BREAKING NEWS: Metaphysics is dead and the “modulor” has come to life

© Eraldo Peres I “Three Powers Plaza”, Brasilia (Brazil).

In art, metaphysics means figuration of an imagined reality, of a reality “beyond” that is expression of an ideal beauty. In architecture, it translates into a spatial condition made up of simple forms, skillfully arranged in space, capable of designing apparently immobile and crystallized urban places, placed in a constant unstable equilibrium through the use of perspective, light and the proportional relationships between depicted objects. The “Plaza of the Three Powers” in Brasilia (capital of Brazil), is perhaps the last built testimony of “metaphysical architecture”. In fact, due to the riots, that yesterday saw the occupation of the symbolic place of the country’s political power by thousands of Brazilians/fans (dressed with the Carioca flag), the end of metaphysics in the ambit of “modernist mythology” is certified. An extraordinary occurrence that goes far beyond the news of the fact itself, commented with emphasis by the media from all over the world. In a few days we will forget about the (political) affair for its own sake; but the aesthetic meaning, that the event has caused to this complex, goes beyond the news event.

Brasilia is an ideal capital, aristocratic and sophisticated, a mystical synthesis. It is a city born out of nothing and out of nothing in the second half of the 1950s. Built in 41 months on a height of 1000 meters – under the supervision of the architect Oscar Niemeyer – it was initially designed for a population of 300,000 inhabitants which today are 3 million. Although the urban plan designed by Lucio Costa was influenced by the architectural theory of Le Corbusier, the spatial layout – made up of complex geometries, futuristic shapes, curves and inverted cups – is not only a manifestation of a rational conception of modern thought; it is openness towards the indefinable, the mystery, the elsewhere.

Brasilia is a living, surreal and transcendent scenography, it is the stage of a theater of life that responds to an abstract, visionary existential dimension. It is an urban paradox, a dream come true, an oneiric structure capable of transporting the individual’s perceptive practice into an aesthetic and formal dimension with philosophical-poetic, even sacred, not to mention mystical traits. It is no coincidence that the archetype of the model of this place had been identified by Sigfried Giedion in the triad of the pyramids of Gizah. It is a place of the soul (understood as an inner territory) which has a dimension – absolutely “extra large” for a space with exquisitely monumental and celebratory functions – which made it metaphysical.

© Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz I “Three Powers Plaza”, Brasilia (Brazil).

Symbol of all this is the large “square” defined between the three monumental government buildings (respectively the Parliament complex, the High Court of Justice and the Presidential Palace). A large and orderly geometric space, rigorous and full (of voids), organized according to the three vertices of an ideal triangle so as to delimit a rectangular area of ​​about 250 by 300 meters, for an extension equal to about 12 football fields. Although it is difficult to perceive the place as a unitary complex, the urban image – even if “out of scale” – is somehow readable thanks to the presence of the two twin towers (in the shape of blades) of the Secretariat block, that, acting as a “focal point” on which the gaze is led to linger, they break the flat horizontality of the overall view.

In his A Pattern Language (1977) Christopher Alexander warned architects and urban planners not to design too large public spaces to avoid creating deserted and desolate places: “They look good on drawings; but in real life they end up desolate and dead”. According to the well-known Austrian architect (naturalized in the United States), the urban public space is a place dedicated to social interaction and, therefore, must have a dimension that allows two people to be at such a distance in any case to be able to recognize or call each other, once exceeded a certain length. This is the urban limit of Brasilia: not being on a “human scale”, not being a space capable of fostering social relations; perhaps because it was mainly conceived as a monumental place, celebrating an “aristocratic” political power, indifferent to the presence of local communities. The then representation of modernity, today it has become contemporary, bringing to itself what had been missing for sixty years, the presence of the people! Today that mass of protesters has filled a “gap of scale” that the project had denied since its origins. Today Le Corbusier’s modulor (unit of measurement of modern man) has come to life for the first time, has begun to move and has its say.

© Eraldo Peres I “Three Powers Plaza”, Brasilia (Brazil).

Back to Top