The pilotis of Brasilia

Image: Cesar Pessoa
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By RODRIGO DE FARIA*

The Brasilia Pilot Plan has a singularity that is still surprising today.

The Pilotis of the residential blocks of the Superquadras located in the South and North Wings of Brasília, as conceived in the Urban Pilot Plan prepared by Lucio Costa, are an indelible mark of life in this prime area of ​​the entire Federal District. Together with the huge green areas of these superblocks, they make up what, in the documentary Brasilia, contradictions of a new city gently guided by the voice of Ferreira Gullar, it was called “the kingdom of comfortable family life”, guaranteeing children ample areas for recreation and sport.

The permeability and integration between these free spaces with Pilotis of the residential blocks and the immense green areas give the residential complex of Plano Piloto de Brasília a singularity that is still surprising today. In addition to representing, one cannot neglect, an orientation to the land issue that dismantles the concept of private ownership of urban or urbanizable land, the great asset of real estate speculation since, to stay within its legal framework, the Land Law of 1850.

In the history of urban ideas, it was not the first time that the proposal to raise buildings defined the architectural organization of the urban composition. In the studies for the urban plan of the “industrial city” by Tony Garnier, created between 1901 and 1904, some indications of the release of the ground floor have already appeared in some areas that, however, are more passages than, in fact, spaces for permanence. Therefore, obviously, they are very far from the condition reached with the conception of Brasilia.

Another relevant international example, not only for its architectural quality, but, above all, for working the relationship between the building and the free areas generated by the use of Pilotis, is the Narkomfin housing complex developed by Moisei Ginzburg and Ignaty Milinis in the late 1920s, therefore, in the context of the Russian Revolution. In addition, of course, to signifying one of the most powerful examples of the conception of a new way of living that responded to the designs of that revolution.

We could also consider, now to situate some national experiences, the architectural project for the Ministry of Education and Health (MES) in Rio de Janeiro, in 1936, also under the coordination of Lucio Costa, as a structural landmark of architectural ideas in the use of stilts. Or yet, the magnificent and splendorous “MASP free span” as designed by Lina Bo, which has long been one of the most emblematic urban spaces in the capital of São Paulo, perhaps in Brazil, even if, in this case, the span is not defined by a set of pilotis, but by a structural pair located at the ends of the crystal and prestressed concrete block.

Conceptually, therefore, it does not seem strange to me to think that the idea is the same in all these examples, even though in Brasilia the Pilotis fundamentally define the urban landscape of residential areas and, in the case of MASP or MES, to stay with the Brazilian examples, of areas with other functions, inserted in the dynamics of the hurried daily life of both capitals, Rio and São Paulo. And they are conceptually the same if we start from the assumption of the release of an “emptiness”, which has nothing to do with emptiness, as it is much more a “space between”, an essential component of buildings and the urban landscape, dynamic in its uses and appropriations.

In the case of Brasilia, as can be seen in the images captured by the documentary Brasilia, contradictions of a new city, these free areas added to the immense green areas were used daily, even by a small portion of the population. For workers in the construction of the new capital, almost all immigrants and poor people, the everyday housing reality has always been very different and precarious. Especially because, for the bureaucratic and political elite, these men and women who turned an idea into a constructed reality should be transferred to areas far from the “family realm of the superblock”. What actually happened, especially due to the campaign to eradicate invaders.

With the process of urban expansion and metropolization of Brasília throughout the second half of the XNUMXth century, but especially in the current XNUMXst century, the residential area of ​​the Plano Piloto, particularly those defined by the South and North Wings, not only remained very limited in relation to those who had and are able to live in them, but also have an occupation far below their built capacity in terms of housing units. Therefore, it is not at all exaggerated to state that one of the contradictions of this new city, which is the Brazilian capital, is the profound and radical socio-spatial segregation.

Which is not to say that this segregation is a consequence of its urban project, as it is a representation of the contradictions of an entire country. This situation has been aggravated and amplified since Brazil started dismantling the public policies of a social and economic nature that were implemented, some of them still under the coordination of Ruth Cardoso at the time of the FHC governments, but especially in the governments of Lula and Dilma Roussef.

