I left Brazil in a similar state of mind as to when I had first arrived -- a state of anticipation.
I spent the last week of my Brazilian summer exploration in Rio de Janeiro during the opening days of the Olympic Games. The city -- locals and visitors alike -- hummed with nervous excitement. No one was quite sure what traffic would be like, which roads would be closed, which forms of public transit would work, which museums would be open, if the crowds would be huge...
I scheduled my trip to overlap with the Olympics because I was interested in seeing how a country puts itself on a world stage in the present day. The expression of ideas about progress and national character was a key component of Brazilian modernism in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s that I have been studying, and I took the opportunity to consider how a similar aim might be enacted now.
The Olympics seemed to pervade the city, and at times to really take over. For instance: a city holiday was declared on the day before and the day of the opening ceremony; national museums such as the Museu Nacional de Belas Artes and the Museo Histórico Nacional were closed; a short-term national law was implemented that required travelers to arrive at Brazilian airports at least two hours before any flight; military police with very large guns patrolled street corners; and volunteers in uniforms of khaki pants and yellow shirts popped up in subway stations to help visitors navigate (oh, how helpful this would have been when I first started my trip!).
My main take-away regarding a city's transformation during a major international event such as the Olympics can be summed up in one word: branding. Olympics signage was widespread, as was other related advertising. Having used Google translate extensively on my trip, their ads were especially endearing.
In many respects, however, life in Rio was relatively normal. I watched the opening ceremony with my good friend AnnAliki at a "per kilo" buffet restaurant in Ipanema, and we couldn't believe how empty it was. Just the two of us cheering for the United States and her native Greece, with a couple other Brazilians. (The party was clearly elsewhere!)
Many of the Olympics activities were concentrated in an area of new building in Barra da Tijuca, a beachside neighborhood located about 30 kilometers, or roughly 18 miles, west of the center of Rio. Lucio Costa designed the original plan for this area in 1969. Sometimes dubbed the Miami of Rio, Barra da Tijuca exhibits some characteristics that are similar to Costa's earlier plan for Brasília -- wide boulevards, large open spaces, and high-rise residential buildings.
I visited Barra da Tijuca the day before the Olympics began. It took me two hours -- one way! -- to get there on public transportation. Exiting the rapid bus transit station -- the promised metro extension has not yet been opened to the public -- I emerged into miles of temporary walkways that connect the multiple arenas of the Parque Olimpico. AECOM master-planned the park, which contains nine stadiums for 13 different events. London's WilinsonEyre designed the largest of the venues, the Arenas Cariocas, which is planned to be used as an Olympic training center after the games. Some venues are being reused from the 2007 Pan American Games; others like the handball arena, the work of the Brazilian firms Oficina de Arquitetos and Lopes, Santos, and Ferreira Gomes, alongside UK-based AndArchitects, is slated to be dismantled and rebuilt as four schools after the games. I could really only skirt the park, but there was still a lot to see, including the athletes' housing in the Olympic Village, which was built on public land and will become luxury housing after the games.
Rio's hosting of the Olympic Games has been the source of much debate, controversy, and protest. Zika virus, pollution, the great levels of income inequality in the city and who will benefit from the Games, are all critical issues surrounding this global event. Rio's Olympics motto, "um mundo novo," kind of makes you just want to cry out for the city's leaders to clean up the Guanabara Bay if what they really want is "a new world."
In other ways, it is hard to deny how Rio suits the summer Olympics. In addition to near-perfect weather this time of year, the city has several large existing built and natural spaces for the events. Maracanã, for example, a large soccer stadium that was built for the 1950 World Cup, served as the venue for the opening and closing ceremonies. Niemeyer's Sambódromo, the site of annual samba parades during Rio's Carnival, was the venue for archery and the marathon. Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas was used for rowing, and Copacabana beach was fittingly used for beach volleyball.
I snagged tickets to a round of men's archery in the Sambódromo on the morning of the day of my flight back to the States -- $20 and a mere two subway stops away! Just a portion of the stands were used for the event, which you can see in my photos. Signs on the nearby streets instructed drivers to keep sounds/honking to a minimum so as to not distract the athletes. After archery, I walked around the Sambódromo; to the south is a storage facility for Carnival costumes that hinted at what fills this space at other times of year. To the east, directly adjacent to the Sambódromo, are favela housing conditions -- a jarring and troubling contrast to the Olympic venue.
