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Oscar Niemeyer
(*1907)

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Brasilia, a capital created ex nihilo in the centre of the country in 1956, was a landmark in the history of town planning. Urban planner Lucio Costa and architect Oscar Niemeyer intended that every element – from the layout of the residential and administrative districts (often compared to the shape of a bird in flight) to the symmetry of the buildings themselves – should be in harmony with the city's overall design. The official buildings, in particular, are innovative and imaginative.  

Brazil 1990. Brasilia's 30th anniversary. Panoramic view. 

Brazil 1990. Brasilia's 30th anniversary. Bridge over Paraná River. 

Brasília, the capital of Brazil, is located in the Federal District of south central Brazil. It is situated in a savanna at an elevation of about 1000 m (about 3300 ft) and has a mild, dry climate. 

A city of striking modern appearance, Brasília developed as a planned city, constructed (beginning in 1957) on an uninhabited site to replace crowded Rio de Janeiro as the national capital. 

The economy of Brasília is driven by the federal government, which employs most of the city’s workers, and to a lesser extent by the city’s construction industry. 

  • Brazil 1990. Brasilia's 30th anniversary. Panoramic view. 
  • Brazil 1990. Brasilia's 30th anniversary. Bridge over Paraná River. 

Outside the city proper are a number of rapidly growing satellite communities, many of which, although lacking in facilities, have a more vital commercial life than Brasília. Brasília is served by a growing network of highways linking it to distant cities such as Belém, Belo Horizonte, and Salvador, and it is connected by railroad with Săo Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. 

Only light manufacturing is permitted in the city. Located in the city are the University of Brasília (1961), the National Theater, botanical gardens, a zoo, and a sports stadium. 
  • Brazil 1985. Brasilia's 25th anniversary. The National Theatre, Acoustic Shell. 

Brazil’s leaders had proposed moving the capital inland from Rio de Janeiro as early as 1789, and the idea was included in the provisions of the 1891 constitution. 

Brazil 1985. Brasilia's 25th anniversary. The National Theatre, Acoustic Shell. 

But it was not until Juscelino Kubitschek’s 1955 campaign for the country’s presidency that the idea took hold. Kubitschek persistently advocated relocating the capital to an inland location because the coastal city of Rio de Janeiro was overcrowded, vulnerable to invasion, and too isolated from the rest of the country. Kubitschek also thought it was important to develop and encourage settlement of the country’s sparsely inhabited interior. 

Brazil 1987. Reverse side of a banknote of 100 Cruzados, showing a view of Brasilia.

The city’s layout resembles the shape of an airliner, with commercial areas, blocks of residential apartment buildings, and foreign embassies occupying the wings, and the offices of the national government filling the fuselage. Key government departments, including the president’s office, Congress, and the Supreme Court, are housed in the Plaza of the Three Powers, located at the nose of the plane on the east edge of the city. The presidential residence, called the Palace of the Dawn, is perched along the west edge of Lago do Paranoá, which surrounds the city on three sides and is formed by a dam across the Paraná River. Among the city’s most celebrated structures are the Ministry of Foreign Relations, which appears to be floating in the water garden that surrounds it, and the futuristic Metropolitan Cathedral, adorned with concrete fingers that resemble a crown of thorns. 

Brazil 1970. Tenth anniversary of Brasilia. Assembly Building. Brazil 1970. Tenth anniversary of Brasilia. Ministry of Foreign Relations with its Reflecting Pool. Brazil 1970. Tenth anniversary of Brasilia. Presidential Palace, also known as "The Palace of the Dawn".
After planners evaluated the region’s topography and natural resources, they chose Brasília’s site for its proximity to several rivers and its accessibility to the rest of the country. Brazilian architect and urban planner Lúcio Costa won a competition to develop the overall city plan, and President Kubitschek commissioned noted Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer (*1907) to design the city’s public buildings. Construction of the new city began in 1957, and on April 21, 1960, Brasília was proclaimed the new capital of Brazil. 

There are no postage stamps depicting Oscar Niemeyer, but there is one of his museum in Curitiba (Paraná). 

  • Brazil 2005. Oscar Niemeyer Museum, Curitiba. 

Brazil 2005. Oscar Niemeyer Museum, Curitiba. 

The federal government soon began the move from Rio de Janeiro. Initially the city suffered from geographical isolation and the disdain of many civil servants. However, Brasília has grown rapidly as people have migrated there, especially from the poorer regions of the country, and the city has begun to achieve its goal of furthering the development of the interior of Brazil. Today the city and its graceful, modernistic buildings stand as one of the world’s foremost examples of city planning. 

In 1987, Brasilia was designated by UNESCO as World Cultural Heritage. Niemeyer is thus the only architect in the world who has had the honour of seeing his life work as cultural heritage. 

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