Palace of the Dawn Served on a Jungle pedestal

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The home of the Brazilian President was designed by Oscar Niemeyer and opened in 1958. Its name comes from Juscelino Kubitschek, who asked ‘What is Brasília, if not the dawn of a new day for Brazil?’ The design is wonderful. But is it perfect?

Previously the capital of Brazil was in Rio de Janeiro (1763–1960) and before that in Salvador (1549–1763), until the current President Juscelino Kubitchsek ordered the construction of Brasília in the middle of the rain forest. Lúcio Costa won a contest and was the main urban planner in 1957.

 Oscar Niemeyer, a close friend, was the chief architect of most public buildings and Roberto Burle Marx was the landscape designer. This was a time of technological revolution; Niemeyer was experimenting with concrete cement that made new dynamic forms to be designed and built.

The “Alvorada” lies on a peninsula at the margins of Lake Paranoá.

The principles of simplicity and modernity, that in the past characterized the great works of architecture, oriented Niemeyer’s project. The viewer has an impression of looking at a glass box, softly landed on the ground with the support of thin external columns.

The interior of the Palace is decorated to emulate the vibrant personality of the Brazilians, with large rooms populated with islands of furniture that live among swooping stair cases, gilded tile walls, and space like chandeliers. The lower level of the Palace is dedicated to affairs of the country and the upper levels are where the President and his family reside. 

The garden space surrounding the Palace has been described as “[it] looks sterile, the planting is deeply unimaginative and it is difficult to think of anything one might do with the space – except gaze at it.” But I think we must first look at what is the purpose of this landscape. The ubiquitous lawn that we see in all places which attempt to portray a sense of power and austerity. Whether it be the U.S. White House or the S. Korean Blue House, there is a large lawn area to separate the visiting public from the residence. Yes, there is a security aspect of this, but I feel it has another effect on the viewer. This space acts to set this palace above the surrounding landscape of the commoners.

Specifically at the Palacio da Alvorado, the lawn tells the visitor to stare, to gaze in awe of the conquest of the jungle and ideal modeling of concrete to form a jewel. The picture above showcases the layers: flat green plane, white sails on a blue facade( only the white spiral chapel offering another man-made form), then the back drop of the leafy jungle. the length and vast expanse of the space in front of the palace builds grandeur.

The grounds behind the Palace consist of a later design pool, artificial pond, soccer field, herb garden and meandering paths through a partly plant and overgrown forest park.

Can a single place reflect an entire nation? Is one stark expression equal to the entire breath of a people? Perhaps not, but I feel there must be an icon that a nation can see as the embodiment of power, grace and heritage. Is the White House an ample apparition of the american dream or does it simply act as an embellished idea where people can aim their anger or pride towards?

On the other hand the Brazilian Palace is a more sleek and transparent result of latin vivacious and sustained flare. Although executed with plain white and aqua colors on at the exterior, the interior is slashed with golden feats and bright paintings where libation and dancing can be a regular incantation of the presidents mood.

An austere landscape is necessary to realize the stately function going on within the Palace and the formal show grounds protecting the palace from the encircling jungle and stacked slums. There needn’t be a tall fence to achieve this anecdote, just an expansive and trimmed lawn mirroring the moon colored cement roofs.

images courtesy of : Francisco Domingos, About Brasil 


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