Lúcio Costa

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Lúcio Costa
Lúcio Marçal Ferreira Ribeiro Lima Costa

(1902-02-27)27 February 1902
Died13 June 1998(1998-06-13) (aged 96)
BuildingsGustavo Capanema Palace
ProjectsPilot Plan of Brasília [pt]

Lúcio Marçal Ferreira Ribeiro Lima Costa /ˈkɒstə/[1] (27 February 1902 – 13 June 1998) was a Brazilian architect and urban planner, best known for his plan for Brasília.[2]


Costa was born in Toulon, France, the son of Brazilian parents.[3] His father Joaquim Ribeiro da Costa, from Salvador, was a naval engineer, and his mother Alina Ferreira da Costa, was from Manaus.[4] He was educated at the Royal Grammar School, Newcastle upon Tyne, England, and at the Collège National in Montreux, Switzerland, until 1916, he graduated as an architect in 1924 from the National School of Fine Arts in Rio de Janeiro. After some early works in the eclectic manner, he adopted Modernism in 1929.

In 1930 Costa established a partnership with Russian-born Brazilian architect Gregori Warchavchik, and also became the Director of the National School of Fine Arts where he had studied. Even though he found students eager to be taught in the "new style," his ruthless administration won him the opposition of the faculty and student body, and Costa eventually had to resign after a year in office. He joined the newly created SPHAN (Servico do Patrimônio Histórico e Artístico Nacional – National Service of Historic and Artistic Heritage) in 1937 under Rodrigo Melo Franco de Andrade. He remained at the National Heritage Service until retirement, acceding to the top post of director, where he was followed by his granddaughter Maria Elisa Costa. During his tenure as regional and then national director, he became involved in numerous controversial decisions (see Controversies).

Costa became a figure associated with reconciling traditional Brazilian forms and construction techniques with international modernism, particularly the work of Le Corbusier. His works include the Brazilian pavilion at the New York World's Fair of 1939 (designed with Oscar Niemeyer),[5] the Parque Guinle residential complex in Rio de Janeiro of 1948, and the Hotel do Park São Clemente in Nova Friburgo of 1948. In the 1950s, Costa was invited to advise on the UNESCO building in Paris and to lecture at the Conference of Venice.[6]

Among his major works are also the Ministry of Education and Health, in Rio (1936–43), designed with Niemeyer, Roberto Burle Marx, among others, and consulted by Le Corbusier, and the Pilot Plan of Brasília, a competition winner designed in 1957 and built mostly in 1958–1960.[7]

Costa taught geometry and drawing at the Liceu de Artes e Ofícios of Rio de Janeiro from 1938–1954. The Liceu was affiliated with the Associação Académica de Coimbra where Costa also taught until 1966, and received a Medal of Merit from the Portuguese government.[8]


During his long tenure as regional, later national chief of the National Institute of Historic and Artistic Heritage (Instituto do Patrimônio Histórico e Artístico Nacional – IPHAN), Costa pushed for systematic documentation of existing architectural and urbanistic heritage, but his critics allege that he let his personal preferences and political opinions interfere with the bases of his decisions [citation needed].

In 1975, he created a public controversy by refusing to sign the landmarking act of the Monroe Palace, the former seat of the Brazilian Congress and later of the Brazilian Senate, built in 1906. The building was slated for demolition due to the construction of the Rio de Janeiro Metro, but in the face of public and media outcry, the construction company shifted the metro line to preserve the building. This effort, however, was in vain, because on October 11, 1975, Brazilian president Ernesto Geisel authorized the building's demolition and a developer razed the building in March 1976. The decision was contrary to the State of Rio de Janeiro's decision declaring the building an Official Landmark in 1974.[9] In 1979, the Cinelândia Station was opened as one of the first five stations of the then-new metro network, on the site of the demolished palace.[10]

Costa preferred the Portuguese colonial architecture of Colonial Brazil over that of any other time or ethnic group (except for Brazilian Modernism). Because of that attitude, inculcated also on younger preservationists thanks to Costa's influence in the architecture schools, much of 19th- and early 20th-century architecture, including the architecture of German, Japanese and Italian immigrants, was lost to urban renewal in the 1960s and 1970s.

