Brasilia, An Urban Vision Of The Future Moves Into Middle Age
Carlos Tromben

BRASILIA - At first sight, Brasilia is made exclusively of highways. So either the city is hiding below the carefully trimmed grass, or it is just another Latin American myth. Its inhabitants are also invisible. How do they go from one place to another if there are no sidewalks or walkways?

Our bus makes another turn and stops at a railroad crossing. We stay there for a few minutes -- the time for me to gaze at the signs indicating neighborhoods and areas with cryptic names, seeking some kind of reference point.

Finally, the Brazilian capital appears with its grand esplanade and its characteristic buildings. The Planalto Palace (the Presidential Palace), protected by two uniformed guards stationed on each side of the long access ramps; the National Congress, with its two towers and two white domes pregnant with meaning: the semi-sphere on the left is the seat of the Senate and symbolizes ideas and reflection, while the bowl on the right -- representing the democratic receptiveness -- is the seat of the Chamber of the Deputies; and the Itamaraty Palace, the headquarters of the Ministry of External Relations, with its reflecting pool and plays of light.

It is not a coincidence that the National Congress is larger than the Palácio do, or that the Ministries -- except for Foreign Affairs -- form two rows of identical rectangular buildings, lacking any particular identity and labeled with the same large gold letters. At first sight, they look almost like huge file cabinets. They are also the buildings that have aged the most, both physically and stylistically. In front of them, dozens of officials are standing, waiting to be needed; to complete the picture, add a couple of guards, receptionists, cleaning staff. Is that what architects Lúcio Costa, Oscar Niemeyer or Roberto Burle Marx were thinking about when they drew the buildings?

Real life in Brasilia is happening in the residential areas, with its mix of apartment buildings, public services, shops and green areas. All the embassies are in the same neighborhood, and the only buildings that escaped the rigid planning are the favelas and the homes of the rich, on the other side of the (artificial) lake of Paranoa.

A Parisian connection

With all its contradictions, its achievements and failures, Brasilia inevitably recalls the years when Latin American governments planned and executed these types of mega-projects. By embracing modernism, they were somehow trying to make a radical cut with the past and reshape the future – something that is either impossible or simply too expensive.

Such a temptation was not limited to the Latin American elite. Of all the buildings that French PresidentFrançois Mitterrand built to celebrate his presidency, none has been more criticized than the National Library, designed by Dominique Perrault. It is a building that undoubtedly drew inspiration from Brasilia’s National Congress: four towers set on a cold esplanade, with long access ramps that users complain about in both winter and summer.

Each tower symbolizes something: there’s the tower of the Times, that of the Laws, the tower of the Numbers and that of the Letters. But by passing next to them, one realizes that some are only partially used – and some completely empty.

It is also said that computer, electrical and ventilation systems inside the complex have never worked well, and that people working there suffer from respiratory diseases, claustrophobia and hallucinations.

But there is a fundamental difference between the dysfunctions of modernism in Brasilia and the postmodernism of the French National Library. Brasilia is located in Latin America, where the vitality helps, to some extent, improve the systems of information and correct the failures. The Brasilienses, as the inhabitants of the Brazilian capital are known, are able to add a jeitinho (Brazilian touch) to the city, and bring energy where Costa and Niemeyer’s plans did not succeed. Such a touch among Parisians is in far shorter supply.

Support Worldcrunch
We are grateful for reader support to continue our unique mission of delivering in English the best international journalism, regardless of language or geography. Click here to contribute whatever you can. Merci!

Peng Shuai, A Reckoning China's Communist Party Can't Afford To Face

The mysterious disappearance – and brief reappearance – of the Chinese tennis star after her #metoo accusation against a party leader shows Beijing is prepared to do whatever is necessary to quash any challenge from its absolute rule.

Fears are growing about the safety and whereabouts of Peng Shuai

Yan Bennett and John Garrick

Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai's apparent disappearance may have ended with a smattering of public events, which were carefully curated by state-run media and circulated in online clips. But many questions remain about the three weeks in which she was missing, and concerns linger over her well-being.

Peng, a former Wimbledon and French Open doubles champion, had been out of the public eye since Nov. 2. 2021 when she penned a since-deleted social media post accusing former Chinese Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual misconduct.

In the U.S. and Europe, such moments of courage from high-profile women have built momentum to out perpetrators of sexual harassment and assault and give a voice to those wronged. But in the political context of today's People's Republic of China (PRC) – a country that tightly controls political narratives within and outside its borders – something else happened. Peng was seemingly silenced; her #MeToo allegation was censored almost as soon as it was made.

Keep reading... Show less
Support Worldcrunch
We are grateful for reader support to continue our unique mission of delivering in English the best international journalism, regardless of language or geography. Click here to contribute whatever you can. Merci!