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The Spirit of Brasília: Modernity as Experiment and Risk

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"The Spirit of Brasília: Modernity as Experiment and Risk"

From Brazil: Body and Soul
James Holston
Published in 2001
18 pages, fully illustrated

James Holston provides a critique of the experimental capital, Brasília, built out of necessity in only three and a half years in the late 1950s. Holston analyzes the city's improvisations and innovations in both its architecture and design, evaluating the success and potential entombment of its urban structure. 


Brasília's Modernism signified Brazil's emergence as a modern nation because it simultaneously broke with the colonial legacies of underdevelopment as it posited an industrial modernity. The new architecture and planning attacked the styles of the past—the Iberian Baroque and the Neoclassical—that constituted one of the most visible symbols of a legacy the government sought to supersede. Literally, Modernism stripped these styles from building facades and city plans, demanding instead industrial-age building materials and an industrial aesthetic appropriate to "the new age." In planning, it privileged the automobile and the aesthetic of speed at a time when Brazil was embarking on a program of industrialization especially focused on the automobile industry. It also required centralized planning and the exercise of state power that appealed to the statist interests of the political elite.

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