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NFTS - Brasilia

Destination #3 of my Norman Foster Travelling Scholarship was Brasilia, the capital of Brazil.

Brasilia was one of the most interesting places I visited on my trip, but personally my least favourite. My research was heavily focused on socially sustainable design, but the 60s modernist style of Brasilia was a complete contrast. I found it difficult to get around without a car, as it is heavily motor focused with limited pedestrian access. An example of this is the large central park, which is not used to its potential.

Brasilia is a thought-provoking city which was built in only 41 months from 1956 to 1960, to become the new capital of Brazil (previously Rio de Janeiro). This design was led by Lucio Costa, Oscar Neimeyer and Roberto Burle Marx. The original concept was a modernist federal district with a maximum of 5000 inhabitants, however the city has since grown and developed, currently with approximately 2,500,000 within the city and the metropolitan area.

I explored the Monumental Axis area, which contains all of the political and administrative buildings, such as the national congress and the ministries. This area was designed to incorporate a large park and allow easy access for vehicles. The Modernist view of favouring vehicles is relatively outdated in contemporary city planning, as there is now a much bigger focus on sustainability, which is difficult to achieve with so many inhabitants using private vehicles to access the city areas. This contrasts the encouragement of pedestrian areas in both Sao Paulo and Curitiba. In Sao Paulo, I visited Paulista Avenue, which is closed every Sunday to vehicles, encouraging pedestrians and cyclists to use the area for art, culture and activities.

The monumental axis has been developed for vehicles and to create a sense of over sized buildings to impose over the surrounding area, with very limited access for pedestrians. The park in the middle of this area does not work, from my experience, as it is very difficult to access - you must cross one of the large roads, with 5/6 lanes, and there are very few pedestrian crossings. I witnessed many people running across the roads in small gaps of the traffic. There is also very little to do in the park area - it is a big, open area which is very dry and there are no activities and no shade (important in the hot and sunny capital). This is in stark contrast to parks in Sao Paulo, which had cycling, exercise classes, cultural foods, and many species of plants.

I had chance to explore the residential 'super blocks' of Brasilia. I couldn't have imagined the difference in the atmosphere as soon as I stepped out of my taxi, from the bland, oversized urban area I had just been in, to a cultural area with 'people sized' buildings and road systems.

My first stop was a large, beautiful church, Our Lady of Fatima Church, shown above. This simple yet elegant design incorporates traditional aspects, such as stained glass windows, with modern geometric shapes and repeated patterns. I then walked down to another church dedicated to the lady of Fatima, this one designed by the architect Oscar Niemeyer. I really connected to this church, with its sleek, modern outline, and simple beauty. It is a small, intimate church, which can only hold about 30 people, however it connects to the outside through large, open doors, where more chairs can be added. The exterior tiles were the icing on the cake, with dove symbols on the serene blue by Athos Bulcão.

This is in the area of the Brasilia superquadras, which are 280x280m, with buildings that have six floors of residential space, leaving the ground floor free for public circulation. This is a really good way of separating pedestrians from the traffic, and creating space for plants and trees. In the original plan, for every four superblocks, there should be a church, school, cinema, and other social areas for the residents to enjoy as a neighbourhood. This has not been implemented in every area, however there are still a wide range of community buildings. The buildings within the superblocks can vary in style, but have common architectural features, such as cobogós and blind lateral gables.

On my last day in Brasilia, I got a special opportunity to visit areas of the city that would have been inaccessible to me on foot. Brazil was an amazing opportunity to meet so many friendly people. One of these was someone I had met in Sao Paulo on a walking tour, who actually lived in Brasilia. Generously, her and her family showed me around and gave me a fantastic final day. I started the day still in the Monumental Axis, with a view from the top of the TV Tower. This felt very special to me, and I enjoyed getting to know and understand the city from a high vantage point.

From here, my friend’s parents welcomed me into their home, to try a traditional Brazilian lunch of rice, beans and meat. I learnt about the cities that surround Brasilia - due to the restriction in building in the main centre, other communities have been built nearby, with people commuting in for work, studying and social events. After lunch, they took us to the lake area, which was incredibly beautiful. This gave me a completely different insight into Brasilia and the enjoyment people can have from living in the city.

Meeting locals is such a great experience as a solo traveller. This is one of the reasons Brazil has been so special to me, as it was by far the friendliest and most welcoming country I visited. Travelling solo as a 20 year old woman was so challenging at times, but the people I met along the way made it enjoyable.

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