Renan Teuman

© Courtesy of Public Archive of the Federal District

In a world where political figures resemble reality TV celebrities more and more, the role of key individuals throughout history is being progressively neglected because of a rising propensity toward a focus on patterns and structures. The actions and lives of significant political personalities are being replaced with a myriad of data. The personality and undertakings of president Juscelino Kubitschek (1956-1961) is essential for a thorough understanding of his agenda and the political landscape of Brazil during the mid-twentieth century.

To become president, Kubitschek had to surpass strong opposition within his own party PSD (Social Democratic Party) and to the kindred he put together between the PTB (Brazilian Labour Party) and the PSD. Before the election, he faced acute pressure from the government and the military to withdraw. Kubitschek was elected in 1956 by only 33.8 percent of the votes.

However, Vargas in the 1930s emphasized on transforming a coffee based economy into an industrial power. Vargas dealt with Fascists one moment and Communists the next to gain a nationwide harmony towards rapid industrialization. His populist despotism was ideologically flexible. The growth under Kubitschek occurred at a time of depressed coffee prices, therefore, In the target plan, Kubitschek also decided that industrialization instead of agricultural exports would be the dynamic factor in Brazilian growth.

© Courtesy of Public Archive of the Federal District

Building Brasilia was the centerpiece of President Juscelino Kubitschek’s administration. “The emergence of a capital from scratch in three years was a promise to Brazil and the world of imminent national prosperity and economic power. This Utopian gesture was grounded less in ideology or a call for “order,” but in a “hope” for the future’s promise of happiness.” (BALD) The symbolic and utopian potential of Brasilia’s sculptural modernism was an important tool in Kubitschek’s goal to legitimize a new international standing for Brazil. An important aspect of Kubitschek’s leadership style was his extraordinary ability to create an atmosphere of opinion positive towards his development program and his leadership.

He successfully communicated the message of development and modernization. “The activity that I undertook as head of state had a revolutionary meaning, oriented to make [Brazil] realize its own potentialities and utilize them to effect economic development.” (Kubitschek 1975, 339)  He had to overcome a gargantuan struggle against the taboo about the Brazilians to complete anything. Juscelino Kubitschek practiced a politics of exuberance, “designed to enhance his popularity while convincing Brazilians that they could build a modern, industrial society.” (Maram) Kubitschek was very pragmatic in the way he used his ideas to communicate his message, but he did not have an overall intellectual structure signified by an ideology.

© Courtesy of Public Archive of the Federal District Informal settlements- sketch courtesy Calyx Sze

Costa’s ‘plane’ landed on an empty surface, unfortunately, on a place that was not timeless. “The annihilation of indigenous peoples and the enclosure of a territory as private property were the fundamental pillars of a governmental policy.” (Antonadia Borges)  The idea of shifting the focus from Brazil’s coast to its interior was already apotheosized in the Brazilian constitutions of 1891, 1934 and 1946.

The master plan that was intended for 500,000 inhabitants is now surrounded by favelas (satellite towns) with 3.5 million inhabitants, 30 kilometers away from Plano Piloto connected to Brasília by a few roads, and an unsteady public transportation system. Therefore, “The exemplary ‘airplane’ has become no more than a neighbourhood, embedded in a much larger and generic city.” (Koolhaas) The current population of public employees and high-level officials from relatively wealthy backgrounds in the Plano Piloto comprises 220,000 people, while the Satellite-Cities around it hold almost 3 million. Only 7.75% of the population of Brazil’s capital city lives in the Plano Piloto today. The Satellite-Cities turned into a series of shanties that provide the necessary work-force to supply the perfectly planned urban space of the Plano Piloto.

View of the new city of Brasilia, capital of Brazil, on April 21, 1960, designed by Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer. Brasilia was officially inaugurated on April 21, 1960, and started functioning as the new capital of Brazil.© Courtesy of Public Archive of the Federal District

Since it was a new city, the authorities disposed of the city in the way that they saw appropriate. They removed large parts of the working class from it, despite their active participation in its construction. Moving the government from Rio prevented confrontations within members and a large part of the country’s population. The controlled master plan of the city, designed by Lúcio Costa, made it relatively easy for the military junta to take control of the city and allowed the military and police to employ a political power on the urban space and the potential insurgencies. In other words: “Brasília became an orthogonal panopticon – a singular utopia as a substratum for dictatorship.” (Koolhaas)

It is hard to attribute all the responsibility of the overcontrolling policies exercised by the dictatorship to the architects and the urban designers. It is possible that the designers have never thought about the effects of their modernist methods for optimizing space and time would have on people, and we should also remember that non-hierarchical compositions cannot guarantee equality in societies. The essence of Brasília is not comprised of its architecture, but of the decision to move the government inland. Brasilia was a place where everything could happen, far from the rest of the country.

It is clear to derive a lesson from Kubitschek-era Brazil. One has to reach a deliberation of his exuberant policies, actions, and especially, his populist legacy. He tried to please the proletariat; the bureaucrats left from the Vargas bureaucracy, the military, and the people who modernized cities. His achievements embodied the aspirations of the rising middle class, who could empathize with his struggle for success. Kubitschek created a program in response to the conditions and political leverage of the time, but it was also an indivisible part of his personality.

© Courtesy of Public Archive of the Federal District

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