I must have been 7 or 8 years old when I first heard of Brasilia. And, I would hear about it many more times over the years. See, my mother and my father were both architects, and the dinner table conversation would naturally circle around such subject as revolutionary new thin sheets of concrete magically spanning entire facades. And about this genius with the German name (Niemeyer) who would design buildings as if they were furniture. No more boxes, now architecture would be the realm of elegant curves suspended in the air. Niemeyer would take the ideas of Le Corbusier two levels higher. They also discussed the new revolutionary ideas about how future cities should be planned. In a few words, traveling to Brasilia filled me with expectation, just like a kid before Christmas eve. That I myself had married an architect in the meantime and that we would have our own conversations on such topics would only amplify things.
But, I had also big worries. As a photographer, could I find images that have not been made thousand of times before? Could I offer views that are somehow new? I had seen many books and photographs of these iconic shapes and structures. Brasilia's images are a fascination, and I felt challenged.
We came to the capital to visit friends who live and work there, and were happy to both see them for the first time in years as well as to get to see Niemeyer's dream. And, yet, we were truly unprepared to this utopia called Brasilia. The blueprint of the city is like no other in the world, resembling the shape of a plane, perhaps of a dragonfly. Crossings are avoided by design, and so in order to get from A to B one has to follow curvy, spacious roads that connect the different quarters. Indeed, in his utopian vision of what would be the city of future, Luis Costa, the chief urban planner, envisaged quarters for various trades perhaps reminiscent of middle ages towns, but with plenty of space for everything. Only that such future never materialised outside Brasilia. What remains is a city of uber proportions in which the human scale seems to loose its meaning —large buildings surrounded by large spaces.
Well, this sounds worse than intended. The buildings are beautiful, and having free space to admire them from afar is wonderful. Also, the residential areas are filled with sub-tropical vegetation, making room for open gardens and places, and creating an inviting atmosphere to sit outside, especially in the evenings. The wide public spaces of Brasilia and the tranquility that they invoke make a strong contrast to all other Brazilian cities that buzz with traffic and apparent chaos. It is very likely indeed that this effect was very much intended by Costa and Niemeyer who wanted the capital to be perceived in a special way.
Brasilia still resonates in my mind, even though I am writing these lines years after being there.