In 1936, when the competition to design the new Ministry of Education and Health was held, the winner was an eclectic design by architect Arquimedes Memória. Costa used his political connections within the government to scrap the competition result and instead form a new design team headed by himself, the Roberto Brothers and a young architect who had been Costa's intern, Niemeyer.

Design of Brasília[edit]


Costa is best known for his urban plan for the city of Brasília, located in Brazil's hinterland. Costa won the job in a 1957 public competition in order to replace Rio de Janeiro as the capital of Brazil. His Plano Piloto (Pilot Plan) for Brasília, is in the shape of an irregular cross, suggesting an airplane or dragonfly. While the majority of the project's architecture was designed by Oscar Niemeyer, Costa's own Parque Guinle project was the model for Brasília's many residential tower-in-a-park superblocks. The new city was inaugurated on 21 April 1960 and represents one of the largest adoptions of Modernism in a singular project to the present day.

Although named as an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987,[11] the city is notorious for its windswept emptiness and anti-pedestrian layout.[7][3] Some streets are badly lit because the height and the spacing of light standards were not changed with the advent of mercury-vapor lamps, and World Heritage Site designation has prevented remediation. Overall, despite the city's positive features, the concept and execution have sparked controversy which is explored in The Modernist City. Brasilia has been expressed as an attempt at a utopian city or in the nickname ilha da fantasia (fantasy island), indicating the sharp contrast between the city and the surrounding regions, marked by poverty and disorganization.

Background and Concept[edit]

The middle of the 20th century saw urban struggles for Brazil. Brazilian cities, particularly Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo had seen an increase of problems regarding transportation, sufficient housing, public utilities, and distribution of essential goods such as food. By the 1950s, the frustration of the upper class residents of these locations had convinced the political elite that a long term solution was necessary, making the idea of constructing a new capital city a compelling idea.[citation needed]

There was no consensus on the project from the Brazilian people. Many thought that the new capital would be a "monumental urbanistic and social disaster", believing that a project of that magnitude and cost would cause massive inflation in the Brazilian economy.[12] The critics believed that the current state of Brazil, defined by poverty, corruption, and disease, would not be addressed by the building of a new capital city; it would merely distract from the nation's real issues while giving the populist politicians, such as Juscelino Kubitschek, a way of enriching their personal legacies.

Despite the criticism, the idea of a new capital received widespread backing. To the supporters, Brasília would symbolize Brazil's coming of age. The Brazilian coastal cities were remnants of the colonial era and the center for agricultural trade. Despite Brazil's imposing geographic presence in South America, the country was largely a coastal country. There had been several publicists calling for a marcha para oeste, or westward march, in order to utilize the bountiful excess of land to the west. Also, it was felt that due to the current capital's location at Rio, the government's views of the nation was distorted. To be placed in a central location for these reasons, Brasília could become a new source for new growth for the country, a springboard for modernization and industrial production.

The new capital would be the diverging point for a series of new infrastructure development, such as long-range highways. It would be an optimistic step towards a unified, modern, and prosperous Brazil; towards fulfilling Brazil's "continental destiny" while also relieving the pressure on the existing urban centers.[13] As put by Brazilian writer and diplomat José Osvaldo de Meira Penna in 1958: "A centrally located capital…might make Brazil more conscious of her role in the Americas, her terrestrial frontiers with Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, and Venezuela. When the attention of the elites turns from their nearly exclusive interest in Europea, the 'splendid isolation' will be broken which has until now separated, in spirit and in fact, Brazil from continental neighbors".[14]

The idea to establish a new Brazilian capital was adopted, and the location for Brasília would be within the Brazilian State of Goiás. The search for the site had been calculated, based on factors such as the favorability of the climate, water supply, land quality for agriculture, a suitable power source within 100 kilometers, and access to ground and air transportation.

Costa's Design[edit]

Once it had been determined that there would be a new capital and the location had been established, the project entered into the design process. The plan was to be selected among competing plans from various Brazilian architects and city planners by an international jury. The participating designers were given the necessary information to make suitable plans for the space. Each participant was to submit two pieces in their proposal, a basic layout of the city and a supporting report that exhibited logistical details.

