Brasilia was designed in the late 1950’s as the new administrative center of the federal government and planned to encourage settlement in the interior territories of Brazil. Oscar Niemeyer, chief architect for public buildings, organized a design competition in 1957 that was won by the planner Lucio Costa based on rough sketches. President Juscelino Kubitschek oversaw the building of the city – asking for fifty years of progress in five – and the city was officially inaugurated in 1960.
Brasilia was intended as an efficient urban environment built on two axes, one straight and the other curved in response to the topography of the land. Yet it had virtually no sidewalks and few intersections, leading early settlers to experience a sense of anomie, alienation felt due to lack of daily interaction. The city’s modern architecture – mainly designed by Niemeyer – such as the pillars of Alvadora Palace, the hemispheres and towers of the National Congress, and the crown-like cupola of the Metropolitan Cathedral makes it a visually iconic global city.
While Brasilia was envisioned to be a utopian, classless place, from its inception Brasilia had a secondary city made of construction workers’ housing. This housing was built organically out of need, shifting the modern utopia vision almost immediately into a post-modern city. By 1980, 75% of Brasilia’s population lived in the unplanned settlements of Brasilia, while the city proper had reached just half its target population of 557,000.
The city remains the capital and by 2009 the population has reached nearly 2.4 million. With museums, outdoor artworks, Parque da Cidade (the city’s largest park), and sports (Brasilia hosts the basketball team, Universo BRB), the city is bustling.