BRASÍLIA 50 ANOS | The Sovereignty Square/Praça da Soberania Controversy + Anti-Niemeyer Backlash

As Brasília’s 50th birthday party winds down it’s interesting to look back at how badly the year began in Brasília for the city’s masterarchitect, the 102*-year-old Oscar Niemeyer (*103 on 15 December 2010).

Past President and Niemeyer pal, Lula da Silva, wanted a Memorial of Presidents somewhere in Brasília and Federal District Governor José Roberto Arruda (later arrested on fraud charges, an event which tarnished the start of the capital’s birthday bash) sought a monument to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the city. Oh, and there was a desperate need to hide 3,000 additional parking spaces for the city’s bureaucrats.

So Niemeyer submitted a Preliminary Study for a new set of buildings in Brasilia to the Governor. The announcement took place on 10 January 2010. It was a kind of de facto sort of thing: “Here’ s the plan, let’s get crackin’.” That riled the critics.

The intervention will modify one of the most famous postcard views of the Brazilian capital, the sightline down the city’s Monumental Axis towards the Esplanade of Ministries and the National Congress Building and its iconic up and down saucers.

The tower will confront and compete with the original Twin Towers — the National Congress Administration Buildings at the apex of Costa’s Eixo Monumental.

Photo > Nicolau Drey

President Juscelino Kubitschek and Lúcio Costa, Brasília, ca. 1956




This was supposed to be a green space and UNESCO will be interested to learn of this intervention in the city it designated as a world heritage site.

Sovereignty Square/Praça da Soberania will be built between the National Theatre and Event Square, to the north, and the Cultural Complex of the Republic and the Cathedral, on the south, cutting the lawn and replacing it with a huge expanse of paving — just what scorching-in-the-sun Brasília doesn’t need. Hello? Oscar? Trees?

The design includes a curved building that will house Lula’s desired Memorial of Presidents/Memorial dos Presidentes opposite the 80 to 100-metre high Monument to Brasília’s Fiftieth Anniversary/Monumento ao Cinquentenário de Brasília tower and exhibition space.




Well … As soon as the plan was announced, tout Brasília was engaged in the debate, and most of the commentary was vociferously opposed to the idea of Sovereignty Square. And the attacks on Niemeyer began.

Plaza on the Esplanade Ignites Brasília

Niemeyer in the trenches: “I insist”

The local newspaper, Correio Brasíliense, had a field day. The controversy exposed Niemeyer’s monopoly of design on the capital (he has built 66 structures in the city, more than 10% of his total output of 600+ projects worldwide), and the lack of competitive and transparent procedures in the DF.

The debate also triggered accusations of Niemeyer betraying Lúcio Costa’s (below) 1957 Plan Piloto master plan for the City of the Future.

Things didn’t get any better for Niemeyer when Costa’s daughter, Elisa Maria Costa  (also an urban planner) switched sides (she liked the plan at first) and went with the anti-monument faction.

Things got so bad for Niemeyer that he wrote a letter (below; click to read the translation) to the press defending his droit de seigneur, as it were, to do what he wants in his capital:

It’s all juicy stuff for Oscar aficionados. And well documented (and extremely well written, even using Google Translate) @ mdc. journal of architecture and urbanism (where these images originated). Enjoy!

vitruvius | Brasilia, the capital, and Oscar Niemeyer, the autophagic

mdc.journal of architecture and urbanism | Oscar Niemeyer: A new square for Brasília

★ mdc.journal of architecture and urbanism | Sovereignty Square Posts

mdc.journal of architecture and urbanism | Brasilia and Oscar Niemeyer, creator vs. creature

mdc.journal of architecture and urbanism | Square Sovereignty: chronicle of a controversy

mdc.journal of architecture and urbanism | Andrey Rosenthal Schlee: Lúcio Costa + The square of the maquis

Reuters | Brazil governor arrested on fraud charges