Of course, there were more sights I wanted to take in while in Rio.
I stopped by the Instituto Moreira Salles, a cultural institute housed in the former residence of Raymundo Ottoni de Castro Maya, an art patron and industrialist who lived here from 1954-57. (Steve and I visited another one of Ottoni de Castro Maya's houses during the first week of the trip, the Museu Chácara do Céu.)
Italian-educated architect Olavo Redig de Campos designed Instituto Moreira Salles with Brazilian modernist principles and a few twists. For instance, the courtyard, the mountain views, and the thin marble pilotis are all familiar tropes, but the red-walled entrance said to be inspired by the Villa of the Mysteries at Pompeii is a surprise. Redig de Campos also took the cobogós, or the open brick walls that Costa employed on balconies for shade, and made them decidedly decorative. Scale is modulated, making the cobogós monumental. Compare Redig de Campos's scheme with that of Costa at Parque Guinle - the last photo in this series.
I had the wonderful opportunity to meet Dr. José Pessôa, Professor of Architecture at the Universidade Federal Fluminense, and to speak with him about my research. Prof. Pessôa very graciously arranged for me to visit the Casa das Canoas, Niemeyer's own home in the lush hillside of Rio, dating to the early 1950s. Typically, this space functions as the headquarters for the Oscar Niemeyer Foundation, but at present the building is under restoration and I would not otherwise have been able to see this canonical work.
It was pouring rain when we visited -- but it's always good to experience architecture under varying weather conditions! A large boulder anchors the composition of the house; interior and exterior spaces straddle it. Long horizontal extensions of the roof keep the house shaded on sunny days. Similar curving lines form other details in the house, such as the bookshelf on the lower level.
Here are a few more snapshots, a smattering of sights seen on my last few days: the tranquil Jardim Botânico, the colorful market at São Cristóvão, the opulent Mosteiro de São Bento, and the two small patches of "little Portugal" in downtown Rio, Travessa do Comércio and Morro da Conceição.
On my last night I watched the sunset from Arpoador -- I couldn't have imagined a better way to say "tchau for now" to Brazil.
And now -- YOU!
Thank you so much for visiting my blog. If you'd like to go back at flip through previous posts, the "archives" section on the righthand side of my site makes that a bit easier to do. If you've just landed on Brazil Bound for the first time, you can learn more about my project on the About page. My posts about Minas Gerais, Brasília, and São Miguel das Missoes also provide a diverse sampling of the range of my activities this summer.
I am incredibly grateful to the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts for making it possible for me to explore Brazilian architecture this summer -- my horizons have truly been broadened.
I am so thankful for my family, friends, colleagues, and mentors who supported and helped me in all stages of the planning and execution of this study. To my new friends who welcomed me in Brazil -- thank you for making me feel at home in your country. And to the dozens and dozens (probably hundreds) of Brazilian strangers who helped me find off-the-beaten-path buildings, or patiently decoded my Portuguese, or walked me to bus stops I couldn't find -- muito obgriada. This experience has opened up a completely new discourse to me as a scholar, and I look forward to seeing how it will shape my approach to my future scholarship and teaching. A state, if you will, of anticipation.
From my first walk through the achingly beautiful Pelourinho, Salvador da Bahia's historic center -- actually no, maybe from the breakfast table in my pousada on my first morning here -- Salvador was high on my mental wishlist of places to return to in my lifetime. I am so grateful I was able to visit this incredible city on my trip to Brazil this summer, but three days was just not enough to take in all the pastel-hued 17th and 18th-century buildings, tropical breezes, and reverberating drum beats.
Salvador da Bahia was the capital of colonial Brazil from 1549 to 1763, and functioned as a major port of the country's sugarcane industry and African slave trade. The city's wealth, and the displays of such richness in its opulent baroque architecture, relied heavily on the labor of enslaved Africans.