The design of Lucio Costa was selected for Brasilia. Although the design had not been as detailed as some of the other plans submitted, the jurors found it favorable due its features that would complement future population growth. The plan, called Costa's Plano Piloto, conceptually demanded four components: (1) the government buildings, (2) the residential zones or superblocks, (3) the vehicular circulation and transportation infrastructure, (4) and the city center.[15] In all, this original design was intended to hold a population of 500,000 people.[16] In order to fulfill this, Costa's design called for an urban plan in the form of a cross, often described as an airplane, bird, or dragonfly.[17] Some scholars have found symbolism in this shape of plan, a reference to the cross of the early Portuguese conquerors, the bow and arrow of the native populations of Brazil, or the jet shape as a symbol for future innovation.[18]

The plan essentially divided the new capital into two parts, the Monumental Axis and the Residential Axis. The Monumental Axis, which points east to west, would serve as the home for the new civic buildings. This wide mall was intended to create a feeling of grandeur and significance, and is the location of the ministries, national congress, supreme court and other administrative buildings. The two "wings" of the Residential Axis, which runs north to south, would contain the residential and commercial developments. Costa envisioned these as the most important aspect of the design, as they would be home to a majority of the city's daily operations, such as local commerce, schools, recreation and churches. The Residential Axis consisted of 96 superblocks, which were limited to six-storey buildings, and 12 additional superblocks limited to three-storey buildings.[19]

Each of the individual super blocks was supposed to have a distinct style for each superblock and a uniform paint scheme that set it apart from the surrounding superblocks. Costa's goal for the superblocks was to create neighborhoods and communities that were small self-contained and self-sufficient. He envisioned that they would have apartment buildings of a consistent modern style that housed both upper and middle classes, making integration a key theme of the city's design. The Residential Axis's two wings were meant to have a character that was intimate and peaceful, rather than the Monumental Axis that was designed to be imposing.

One of the unique aspects about the plan was how it was designed to handle expansion and growth. Unlike most cities, which add to a grid or expand the urban plan with growth, Costa's design provided the complete and large-scale plan.[20] The original plan included paving streets in areas of the city that would not be put to immediate use, making the landscape of the city defined and hard to change during future construction. It was already "born with an adult skeleton". However, this did mean that large portions of the city would not see high levels of activity in the early years. Another contributing factor in the thorough plan was an emphasis on establishing an organized road system that would best serve the expanding use of automobiles. Costa's design of auto-routes was meant to create a system where traffic would be free flowing. He hoped that by establishing this grid at the city's founding that future construction projects regarding traffic improvements could be avoided.

Construction and Establishment[edit]

The President of Brazil, Juscelino Kubitschek (1956-1961), approved Costa's plan and construction of Brasília, fulfilling the promise of the Brazilian constitution and some of his own personal political campaign promises. Construction started in 1956, using the urban design of Costa and the services of chief architect Oscar Niemeyer.[21] The building materials for the large project were primarily from local sources. The residential buildings in the superblocks were all constructed with local concrete. The initial phase of Brasília was completed on 21 April 1960, in only four years. By the time of the inauguration on this date, while the city was not fully complete, Costa's vision had taken its physical form; the main buildings on the Monumental Axis, such as the Congress and Ministries had been built, along with the main transit center, the majority of the highway system, and several of the superblocks. In order to complete the large project in a short window of time, funding had to be organized swiftly, sufficient labor had to be acquired, and equipment and material had to be bought and transported onto the site.

Labor for the project required the migration of workers into the area and construction camps were built to house workers with the permission of the authorities. These temporary settlements, also called Cidade Livre, were eventually slated for removal. However, these efforts were ineffective, and the settlements grew into self-sustaining communities, and were eventually adopted as satellite cities (suburbs). Gradually over the decades to come, the satellite communities continued to form on the outskirts of Brasilia, serving a valuable function towards battling low-cost housing issues that arose in the city. While alterations have been made to the design since the city's construction, the original plan by Costa prominently survives.

Following the opening of Brasilia, the modern design attracted the interest of artists, theater and musical groups, and younger generations of Brazilian citizens. One reason for this particular crowd was a coordinated effort to make Brasilia the new cultural center of the country. There were venues during the city's first years to help encourage artistic activities, such as the International Congress of Art Critics in 1959, an annual National Salon for several years in the early 1960s, and the establishment of several musical and theatrical groups.[22]

Since its initial completion, Brasilia has gone through several stages of population changes. After initial interest following the opening, population numbers decreased before recovering in the late 1960s. Brasilia is now estimated to be Brazil's 3rd most populous city.