With the 2016 coup cunningly engineered with the consent and interest of the occupant of the Jaburu Palace at the time, and its subsequent and disastrous “bridge to the future” – more like a “swing” as noted by the same FHC –, and the advance of political and ultraliberal extremism by the Minister of Economy who was unable to present a single economic development project to the country, we advanced and deepened the social tragedy. Thousands of hungry men and women are once again roaming the streets of Brazilian cities in search of a plate of food. The economic and social disaster promoted by Bolsonarist fascism, supported economically by the modern liberals of Faria Lima who understand nothing about public policy, but penalties of financial speculation, was so profound that even a certain middle class with higher education was also affected by the tsunami that destroyed the country.

Since then, poverty has returned to occupy the corners, avenues and free areas of our cities. Brazil is back on the hunger map. Miserables without work, without professional training, without housing, without health, without anything, roam the streets of a country that tries to (re)build itself. Paradoxically, these same miserable people are the ones who, in some way, by occupying all the spaces in the cities in search of something to eat, are “using” these same cities. They literally inhabit the cities and make their free spaces the possibility of some kind of shelter, while the rest of the population, especially the richest, are increasingly absent from cities, locked in their condominiums, shopping malls, gyms and all kinds of spaces that can be surrounded and receive the nickname of “VIP space”.

This degrading situation, these contradictions exposed as open wounds in a country whose elites refuse to understand the need for a profound redistribution of income, can also be observed in the Pilotis of Brasília, many of which have been transformed into night shelters for the miserable without a home, without work, without food. The “kingdom of family life” is today, albeit on a pendular basis, the only possibility of shelter for an ever-increasing contingent of the population who, during the day, roam the streets of Brasília and, at night, find some kind of refuge there.

This is the space possible for those looking for a place to sleep on the icy ground and the fresh wind that runs through the residential blocks during the early hours. It is a population that is at the deepest limit of indigence, devoid of any kind of attention and that tries to survive without knowing if, at dawn, it will be alive and breathing, whether because it died of hunger, cold or some type of violence.

And why talk about that “in-between space” that defines the residential blocks of the superblocks? The Pilotis of Brasilia, of the new city created with the promise of the country's redemption, are the most public one can experience when it comes to residential urban areas. The Pilotis of Brasília are the antithesis of the segregation promoted by the expansion of immense walled “anti-urban” areas that characterize condominiums in Brasília and in Brazil. The Pilotis of Brasília are the utopia of the open and non-segregated city, which today is occupied by those who only have the city to live in. Despite their possible original uses, the Pilotis of Brasília are undergoing a transformation that is a consequence of their use as a shelter and night dwelling for those who have nothing else. It is impossible not to recognize that this possibility, although not conceived, is the result of a decision made by the urban project itself.

On the other hand, and unfortunately, a series of devices are being implemented to prevent the free use of the Pilotis in Brasilia, such as, for example, the proliferation of “living fences” which, if they do not prevent the passage through the blocks, are clearly defined as an attempt to impose some kind of barrier. These devices are not something new, they are available to anyone who wants to restrict, control and impose some kind of urban-architectural barrier especially aimed at preventing the use and permanence of those who are considered unwanted and dangerous, fundamentally the poor people who live in cities.

Happy the nation that has in its cities, any city, the deepest dimension of the experience of open life, without barriers and without walls. Brazil is certainly not a happy country today, even if our cities are the only possibility of life for a huge number of men, women and children abandoned and abandoned by their own country. The Pilotis of Brasília will certainly not deny them shelter, against the will of the part of the Brazilian population that believes that the solution to the problems of Brazilian cities is the construction of walls. The solution to the problems of Brazilian cities, urban violence, socio-spatial exclusion involves income generation and distribution, work and education. Until when will the country continue to opt for the construction of walls?

Rodrigo de Faria Professor at the Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism at UnB.


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