On my first day in Salvador, nothing could tear me away from the historic zone that was the center of so much of this history, the Pelourinho, which takes its name from the "pelourinho" or whipping post where enslaved blacks were exposed and beaten. From my pousada at the north end of the historic city center, I wound southward, stopping at every museum and church that I could on my way down the Largo do Carmo, the Rua São Francisco, and finally the main praça, Terreiro de Jesus.
Igreja Nossa Senhora do Rosário dos Pretos, begun in 1704 and built over the next 100 years, was a worship space for the enslaved and freed black population in Salvador. The beautiful azulejos and the painted ceiling reminded me of churches I had seen in Minas Gerais.
Further south in the Pelourinho, or Pelô for short, was the church and convent of São Francisco, the ultimate showpiece of Bahia's baroque wealth. Finished in 1723, the walls of the nave and chancel are covered in gold-leaf carvings, crafted by enslaved Africans who were prohibited from practicing their own religion. The courtyard displays an enveloping array of azulejos that were transported from Portugal in the 1740s. The imagery on the tiles is derived from the paintings of the Flemish artist Otto van Veen -- yet another iteration of visual forms transmitted across the Atlantic.
I stopped for lunch at the Senac culinary school buffet, a delicious lunch option for just about $6. Senac also has a small Bahian gastronomy museum, which confirmed what my tastebuds had told me -- Bahian food is a lot spicier than foods I had tried in other areas of Brazil! Traditional Bahian food has an African influence, with ingredients like coconut cream, tomato, hot malagneta peppers, coriander, and dende oil from a palm that grows in Brazil and in West and Central African countries.
Salvador is situated on a cliff overlooking the Baía de Todos os Santos, or the Bay of All Saints. The geography divides the city into an upper and a lower portion, and from the cidade alta, or upper city, there are stunning views at sunset -- the only place in Brazil where the sun appears to be setting over the water. The following images show the lower city from the top of the impressive art deco Elevador Lacerda, and the sunset from a lovely cafe in the Pelô called Cafélier.
Here is that famous sunset from the Praia Porto da Barra, where my new Bahian friends, Lara and Davi, introduced me to acarajé (shrimp and bean fritters), and beach cheese -- a delicious, delicious snack of queijo fresco that is roasted over coals, covered in oregano and molasses, and served on a stick. Brazil's oldest lighthouse, the Farol da Barra which dates to 1698, guards this shore.
Seemingly no weekend in Salvador is complete without Saturday night jazz and bossa nova concerts at the Museu de Arte Moderna, also known as "JAM no MAM." I went with Lara and Davi, who graciously set aside extra time for me to explore the building -- originally an 18th-century factory called Solar do Unhão. Lina Bo Bardi rehabbed this colonial complex in the early 1960s. She inserted a giant spiraling stair into one of the galleries, left rails in the cobblestones on the lower level, and tied everything together with her characteristic red details.
Salvador is the center of Afro-Brazilian culture in Brazil -- from music to religion to dance and martial-arts traditions. Candomblé is practiced here, a Bahian religion developed from a synthesis of Yoruba, Fon, and Bantu beliefs brought from West Africa, with elements of Catholicism. Capoeira, a Brazilian martial-art dating to the 16th century, also comes from Bahia. Capoeira's origins are debated among scholars, but it is agreed that enslaved Afro-Brazilians played a critical role in the development of the art form that combines dance, acrobatics, and music. Capoeira was banned at different points during Brazil's history until as recently as the 1920s. In 2014, UNESCO granted capoeira protected status as "intangible cultural heritage."
Here is a glimpse at one of the many drumming groups that dazzle tourists like me in the Pelô. The video cannot fully convey the experience of seeing one of these groups in person -- how the drum beats seem to pound inside you, and the way in which the sounds multiply in force, ricocheting off the centuries-old walls. I attended the fabulous Balé Folclórico, too, but naturally, photos weren't allowed during the performance. I got to see several Candomblé dances as well as some jaw-dropping capoeira -- back flips on the small stage!
I capped off my time in Salvador with a visit to the church of Nosso Senhor do Bonfim, which functions as a center of Candomblé religion and Catholic syncretism. Candomblistas honor their highest deity, Oxalá, here, who they associate with Nosso Senhor do Bonfim (Our Lord of the Good End). The church of Nosso Senhor do Bonfim is know for its fitas, or colorful ribbons, that carry wishes and prayers of the faithful, adorning the church's exterior gate as well as its altar. The ribbons also serve as a souvenir from the church and are seen throughout Salvador and Brazil. The day was not complete without coconut ice cream from Sorveteria da Ribeira -- after about a dozen Bahians told me this was a must-try!
