Play Architecture in the Fabled City of Brasilia

Daily Draw February 3rd, 2013

O. Niemeyer
Government Buildings


Oscar Niemeyer was a Brazilian architect, another fellow who really epitomizes the optimism and ideals of the 1950s and 1960s. He earned a B.A. in architecture from the fine arts university in 1934 and worked for his father’s typography house before he found work in an architectural firm. I find that interesting as there are many similarities between the lines and drawings of architecture and typefaces; the precision and relationship of lines is important in both.

In 1936 he worked with Le Corbusier on a plan for the Ministry of Education and Health in Rio de Janeiro, and made changes and improvements to it after Le Corbusier had finished his consultation. Niemeyer improved it, and his improvements were accepted by the firm, which gives you an idea of how talented he was that they listened and respected him over the global icon of architecture. But then, this was South America, and they had their own way of doing things, their own sensibilities.

Up to 1960, the capital of Brazil was Rio, but they wrote it into the constitution back in the 19th century that a new city called Brasilia, removed from Rio and more central to the country, would be the new capital. I call it the Fabled City of Brasilia in the title of my post, and for me it is like creating Utopia, creating all the buildings and planning the layout. Niemeyer created several awe-inspiring, soaring buildings for this city, and this one is called the Congress Building or National Congress Building. I wanted to show a picture of the building where you could see how it relates to its surroundings. You can see many more images of it online, beautifully lit at night and looking just as vital today as it did 53 years ago. The English translation of the city plaza, is “Three Powers Plaza”which refers to the three sections of government and the presence of all of them. It looks rather harmonious as your eye moves back and forth between the structural elements.


The slab that forms the walkway between the buildings has offices and restaurants and the two towers are the administration block. I find those towers visually similar to a building in Düsseldorf, Germany called Dreischeibenhaus, which formerly was the Thyssen-Haus and before that, when it was built, the Phoenix-Rhein-Rohr Building.

The walkway was originally a way to allow people to walk up and wander around and feel like they were part of the fable. Unfortunately, there was a military coup in 1964 in which the army and their guns took over the terrace. Even today, due to security, the complex is mostly out of bounds. Oscar Niemeyer fled the country at this time and went to work in Paris. He came back after 1985 when democracy was gradually restored to the country.

Such a bright future, and the bright promise of Utopia, only to be blanked out by violence for decades. Niemeyer was a socialist but dictatorship doesn’t represent that ideal either. He also worked in collaboration with others on the United Nations Headquarters in New York, which gives yet another indication of his high idealism and commitment to a better society.

While in Paris he developed some furniture designs. No surprise there: is there an architect from the modern era that did not try furniture design? He designed these in bent steel and leather and they were also made in bent wood. I like them, they look comfortable.


Oscar Niemeyer designed quite a few buildings that stand up over the decades. No less than I’d expect from the youngster who changed the plans of Le Corbusier. Imagine having the confidence and talent to do that successfully at a time when no one questioned Le Corbusier’s ideas?

This was an interesting study. I feel like I did when I first read Eduardo Galeano, like I know absolutely nothing about South America.



2 thoughts on “Play Architecture in the Fabled City of Brasilia

  1. Ah, Brasilia! It’s a beautiful city indeed, but many Brazilians have fantasized at least once about dropping a bomb on it… due to the politicians, not the architecture! :p

    Oscar Niemeyer died last December, and he was much missed and celebrated here!

    I really enjoyed your post, and how you have carefully researched it, as to bring a whole new depth to the card! And this is such a fascinating deck! I know some friends who would love it…

    PS. I love Eduardo Galeano! The publisher at which I work is the one that publishes his books here in Brazil! He’s a wonderful, gentle and brilliant man!

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