City of Sound is about cities, design, architecture, music, media, politics and more. Written by Dan Hill since 2001.

Belief in Brasilia

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Fine piece of writing on Brasilia by Bill Donahue in the Washington Post [via George Kelly – thanks!]. Through a few seemingly-random encounters Donahue enables the city’s inhabitants to convey the contradictions implicit and explicit within Brasilia – what Robert Hughes called “a museum of architectural ideas” and a “utopian horror”, which nonetheless elicits near-spiritual devotion; slum-like urban areas rapidly developing outside of Oscar Niemayer’s beautifully sculptural, picturesque and underused centre. Donahue neatly describes both how citizens can fervently believe their city into life, seemingly despite everything, and how those who aren’t citizens – visitors such as him – can still tap into these currents of emotion to uncover a city’s essential ‘truths’ or narratives.

“Brasilia survives, I think, because of a strange sort of hope. Its citizens still believe they can attain some shadow of transcendence in a place that is, in truth, composed of bricks and mortar, otherworldly ideas and concrete. In touring the city, I’d encountered, I realized now, a succession of believers: a priest who believed in his church; an architect who believed in his city; a man who believed in his son. Such hope is everywhere in the world — encountering it as a traveler is, really, a matter of just leaving yourself open.”

Washington Post: The Believers


One response to “Belief in Brasilia”

  1. Hartmut Günther Avatar

    Re: Belief in Brasília:
    There is a saying about visiting China: After a week in China, the visitor writes a book; after a month, an article; after a year, silence.
    Living in Brasilia for the past 17 years and having made her the object of study as an environmental psychologist, I never cease to be amazed about the comments produced by visitors.
    What many of these writings have in common is the lack of historical perspective: The city was inaugurated in 1960, in 1956 this was savanna – only two settlements in today’s Federal District which were subsequently incorporated as satellite towns.
    We do know that some of the early predictions about the city did not come true (Simone de Beauvoire comes to mind), of course we don’t know what people will say about the city a hundred years from know. We do know that today, Brasília enjoys the highest quality of life indicators in the country, yet is the object of intense scrutiny by her residents.
    We might also take note of the historical development of other planned cities, for instance Washington, DC – anyone care to cites some of the comments made about that swamp town?
    Hartmut Günther, Ph.D.
    Professor of Psychology
    Environmental Psychology Research Group
    University of Brasília


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