This was the "crazy" leg of my trip. I flew from São Paulo to Porto Alegre, which is located in the southernmost state of Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul. From there, it was a 7-hour bus to the small southwestern town of Santo Angelo. Cue another 1.5-hour bus the next morning to reach São Miguel das Missões, the ruinous site of a 17th-century Jesuit mission and accompanying Lucio Costa-designed museum, built in 1937. São Miguel is one of the most remote places I have ever been, and I was so in awe of where I was on the globe that I took a screenshot of my google maps location:
The site of São Miguel das Missões is at the crux of my project. It combines a Costa-selected historic site chosen at the onset of Brazil's official national historic preservation program to be representative of Brazil's architectural heritage, with a building designed by him in a modernist architectural language that responds to an existing colonial-era structure. São Miguel das Missões was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983.
The ruins of the church, São Miguel Arcanjo are completely magnificent -- visually, and for the story they embody. São Miguel is one of dozens of missions that the Jesuits built in the 17th century (the remains of 30 exist today), in a region that comprises present-day southwestern Brazil, southern Paraguay, and northern Argentina. These missions were created at the behest of the governor of the then-Spanish province of Paraguay, who ordered the Jesuits to convert the Guarani people who lived here.
The oft-cited characteristic of the Jesuit communities is that they sought to convert the Guarani without destroying their cultural and linguistic practices. The art and music of this time and place is said to have combined Guarani and European traditions. The Jesuits also created a written form of the Tupi-Guarani language, publishing several works in it on one of South America's earliest printing presses.
Looking at the architecture and the reconstructed plan, however, hierarchies of power are clear (not to mention the privilege given to a written form of language). The model in my photo below shows what is thought to have been São Miguel's layout for its 6,900 inhabitants. Starting at the bottom of the photo and circling around the site counter clockwise, this settlement contained houses for the Guarani; a house for visitors/travelers; a storehouse and workshop space; a cloister, colégio (college/education space), and priests' residence; the church; an orchard and garden; a cemetery, and an orphanage.
The plan surprised me in its lack of a city-like layout. Instead of streets radiating from the main praça as one might find in a typical colonial town, the plan looks like an enlarged open-air church format, with the houses in place of "pews", and larger spaces of power centrally concentrated at one end, like an altar zone.
An Italian architect named Gian Battista Primoli designed the church in 1735, and it is largely what remains of São Miguel das Missões today. In 1750 the Treaty of Madrid dictated that São Miguel and like sites be handed over to Portuguese rule, which did not protect the Guarani from being enslaved. The Guarani War ensued, resulting in 1,500 Guarani deaths, many more sold into slavery, and the decimation of their population. The site fell into ruin.
Costa's modest museum houses 18th-century religious art from the missions that was dispersed throughout the region. In his design, Costa utilized the existing entrance pavilion to the park, adding to it an understated glass enclosure. The open plan and large panes of glass employ some building blocks of modernism -- but I think you have to hunt for the modern aspects in this work. The pavilion's design seems to defer to the church, the crown jewel of the archaeological site. Vestiges of the ruins are worked into the walls of the museum, and the material coloration certainly is a sensitive quotation of the ruins.
When I visited São Miguel das Missões, Costa's museum was under renovation because high winds had blown out the large glass windows. (Art objects have been moved to a nearby location for display.) It was also one of the only days it rained on my trip. It somehow seemed very fitting that I be incredibly aware of the weather and its impact as I walked through these ruinous shells of both baroque and modern architecture.
I stuck around for the somewhat kitschy light and sound show, which recounts the history of the site in 45 minutes (and outside in 40-degree Fahrenheit weather!). It was interesting to see a different type of educational tool -- a way to convey didactic material without covering the site in informational plaques. This is a gaucho sitting in front of me!
