22 APRIL 1960, Page 11




ON April 21 the new capital of Brazil will he V./ formally opened. Brasilia in these last few days is a scene of feverish haste, and it is hard to see how this embryonic city can possibly be !WY enough for the opening. But miracles of Industry are being performed. Eighty thousand workers are said to be busy on the site, living in shanty towns specially constructed for the pur- P, °se. At night the whole city is flooded with Illuminations as work proceeds on hundreds of buildings. Two only of these buildings are said t9 be complete, the Hotel and the beautiful President's residence, though even here many last-minute touches are being made. It is never- theless amazing what has been done in three and 4 half years.

It must be an architect's and town-planner's dream to build a new capital city, and Brasilia ts to be the capital of the fourth largest country in the world, a country which contains half the Population of South America, Never before can any similar venture have been undertaken. The chosen site is far away from Brazil's centre of gravity around Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paolo. It Is 600 miles inland, up in the impoverished and underdeveloped uplands. Rio is said to have reached the limit of possible expansion as a capital, but in any case it has long been a Brazilian ambition to have an inland capital nearer to the geographical Centre of the country. Official statements talk of breaking away from the colonial past and inaugurating a new epoch dnd a new type of civilisation.

„ The competition for the pilot plan for Brasilia was won by Lucio Costa, and all the ntileial buildings have subsequently been de- signed by Oscar Niemeyer. The centrepiece of the plan is the Plaza of the Three Powers, dominated by the legislative buildings 'as befits democratic regime.' The concave Senate building and the convex Chamber of Deputies are on either side of two twenty-five-storey administrative blocks which rise far above every- thing else in the town. The two houses of parlia- 'tient are so designed that they can share library, Garage and restaurant facilities. The other two °wers' are represented in the plaza by the Palace of Justice and by the President's palace which is the centre of executive authority. Lead- ing off from this triangle is a 'ministerial esplanade,' with eleven nine-storey buildings for the chief Departments of State. Like the Presi-

r dent's residence, they are structures with much more frontage of glass than one would think desirable for the tropics, and far less privacy

than administrators may appreciate. A tremend- ' ous amount of construction work is still going on in them, though the newspapers record that one or two busloads of civil servants are leaving Rio every day to be ready for the official opening in a week's time.

From this central group, the rest of the town radiates off in a `V' shape, or a bent bow, with two arms of a lake running along each side. In the old colonial days, as one can sec today in the central squares of Lima and Quito, the Cathedral would have faced the Governor's residence, the spiritual against the secular power. But here, in the world's largest Catholic country, the Cathe- dral takes a lower place. Shaped somewhat like an Indian wigwam, made almost entirely of glass, it will certainly be most impressive, though in its present incomplete condition it looks more like a skating rink than a church—one may re- call that Niemeyer's church of St. Francis at Belo Horizonte is too startlingly novel to have received consecration from the ecclesiastical authorities. Other religious groups will receive free grants of land for churches, provided that they secure approval of their architectural plans from NOVACAP, the company which has the concession for building the new capital.

The residential part of the town is composed of 'super-blocks' along wide, tree-lined avenues. Each of these blocks will house about 3,000 people and have its own elementary school. Four blocks together will comprise a neighbourhood, with a certain autonomy in shops, entertainment and secondary education. Four such neighbour- hoods will have their own hospital, and so forth. All this is expected to reduce the need for move- ment within the city. Pedestrian and wheeled traffic are to be kept separate where possible, and an elaborate system of parallel roads manages to avoid intersections for the fast- moving vehicles. Even the cemeteries are so placed that funerals will not have to pass through the city.

Most of the main buildings are by now suffi- ciently advanced to show that this main plan is being kept. But at least ten years more will be needed to see whether it is successful or not. The planning may turn out to have been too rigid, the buildings too uniform. Labour will no doubt come rather from the backward north than the progressive south, and one wonders if large northern families will fit into the small, overly-bourgeois apartments which this archi- tectural dictatorship has prescribed for them. Whether or not this city can attract half a million inhabitants has still to be proved, as also indeed has the belief that it will succeed in altering the centre of gravity and the balance of power in a country with such deeply embedded traditions. The industrial and commercial capital of Brazil is bound to remain at Sao Paolo, and paolistas are far from unanimous in approving this new venture. Likewise the civil servants and members of parliament and embassies can hardly he transplanted easily into the remote interior and away from the fleshpots of Rio. So far it takes a week for correspondence from Rio to reach

Brasilia, and clearly the difficulties of com- munication are going to be enormous. Brasilia is a brave and exciting idea, and both the plans and the execution of the plans are more successful than some of the critics prophesied three years ago. So far, however, the enterprise has created more problems than it looks like solving. Brasilia has a beautiful site and climate, but it is a barren area, and food and petrol have to be flown from far away. One would like to know how much money the whole project is costing, and how far it has contributed and will contribute to the inflation which is Brazil's chief Problem today. Even though the United States of Brazil is larger than the United States of America, the national budget is less by some way than that of New York City. There are so many other possible ways of spending these limited sums with profit in a country where half the People are still illiterate and communications still often primitive or even non-existing. Instead O spending on education and roads, the decision has been taken to build this new, essentially administrative town. in a sense duplicating facili- ties already available, with no guarantee that it will much improve public services which are admittedly much in need of improvement, and With some real danger that the disadvantages of bureaucracy will become even more intensified.

For some time it has been a complaint in Brazilian national life that too often economic and technical considerations have been over- ridden by politics. Few people, indeed, have much doubt that Juscelino Kubitschek intended Brasilia to be a monument to his presidency— hence the tearing hurry of the last few months. Many people regret this hurry in planning and execution, and it is worthy of note that other buildings by Niemeyer, for all their beauty of design, have in four or five years revealed serious weaknesses in structure and sloppiness in finish. A new President will be in office shortly, and past experience suggests that he may be not very in- terested in promoting this memorial to his pre- decessor. Latin America is littered with ferro- concrete hulks of public buildings begun by one regime and discontinued by another, or left half- finished when money or enthusiasm ran out. As the Brazilian writer, Alceu Amororo Lima, has written, 'We Brazilians are much more active as creators than as maintainers. We have more courage for beginnings than for endings. We enjoy innovation, renovation, reformation, but not repetition, conservation, continuation. We build roads but do not maintain them. We erect build- ings, but willingly allow them to get out of order.'