The modernization of Brazil and the architecture that went along with it were intimately bound up with a continental-scale vision of the country in which the cities and the land were very much part of the same system. Brasilia is a case in point, as you shall see further; the vision of the city was not simply that of a showcase capital built in the Modernist style, but also a means of opening up the interior of the country for development.

A map with Brasília commanding the centre

A famous map was produced at the time of Brasilia’s realization to show the distances between the new capital and other parts of the country. The rhetoric of the map was clear enough: the entire country had been now reorientated around the capital, and goods, information and services were now meant to circulate in new ways. The sketch map was in effect made real by a programme of highway building, connecting the capital with the major cities. During the period of military rule, the growth of Sao Paulo was connected with continuing infrastructural projects, especially hydroelectric schemes to provide power for its industries; to put it another way, the city of Sao Paulo became a representation of the modernity achieved elsewhere in the country. A further point to make here would be the continuing imaginative presence of the rural parts of Brazil within the cities. Unlike the cities of the developed world, which often exist in opposition to the land, in Brazil the extent and recentness of rural migration to the cities, particularly from the north-east, means that rural cultures have a significant presence – see the Feira do Nordeste in Rio de Janeiro, held in the (Modernist) Campo de Sao Cristovao; the cities continue to be poles of migration from rural areas, and are, as a consequence, clearing houses of those cultures.

Brasilia’s extraordinary central bus station is one architectural figure of this developmental progress. Located at the symbolic heart of both the city and of the country, it is not just the centre of the city’s commuter traffic, but also the figuration of the traffic of internal migration. Migrants arrive here from all over the country, and many of them go on to do business in the lively street market that surrounds it. More generally, the remote and undeveloped regions of Brazil, Amazonas and the sertao of the north-east, continue to have an important imaginative presence in the culture of the country. The cities, and the Modernist buildings they contain, therefore exist in an important relation to the land. Their size alone is one indicator of this; their enormous growth, to a size precedented in Europe, is a function of the size of the country and the amount of migration it sustains.
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