Experiencing São Miguel das Missões was certainly a highlight, but seeing the countryside of Rio Grande do Sul was also fascinating. The rolling hills were full of horses, cows, chickens, orange trees, and the occasional lone palm tree. Gauchos, a term used to refer to local ranchers of the region, wandered the town in their traditional attire of blooming pants, cowboy-like boots, hats, and ponchos. I tasted a chimarrão, erva-mate tea drunk from a gourd with a metal straw, and it was even cold enough to cozy up to the fireplace in my pousada.
Welcome to the seemingly endless city of São Paulo, the third largest city in the world:
This is a view from Edificio Copan, a Niemeyer-designed apartment building in central São Paulo that dates to the early 1950s. I visited the building with my friend Jonas, a PhD student in architectural history here in São Paulo. Jonas had cleverly arranged an apartment-hunting visit so that we could pop around the building and see about 6 different living spaces!
Edificio Copan has an astounding 1,160 apartments (smack in the middle of the city!) and an internal "street" with 72 businesses, making it one of the biggest buildings in Brazil. About 2,000 residents live here -- so many that the building even has its own postal code, 01046-925. When I visited, it was covered in blue mesh because of loose tiles on the facade. I think they're doing restoration work, too. Let's hope.
In Sampa -- the locals' nickname for the metropolis -- I got to know a different strand of Brazilian modernism than I have seen thus far: the Paulista, or São Paulo-based, school. Paulista architecture is stereotypically rougher, bolder, and more Brutalist-leaning than that of the Carioca architects like Costa and Niemeyer.
I feel so fortunate to have been able to explore some of the fabulous work of Lina Bo Bardi (1914-92), an Italian-born Brazilian who moved to Rio de Janeiro in the 1940s with her husband, art critic Pietro Maria Bardi. The couple took up residence in São Paulo in 1947 when Mr. Bardi was invited to create a modern art museum there.
And here is where they lived... Lina Bo Bardi's "casa de vidro," or glass house, in the Morumbi neighborhood of São Paulo, designed in 1949. This house is visually and structurally lighter than most of her other works, with the main volume of the house hoisted on pilotis and hovering at tree-canopy level that takes advantage of the sloping site. The house pivots around a central void which protects a tree that was existing to the site. I thought the gently arching roof was rather charming, and a little more playful than the strictly flat roofs of earlier 20th-century modernism or Philip Johnson's glass house in New Canaan, CT, an unavoidable comparison.
Lina Bo Bardi also designed the modern art museum that her husband founded, the Museu de Arte de São Paulo (1957-69) known as "MASP." Bardi's building uses a striking structural system in which she "hung" the main gallery volume from the roof, using giant red poured-concrete columns for support. The result of this architectural gesture was the creation of an open public space below the building at street level adjacent to Avenida Paulista, one of the biggest boulevards in São Paulo. Because of this incorporation of public space, the municipal government financed the building.
MASP has two "basement" levels that again take advantage of the sloping site -- though they are full of sunlight and feel integrated with the rest of the building, thanks to a bold red stair that quotes the exterior structure.
MASP has recently restaged Bardi's original gallery design. Instead of mounting the museum's paintings on walls as in a traditional scheme, Bardi created glass easels with concrete bases that are divorced from the wall, revealing both the front and the back of the paintings. The viewer approaches each artwork without any wall text in view, and must circle around the painting to see the didactic panel with artist information.
Currently, there are 119 works from MASP's collection on view in this gallery, dating from 4th century B.C. to 2008. They are arranged chronologically (though Bardi's original scheme arranged works by region or artistic school) to break down some traditional art historical narratives. The layout really invites wandering... I found it almost impossible to view these works in "order" like you would in a typical museum; something ahead of you catches your eye, and you wander toward it.
I visited a third major work of Bardi's in the São Paulo area, SESC Pompéia, a cultural center designed in 1977. The complex is a dazzling combination of theaters, sports facilities, a pool, restaurant and bar, gallery, artist workshops, reading area, and communal spaces for general use. Bardi adapted an existing factory building (the lower brick structure in my photos), and paired it with two large concrete towers that house the sports facilities.
Red details tie everything together -- the old and the new. When I was in these spaces, I felt as though Bardi must have been able to really imagine the experience of being in every little nook of the building -- how it would feel to sit there, what one would see, etc.
