the expectations of “modern”. This is also the reason why he put Costa and Niemeyer in charge of this project, for which “modernism” was not an economical progression but a social movement towards a socialist society. From his time as mayor of Belo Horizonte, he was already familiar of the work of Oscar Niemeyer who constructed the Pampulha Neighbourhood for Kubitschek[5].

2.4 The old capital: Rio de Janeiro

A lot of people were tired of the stigma of the entire Brazilian life being like the Copacabana. They wanted to present a new Brazil, with a functional and efficient administrative body. Rio de Janeiro became capital of Brazil in 1800 when the coffee plantations were demanding a move from the then-political centre of Salvador do Bahia in the North.

Rio de Janeiro is a gem for the Brazilian people, but with its dreamy scenery, its beaches, its lifestyle and its typical carioca attitude, it was not a good option for a capital from the beginning. Furthermore, the city was faced with huge problems regarding the future urban planning of the city. Locked between the ocean and the mountains, there was no space left for any potential growth, a crucial factor considering Brazil only had 50 million inhabitants in 1950 and more than 180 in 2010. The country was thus in need of a new fresh capital which offered a chance of growth[6].

The idea of “Brasília” was officially finalized in 1952, when Juscelino Kubitschek declared that the new capital was to be built and planning started.

2.5 Kubitschek’s legacy

Kubitschek gave the Brazilians what he thought was necessary to further evolving and become one nation. In his book, he compares the foundation of then colonial capital Salvador to the foundation of the new capital Brasília. Both were constructed in vast, unknown land and both had a mission. He sees a direct link to when he landed in the Planalto Central on 2 October 1956, and to when the Portuguese landed in Bahia, yet he declares that he has a “people” to be responsible of and to lead into the future where there will be a equal people living not only in the “Centro-Sul”, but also in the “Oeste”.

When asked why he felt such hurry to finish a project within less than four years of time, he answered rather smugly “… Por que inundar uma cidadezinha, só para se construir uma usina?”[7] What Kubitschek disguises is the strong opposition that thought that the Brazilian nation was not ready for such a megaproject, that the country was not able to successfully populate and live in a city based on an elitist vision of the future. Also, he does not mention in his book that due to the constitution, he was not able to run for a second term in office, thus making Brasília a time-wise crucial project that needed to be finished within his time in office.


[1] Epstein, G. David, Brasília, Plan and Reality, 1973

[2] idem

[3] Kubitschek, Juscelino; Por que construí Brasília; 1975

[4] idem

[5] Evenson, Norma; Two Brazilian Capitals; 1973

[6] idem

[7] Kubitschek, Juscelino; Por que construí Brasília; 1975

Excerpt out of 19 pages


Brasília - an analogy of modernism
University of Amsterdam
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Brasilien, Brasília, Modernism, Oscar Niemeyer, Lucio Costa, Plano Piloto, Jucelino Kubitschek, Urban Planning, Architektur, Städtplannung
Quote paper
Adrian Waschmann (Author), 2012, Brasília - an analogy of modernism, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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