Brasilia: the evolution of a modernist masterpiece

(image: wikipedia)

In 1956, when Brasilia was conceived, cars were the transportation system of the future. « Adapter la Ville à la Voiture » (adapt the city to cars) was the mainstream credo in the 50’s: as Brasilia was the symbol of Brazil as a modern and avanced country, the city was planned around cars. The town was built along two motorways, the Monumental Axis and the Residential Axis, crossing in the city center. All the important monuments gathered along the Monumental Axis, and were designed in order to give the best image of them when seen from a car’s windowshield. Functions were strictly separated: workplaces on the Monumental Axis, residences on the Residential Axis.

Fifty years later, the city is facing a big challenge.

On one side, the city’s masterplan has become a symbol of Brazil development, and classed as a world heritage site from UNESCO. A change in the masterplan following smart growth principles (retrofitting the motorways into urban avenues, adding new buildings in the central esplanade and mixing different urban functions) would chang too much the image of the city and make it lose its appeal.

On the other side, the transportation philosophy on which Brasilia is based is becoming more and more dysfunctional. Long commutes from residential-only zones to workplaces-only zones are the norm, and buses are often idling all day in the city center between the morning and the evening rush hours.

Trying to solve both problems, the city has started the « integrated Brasilia » master plan. The principle is simple: while keeping the monumental axis as it is, the plan will retrofit the southern part of the residential axis, that will be equipped with metro, tramway and BRT.

According to this plan:

  • The Monumental Axis is no longer the main entrance to the city, being concurrenced by the Residential Axis.
  • The Residential Axis is no longer simmetrical, the southern part being more infrastructured than the northern part. Tramways and BRT will also turn most of the streets of the residential axis into mixed-use streets, open to both pedestrians and vehicles, breaking one of the city’s founding principles.
  • At the southern end of the Residential Axis, new districts have been built. Free from the strict rules of Brasilia’s masterplan, these districts have turned into mixed-use development and are now concurrencing the Monumental Axis.

The Integrated Brasilia Plan hasn’t changed the phisical shape of Brasilia that much, but has turned upside down the way in which the city is perceived and used.

(source: IRD, skyscrapercity, sprawltown)

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