Brazil’s modernist dream

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Brasília, the capital of Brazil, emerges out of the country’s vast central plains like a modernist dream, with its sweeping concrete parabolas and blown open skies. Built in the late 1950s, it was the crown jewel of Brazil’s modernising project, which promised fifty years of development in five. Brasília now rises up as a spectre of past dreams for a modernist future, with the Plano Piloto laying out streets in the shape of an airplane, advancing forward towards this utopic future. The design owes much to the poetic vision of its architect, Oscar Niemeyer. His free flowing curves structure one’s experience of the city; the planetary Cultural Center of Brasilía sinks into the ground, the crown of the Metropolitan Cathedral bends open generously to the sky. There is, however, a certain inhumanity about the place; the streets are nameless and addresses are simply sector and block. The city is divided by the eixo monumental, an avenue that leads to the political heart of the country. Once it was built, this centre was almost immediately home to a military dictatorship and since then it has not been able to escape the shadow of corruption. Brasília embodies a city of the future and also the pervasive fear that this future may never be realised.