Brutal blueprints

After a recent visit to the Brazilian capital Brasilia, Dalrymple critiques its brutalist architecture, the legacy of urban planner Lucio Costa and architect Oscar Niemeyer:
Costa and Niemeyer were both admiring followers of Le Corbusier and Communists—hence their inhuman aesthetic. Niemeyer, still alive at 103, is by all accounts a financially disinterested man (though no one ever suggested that Lenin, Stalin, or even Hitler were in it for the money—they were disinterested monsters), but it surely takes considerable stupidity, lack of moral imagination, or an egotism more profound than that of the most voracious Wall Street banker to proclaim yourself a Communist after all the human disaster that the doctrine wrought in the past century. Indeed, one pronouncement of Niemeyer captures not only this egotism, but encapsulates much of the egotistical sickness of many modern artists and architects: “Whoever goes to Brasilia may like its palaces or not, but he cannot say that he has seen anything like it before.” The same would be true, of course, if Brasilia had been built of refrigerated butter, but the originality of Brasilia is not the question.
What, then, did Costa do (let us forget for a moment his intentions)? He laid out a city according to the conceptions of Le Corbusier: embassies here, hotels there, entertainment facilities yet somewhere else—every quarter functionalized, disconnected by large open spaces, and not one within reach of the others except by motorized transport. Nor was shade provided for such eccentrics as might nevertheless like to walk or cycle: they were to be discouraged by the prospect of sun-stroke and heat exhaustion…
Man in Brasilia is essentially an insect, a kind of ant, or perhaps rather a noxious bacterium. There is a plan afoot to ensure that, before the football World Cup is held there in 2014, cars in the central area do not park on the street, but underground: parked cars on the street being a sign of human spontaneity and tendency to chaos. As Le Corbusier once exclaimed in print, “The plan, the plan is everything! The plan must rule.” What is Man, let alone a man, compared with the kind of city that I drew when I was ten?

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