  1. ^ "Costa, Lúcio". Oxford Dictionaries. Oxford University Press. Archived from the original on 18 September 2013. Retrieved 24 June 2013.
  2. ^ Gerald W. R. Ward -The Grove Encyclopedia of Materials and Techniques in Art 2008– Page 121 ".. and the burgeoning school of modern architecture in Latin America, most notably at the Ministry of Education and Health in Rio de Janeiro (now the Palácio da Cultura, 1937–43) by Lúcio Costa (1902–98) ..."
  3. ^ a b "LUCIO COSTA DIES AT 96 - The Washington Post". The Washington Post.
  4. ^ Com a palavra, Lúcio Costa Lúcio Costa, Maria Elisa Costa 2000 Page 161 – "LÚCIO COSTA (1902–1998) o percurso Anos 10 Nascido em Toulon, França, em 27 de fevereiro de 1902, filho do engenheiro naval Joaquim Ribeiro da Costa, natural de Salvador, Bahia, e de Alina Ferreira da Costa, natural de Manaus, .."
  5. ^ Schemo, Diana Jean (16 June 1998). "Lucio Costa Is Dead at 96; Planned Futuristic Brasilia". The New York Times.
  6. ^ Caves, R. W. (2004). Encyclopedia of the City. Routledge. p. 147.
  7. ^ a b Banerji, Robin (7 December 2012). "Brasilia: Does it work as a city?" – via www.bbc.co.uk.
  8. ^ Héctor Olea, Mari Carmen Ramírez -Building on a construct: the Adolpho Leirner collection of Brazilian constructive art at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts, 2009 Page 356 "Beginning in 1938, Costa taught descriptive geometry and drawing for sixteen years at the Liceu de Artes ... which was affiliated with the Associação Académica de Coimbra – where Costa taught until 1966 – he received a Medal of Merit from the Portuguese government.
  9. ^ "Que fim levou o Palácio Monroe?". Senado Federal (in Brazilian Portuguese). 4 May 2015. Retrieved 12 April 2022.
  10. ^ "Cinelândia - Sobre a Estação" (in Brazilian Portuguese). MetrôRio. Retrieved 16 September 2014.
  11. ^ Centre, UNESCO World Heritage. "Brasilia". UNESCO World Heritage Centre.
  12. ^ Epstein, [by] David G. (1973). Brasília, plan and reality; a study of planned and spontaneous urban development. Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 26. ISBN 0520022033.
  13. ^ Lejeune, Jean-François (2005). Cruelty and Utopia: Cities and Landscapes of Latin America. New York, NY: Princeton Architectural Press. p. 169. ISBN 9781568984896.
  14. ^ Epstein, [by] David G. (1973). Brasília, plan and reality; a study of planned and spontaneous urban development. Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 28. ISBN 0520022033.
  15. ^ Epstein, [by] David G. (1973). Brasília, plan and reality; a study of planned and spontaneous urban development. Berkeley: University of California Press. pp. 54. ISBN 0520022033.
  16. ^ Barnitz, Jacqueline; Frank, Patrick (2015). Twentieth-Century Art of Latin America: Revised and Expanded Edition. University of Texas Press. ISBN 9781477308042.
  17. ^ Deckker, Thomas (June 2016). "Brasília: Life beyond Utopia". Architectural Design. 86 (3): 88–95. doi:10.1002/ad.2050.
  18. ^ Barnitz, Jacqueline; Frank, Patrick (2015). Twentieth-Century Art of Latin America: Revised and Expanded Edition. University of Texas Press. p. 188. ISBN 9781477308042.
  19. ^ El-Dahdah, Farès (2005). Brasilia's Superquadra. Prestel. p. 26. ISBN 9783791331577.
  20. ^ Martino, Tattara (January 2011). "Brasilia's Superquadra: Prototypical Design and the Project of the City". Architectural Design. 81 (1): 45–55.
  21. ^ Underwood, David (1994). Oscar Niemeyer and the architecture of Brazil. New York, NY: Rizzoli. ISBN 0847816869.
  22. ^ Barnitz, Jacqueline; Frank, Patrick (2015). Twentieth-Century Art of Latin America: Revised and Expanded Edition. University of Texas Press. p. 374. ISBN 9781477308042.