The architecture is concentrated in a few places, mainly big cities: Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Brasilia, with the occasional excursion to Belo Horizonte, Curitiba, Recife. But by and large this is a history of the metropolitan centers, because this is where the architecture is. It would not be right to attempt another history; the story of Modernism in Brazil is the story of the cities. Among those cities, Brasilia and Sao Paulo are pre-eminent in representing what a modern Brazilian city ought to look like. Both are showcases of Modernism, albeit in different ways. Looking at a map of Brazil, it will become clear too that the triangle described by Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Brasilia is extremely small by comparison with the area of the whole country, which slightly exceeds that of the continental United States. My emphasis might seem to some the equivalent of describing American architecture only in terms of the corridor between Boston and Washington, DC, ignoring everything further west. That argument makes sense up to a point. But the differences between the two cases are greater than their similarities.

The US, despite the pre-eminence of New York and Los Angeles, has a much more even pattern of development, and, as has been well documented, its identity has been only partly constructed in cities or places that resemble them. In Brazil by contrast, a few cities dominate life to a remarkable degree. Chief among these is Sao Paulo, a megalopolis of 17.9 million. The city is pre-eminent in the Brazilian economy, accounting for up to 40 per cent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Rio is the next largest city, with a metropolitan population of around 10 million; Belo Horizonte is third at 5 million; there are then a number of cities with populations in the 1–2 million range, Brasilia included. But my emphasis is based on economic importance, and, flowing from that, the patronage of Modernism, and beyond that the critical discourse around these places or buildings. It is hard to argue against this triangle of wealth in Brazil’s south-east; there is no other history of Modernism other than one focused on these cities.
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