01 January 2012

Dancing About Architecture, IV: 'Rather Than for a Real World'

Brasília under construction, photos by Marcel Gautherot. Via.

The Atlantic article (see link) and its pull-quote from Simone de Beauvoir prompt me to return to my copy of Robert Hughes's The Shock of the New, for the three paragraphs he devotes to Brasília.* In which planner Lucio Costa is also called out on the carpet for Supreme Malconceptualism. Hughes's verdict echoes that of Beauvoir:

"Brasília, as this place was named, was going to be the City of the Future -- the triumph of sunlight, reason, and the automobile. It would show what the International Style could o when backed by limitless supplies of cash and national pride. ...In the future, everyone would have a car and so the car, as in Corbusier's dreams, would abolish the street. This was carried out to the letter in Brasília, which has many miles of multi-lane highways, with scarcely any footpaths or pavements. By design, the pedestrian is an irrelevance -- a majority irrelevance, however, since only one person in eight there owns a car or has access to a car and, Brazil being Brazil, the public transport system is wretched. So the freeways are empty most of the day, except at peak hours, when all the cars in Brasília briefly jam them at the very moment when the rest of the working population is trying, without the benefit of of pedestrian crossings or underpasses, to get across the road to work."

Which makes me recall an musical item I used to own. Back in the late '90s, the label Caipirinha briefly did a short-run "Architecttura" series of releases of experimental musicians doing compositions that were thematically linked to certain works of architecture. For instance, David Toop doing Itsuko Hasegawa's Museum of Fruit (Yamanashi, Japan). But I recall Panacea's contribution to the series involved a homage to Niemeyer's Brasília. On which the artist completely ditched ditched his trademark drum'n'bass/quasi-gabber rhythms, instead opting for downtempo or beatless soundscapes that are often as cold and airlessly spatial and inhuman as Costa's city planning. An envisioned utopian as a synthetic dystopia. One sample from the thing ...

:: Panacea - "Void of Safety"

But that's just the atmosphere of the thing. I recall finding much of thing (musically) too angular, and not particularly bringing to mind the more curvilinear and organic aspects of many of Niemeyer's buildings. Much of it, somewhat appealingly, had a very depopulated and nocturnal vibe about it, as well.

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* Yes, I've been known to read Robert Hughes from time to time; despite the fact that he's so "conservative" and that I often disagree with him about on almost everything that's transpired since 1950. And I mainly like him because he's often, in the strictly technical sense, an impeccable and eloquent writer. Which helps, especially seeing how -- when it comes to architecture in particular -- he can often be a shameless hack, merely rephrasing the ossified & honored verdict or what other critics had long since decreed. Which (for example) has everything to do with his verdict on Pruitt-Igoe so rotely follows that of Charles Jencks, and which is probably why his remarks on Brasília shadow those of Beauvoir.

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