Superquadras, Projections and Pilotis

The aim of this studio is to generate alternative designs for the development of the last un-built areas (superquadras) in Brasilia, the capital city of Brazil. As a prologue we should recognize that Brasilia has provided the past two generations of architects and urbanists with the example par excellence of all that was considered wrong with modern architecture\’s urbanism. However, after its half century of existence the city not only works, but to the delight of its population it seems to work well. Is it human adaptability to \”adversity\”? Or are there qualities in the design of Brasilia that defy traditional wisdom about urbanism? We need to address these and other basic questions that will emerge at the outset by studying the original ideas of Brasilia\’s designers and how the city has evolved and matured. This studio will then try to interpret and address such success with our own contemporary design responses that will follow the spirit as well as the letter of the laws that have been established to \”preserve\” Brasilia. In fact, as odd as it may sound, \”preservation\” is the instrument that generates the impulse of the studio – albeit a mode of preservation that I believe fosters innovation rather than conservation. We will address a unique set of current conditions and problems of a social, urban, and architectural nature, which are rarely found together. In part, these issues arose from the UNESCO resolution in the mid-nineteen eighties, granting Brasilia\’s original Master Plan area the status of historical city by including it in its list of World Heritage Sites (thus joining the major league of protected cities that include Venice, Florence, Athens, etc.). Thus, having been elevated by UNESCO to such status only 27 years after its inauguration, Brasilia occupies a paradoxical position \’for being at once barely a generation old while being deemed culturally ageless\’, as Prof. Fares el-Dahdah points out. Far from being just a curious anomaly in the area of international cultural affairs, this paradoxical status forces a continuous investigation of the potential of modern architecture to utilize the legal and ideological tools provided by the anti-modernist preservationist movement. Under such directives the designer that is asked to intervene in the unique context of Brasilia must confront the difficulties encountered while addressing issues of social housing and quality of urban life within the kind of protected historical urban areas that are typically found in any of the centuries-old urban centers of Europe and Asia (i.e. to be sympathetic to context, to style, materials, etc. etc.), but do so while respecting a set of formal, aesthetic, and urban conditions, that in any other context would still be in the making and under critical scrutiny. For this reason, the Brazilian capital\’s protected area offers an opportunity for design interventions that must not only address a historically charged urban fabric but must also re-examine the very notion of conservation vis a vis that of Modernism. More importantly, what makes this exercise in \”preservation\” such a unique opportunity for design are the characteristics of the Brazilian legal apparatus that have developed around the UNESCO resolution in order to implement the protection of Brasilia as a historic city. These ordinances do not mandate stylistic continuity in new constructions, but rather, in a consistently modernistic mode, they codify and prescribe its more abstract attributes, such as proportions and scale. Thus, it could be argued that these preservation laws continue to promote an important aspect of the \”spirit\” of modernism, namely the notion that the nature of a contemporary architecture is not about style and variations but rather of a continuous renewal, Given the questionable results of the typical urban preservation attempts around the world, which have tended to promote either the fossilizati