Le Corbusier, Ruin Value, and Brasilia

We have learned in class how pervasive the theories of Le Corbusier were, and how initially celebrated was his Athen’s Charter. Our syllabus was focused on the European city, however, and not necessarily the evolution of the city in all corners of the world. In South America, for instance, Le Corbusier’s ideas were just as celebrated, and Brazil owes its capital city to the theories of France’s most infamous twentieth century architect. Brasilia is Brazil’s  contemporary capital, but it was not always so. Before 1956 Rio de Janeiro was the capital of Brazil, and Brasilia was designed and created specifically to take its place. Brasilia was the result of a competition of over 5000 designers, of which Lúcio Costa was the winner. His plans were heavily influenced by Le Corbusier’s modern architecture, and he was given free rein to implement his vision on completely green site. Brasilia was constructed in forty-one months.

What is so interesting about Brasilia is the opportunity it provides to see Corbusier’s designs without the challenges that an existing city produces. There were no existing buildings to demolish, nor any existing markets or city centers to cater towards. Brasilia was built from scratch, and therefore it allows us to view Corbusier’s ideas on their own, without the doubts that attempting to create a new utopia within an existing urban sprawl necessarily create. The results are not encouraging. Brasilia has been criticized for the same reasons it has been acclaimed. The utopian strangeness of Corbusier’s solitary towers lends an air of eerie desolation to the landscape, and the similar stylistic choices create a feeling of monotonous drudgery throughout the city.

For me, what is more interesting is the connection to Darren’s post about Albert Speer’s theory of Ruin Value. Brasilia has been declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations, and as such is deemed by the international community to hold a special cultural value. It is implicit within this designation that Brasilia’s original architecture and design should be protected, and will be a useful example of twentieth century planning for future generations. Although Lúcio Costa might not have had thoughts of Brasilia’s ruin value while designing the iconic city, the international community has certainly proclaimed it a site worthy of protection after its inception. Its ruin value can be inferred from this proclamation, and it is a rare example of a modern city that is thought of more for its value as an historical archetype than as a working model.

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