level the parks are uninterrupted. Open green space makes up about 60 percent of Brasília’s total area—about five times as much per capita as, say, São Paulo. As elsewhere in the world, the imposition of an international modernist ideal on house form has not been socially successful; while doubtless well intentioned it is not well received because it denies the tradition of household organization developed over centuries. The extensive, more upmarket residential developments, mostly one-family houses, are on the peninsulas known as Lago Norte and Lago Sud, across the lake.

Most of the people who work in support industries—domestic servants and others—live in one of the fifteen nearby satellite towns within the Federal District and commute by bus to the Plano Piloto. Some of the satellites are planned developments; others have grown laissez-faire. They have very little open space, and some have social problems stemming from high unemployment. Of course, government is Brasília’s primary function, but it was inevitable that banking and commerce would flourish. Mainly because of the famous plan and architecture, tourism has also developed. Construction is an important part of the industrial infrastructure, but apart from that, only light industry is permitted.

Originally designed for 500,000 people. Brasília has grown rapidly. The 1960 population was around 90,000, and by 1980 it had increased to more than 411,000. A 1996 census showed that it had reached just over 1.8 million, and it probably rose to 2 million—mostly civil servants and businesspeople—by the turn of the century. Since about 1990 traffic problems such as gridlock and inadequate parking space have arisen in Brasília. A Y-shaped, partly underground rail system was started in 1992. Linking the south wing of the Plano Piloto with five of the satellite towns and with a total length of 26 miles (42 kilometers), it was designed to cater to two-thirds of the population. Commercial operation has been promised several times, but it still had not begun by 2001.

In 1987, Brasília was inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. According to some residents, that was a mixed blessing for a living city: while it certainly increased tourist revenue and helps preserve the quality of life (for some), at the same time it inhibits the character of future expansion.

See also


Further reading

Epstein, David G. 1973. Brasília, Plan and Reality: A. Study of Planned and Spontaneous Urban Development. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Shoumatoff, Alex. 1987. The Capital of Hope: Brasília and Its People. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.

Underwood, David. 1994. Oscar Niemeyer and the Architecture of Brazil. New York: Rizzoli.


The humble brick literally shaped the face of world architecture. The Nile, Tigris-Euphrates, and Indus River valleys were the locations of what has been called “the urban implosion,” the sudden emergence of cities from the neolithic villages that lined the waterways. The alluvial expanses on whose agricultural produce the new urban centers burgeoned had little naturally occurring stone, so the city walls, the buildings within, and even the royal palaces were built of brick. Packed clay had been used for centuries, and as it does in parts of the Arab world today, it yielded soft, curvilinear free forms. The advantage of the brick was that it was a prefabricated modular building unit, made easy to handle by its size and weight. Its shape and standard size—functions of the manufacturing process—inevitably generated a rectilinear architecture and affected the way people built (by assembling units rather than allowing the building to grow) as well as limiting such details as proportion and the subdivision of surfaces. Those causes and effects persist until this day.

Sun-dried bricks were made from puddled clay, perhaps containing a little sand or gravel, reinforced with a fibrous material (usually straw) that minimized cracking as the bricks dried. The mixture was packed into wooden molds, without tops or bottoms, that were removed once initial hardening had occurred. The bricks were then stacked and left to dry in the sun, sometimes for as long as two years, before being used in buildings. They were usually set