Okay, I cannot continue with a post about São Paulo without telling you how great the food in this city is!!! Fabulous food. I had delicious pizza with a new friend Hugo at Veridiana Pizzaria (thanks so much Francesca for introducing us!), fantastic ramen in the Japanese neighborhood of Liberdade at a place called "Lamen Kazu" (yes, it took me a while to realize that this is just ramen with a different spelling), and super creamy pastel de nata, a traditional Portuguese pastry made of egg yolks at Casa Mathilde. Other highlights included finding a Brazilian "diner" for breakfast right around the corner from where I stayed, tasting the supposed best pão de queijo in São Paulo at Lá da Venda, and seeing the myriad of bananas types at a Saturday market in Pinheiros. (I wish some of my food photos were better but we were working with some low lighting here!)
I stayed in a cozy Airbnb in Pinheiros (thank you Nathalia!), a wonderful neighborhood to wander, especially on Saturdays when there is a fun antiques fair. Two things really struck me about the streetscape -- the juxtaposition between the smaller, older buildings and the tall high rises that have been built more recently, and the outrageously cool street art (even if I inadvertently posed in front of a woman's crotch).
São Paulo is so rich with museums and cultural offerings. I toured the Theatro Municipal from 1911, which is modeled on the Palais Garnier opera in Paris. It makes use of some local materials, though, like a regional marble, itupararanga, which has now been completely extracted from the earth, and local woods called pau marfim and peroba rosa, both of which are now also extinct. My guide told me that when from the theater was inaugurated up until the 1970s (!), there were three segregated "orders" of seating -- the closest and best seats were occupied by the coffee barons and politicians, the second balcony level was used by lawyers, doctors, architects, and engineers, and the top level was for teachers, students, and Italian immigrants who had to use side doors to enter the theater.
On my last day in Sampa, I visited Ibirapuera Park, another amazing public amenity in São Paulo. Niemeyer was commissioned to design five buildings here in 1954 for the city's 400th anniversary. A sinuous canopy connects the buildings and serves as a prime skateboard and rollerblade zone! These structures now house the São Paulo art biennial, the Museu de Arte Moderna, and the Museu Afro-Brasil, which had moving exhibitions on the history of slavery in Brazil as well as the art and material culture of Afro-Brazilian traditions practiced today. I am including an image of costumes from the maracatu festival that originated in northeastern Brazil and is now practiced throughout the country. This was a good primer for my trip to Bahia -- more to come soon in a subsequent post!
Wow, there is truly no place like Brasilia. Relentless. modern. utopia.
In the 1950s, Brazilian president Juscelino Kubitschek called for the relocation of Brazil's capital city from Rio de Janeiro to Brasília. At the time, the land that would become Brasília was unsettled, as this photo from 1957 of Brasília's beginnings by Mario Fontenelle shows:
The project of Brasília was said to be an attempt to make the capital more geographically central for the entire country and to bring development further into the interior. One Brazilian friend told me that he still finds this problematic today; that the government is too removed from the action and the realities of the majority of the population. At the same time, my Airbnb host said she really likes living in Brasília, that the quality of life is very good, and that it is much calmer than other major Brazilian metropolises.
Kubitschek asked Niemeyer to design the city plan and the architecture. Niemeyer took on the buildings but delegated the plan, a competition for which was launched in 1957. Le Corbusier submitted, citing their previous collaboration on the Ministry of Health and Education building -- famously, he did not even receive a reply. Kubitschek and Niemeyer did not want an international star to design their version of modern Brazil.
The story goes that Lucio Costa nonchalantly submitted his proposal; he was not intending to enter the competition, but a solution came to him in finished form and he had to submit it. He won the competition with his "pilot plan." From the air, the plan resembles an airplane, with the "body" of the plane being the "Eixo Monumental," or the Monumental Axis, which contains the government buildings; the commercial, hotel, and banking sectors; and the bus station. The "wings" of the plane form the residential blocks and their corresponding commercial strips.
