PRINT Summer 1999



THOSE MERCURIAL FORCES behind the global design/fashion/media complex have annointed a new mecca of fabulousness: Brasília. Forty years after its dedication, photographers, advertising directors, and design junkies of every stripe have rediscovered Brazil’s monumental experiment in utopian modernism, finding amidst the heroic architectural forms of the made-from-scratch capital city the stuff of which glamorous fashion shoots and gallery exhibitions are made. Both Wallpaper and The New Yorker have paid homage in recent issues. Now the art world is following suit. An exhibition this spring at the Robert Miller gallery in New York juxtaposed Todd Eberle’s glorifying images focused on the platonic purity of Brasília’s architecture with Robert Polidori’s contrasting take on the city’s current decrepitude and the various emendations of a local population apparently not hip to retro-modernism.

In the mid-’50s, then-president Juscelino Kubitscheck implemented plans for the city, conceived and promoted as a model of enlightened urban planning. Lúcio Costa won the competition for developing Brasília’s master plan; Oscar Niemeyer garnered the assignment of designing its major buildings. A former student of Le Corbusier, Niemeyer conjured in Brasília a modernist fantasia of epic architectural forms unrivaled in scale or ambition.

While urban planners have analyzed Brasília for decades, the media’s current fascination has little to do with cultural anthropology. If Eames chairs and Nelson lamps are overexposed and thus démodé, the architecture of the period—full of the same optimism and aesthetic bravura—has yet to be exploited. (Witness the hunger for Richard Neutra houses in California. Even Gucci’s Tom Ford, the ultimate arbiter elegantiarum, has one.) Given fashion’s insatiable appetite for novelty, it’s no surprise that Brasília is now perceived as a retro-futuro dreamland made all the more exotic and alluring for its remoteness—an Arne Jacobsen Swan chair swollen to urban proportions. Rumor has it that a major French fashion house is shooting its fall ad campaign on site. Can a Brasília-themed boutique hotel be far off?

Mayer Rus is editor in chief of Interior Design magazine.