Day 42 :: Capital Federal

A montage of Rio, Oscar Niemeyer’s Complexo Cultural da República, his (under reconstruction) Catedral Metropolitana Nossa Senhora Aparecida, and a teaser of the best thing I have seen thus far in Brazil, Lúcio Costa’s Federal District.

Early in the morning I descended from the top bunk of a cramped room, heavy with the stench of hungover travelers. Happily I was leaving my hostel in Rio. I had breakfast with the few people I became friends with – a young German environmental engineer working with the Nicaraguan government and in Brazil on vacation, and the medical student from Chicago who saved me from imminent robbery – and took off for the airport.

I arrived to Brasilia, thankfully some degrees cooler than RJ and, upon first impulse, infinitely more rational. In the 60’s Lúcio Costa won a competition for the urban plan of what would be Brazil’s new capital – to what degree the city was built from the actual design I’m unsure, however the primary highways and governmental districts scream rationalism. Because the city isn’t necessarily set up for tourism per se – it seems like most visitors are diplomats or businessmen – I had to get a hotel. Never have air conditioning, cable TV, and a concierge been so gratefully appreciated.

Though storm clouds were fast approaching in the vast skies that so perfecetly framed the prisms making up the city’s skyline, I decided to head out and see what I could. I made it as far as the first of Oscar Niemeyer’s cultural projects on the western tip of the Federal District before I decided to trek back to the hotel.

And no, I still can’t stomach the cartoonish parody of architecture that is Oscar Niemeyer, but this trip will finally allow me the chance to confirm my suspicions. A good friend and great architect, Harris Ford, once told me in a time of (my) utter despair at Yale, “you know, Parsa, it’s just as important and valuable to know what you don’t like in [this world].” Those words always stuck with me, and I have found it to be one of the great aphorisms of our discipline.

federal district

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