Being in Brasília was like being in a diagram on an architect's drafting table. As I mentioned, the entire city is divided into sectors, so all of the functions of the city are parceled out into different zones. The addresses indicate the zone of the city. For instance: SCLS 405, Bloco B, Loja 6 is the address of a restaurant in Setor Comércio Local Sul, not to be confused with SQS 405, Bloco B, which would be apartment building B in Super Quadra Sul 405. It continues: SEN = Setor de Embaixadas Norte (the northern embassies), SHS = Setor Hoteleiro Sul (the southern hotel sector), and SCS = Setor Comerical Sul (the commercial office-block next to the main shopping center)... just to name a few. You really know where you are if you know the system!
I got to spend 3 days in Brasília, staying in one of the residential "super squares" and walking -- yes walking -- and taking the buses everywhere. Brasília is decidedly *not* built for the pedestrian. Having grown up in Cincinnati, a city I love dearly but one in which you need a car to get around, I understood the shocked response when I asked, "how far it is to walk from the Congresso Nacional to the Cathedral?" "Oh you can't walk there!"
Brasília does funny things with scale. It was about a 30-minute walk between these two buildings on the Eixo Monumental, though it looks like it would be so much closer. You can SEE the building you want to walk towards for miles because the space is so open, yet you have very few visual reference points for how far away it actually is. You walk past identical government ministry buildings that are designed for a car's approach, not a pedestrian's, and there are few stands/shops at a human scale to engage your eye as you walk by.
But it's Brasil, so the buses are full and run frequently. There is a metro in Asa Sul (the southern residential wing) and points south of the Pilot Plan -- though because of a strike, it was only running during rush hour when I was there.
Here are some photos from my first morning in Brasilia, starting out at the Praça dos Trés Poderes -- home to the Congresso Nacional (the National Congress -- the "bowl" is the chamber of the deputies and the "dome" is the senate), the Palácio do Planalto (the Palace of the Plateau, the president's offices), and the Supremo Tribunal Federal (the Supreme Court). I passed by the Palácio do Itamaraty (the foreign ministry building) and Palácio da Justiça (Ministry of Justice), and strolled down the Esplanade of the Ministries with their 11 matching buildings.
Niemeyer designed all of these buildings between 1956 and 1960. Most of them work with variations of a "modern columnar order," i.e. thin columns and arches stretched and arranged in different ways, typically around a glass box. Vehicle-width ramps of varying heights lead from the street -- not the sidewalk -- up into the buildings. Most of the buildings (except the Ministries) seem to hover above the ground, just touching down in the lightest structurally-possible way.
It was a Saturday and it was was very quiet in the Distrito Federal. For lunch, I had to cab to the "commercial zone" of the city, with the malls and the food courts. There was absolutely nowhere to eat down by the government buildings. The last photo in this gallery is from Monday, and you can see the difference when the Eixo Monumental was packed with cars.
I couldn't miss the Catedral Metropolitana or the Museu Nacional either:
On Sunday, I trekked to the top of Costa's TV Tower for the best view in town. Even the addresses of the little fair and food court at the base of the tower follow the city-wide system!
I wandered around the lovely Super Square 308 -- the first residential block to be built and the "model" square for the residential sector. It contains apartment buildings, the commercial strips (the designated zones for shops), a Niemeyer-designed church, a school, a social club (think tennis and swim club), a health center, a kindergarten, a library, and a movie theater.
Here are some photos of other super squares nearby. They fit the "model" more or less, but do vary from block to block:
One of my favorite things about Brasília -- and I am sure this would seem normal to anyone who is from there (forgive me, Daniella) -- was how a little cafe would be nestled in the midst of one of the commercial strips between the super squares. Ernesto Cafés Especias was one of these spots -- a wonderful breakfast stop. Like many of shops in these commercial strips, Ernesto had this great grassy backyard with outdoor seating. (Apologies for the photo quality, these were shot from my little Brazilian cell phone since I left my camera at home that morning!)
I also visited the presidential palace, the Palácio da Alvorada, or "Palace of the Dawn" (1956-58). I could barely see it because this is as close as one can get! You can make out the gracefully curving arches, a similar style to the government buildings in town. This is the building supposedly inspired by the arches of Diamantina's market. I'm not sure I quite see it, unless you consider Niemeyer was working with inverted shapes, or playing with the market's shadows...
My Airbnb host Maria Sofia was so kind to give me an evening tour of Brasilia, when the Eixo Monumental takes on an entirely different and beautiful quality: