6 June 2023

State Segregationist Strategies to Control Urban Informality within Brasilia’s Ideal of Modernity

Tulane University

Respondent: Ciro Miguel, ETH/gta

Unpaved street in Taguatinga. Public Archive of the Brazilian Federal District (1966), Unknown author.

This paper looks at the prominent role urban informality played in the materialization of the idea of the new Brazilian capital, Brasilia. I pay special attention to how the Brazilian government advances its discourse of modern national identity using architectural tools – designing and building a new capital – to “improve” the physical environment with the promise to fix social problems. I look at two different settlements outside of the planned city center, called Plano Piloto, which were officially created before the capital’s inauguration in 1960: 1) the “provisional settlement” known as Cidade Livre, and 2) the first “permanent settlement” called Taguatinga. These two cases show the different forms the government used to protect the original plan's purity and control the informal housing that exploded around the construction sites. I argue that the creation of satellite cities outside of the geographic delimitation “faixa sanitaria'' is a segregationist strategy, part of the bigger plan for the new capital and a prominent part of the Brazilian modernist agenda. The urban-modernist aspiration for a utopic mestizo class-less society does not account for the reality of the class-racial gap experienced by people living outside of the Plano Piloto. The spatial order, architectural materials, and aesthetic differences between Costa’s plan and the satellite cities reveal such disparity. I analyze the official discourse of both politicians and architects to see how the modern proposed goals dealt with the housing shortage for construction workers. I use primary sources such as the political speeches of Kubitcheck and Niemeyer, Lucio Costa’s original plan for Brasilia, testimonials of workers (registered in text and video), the official magazine “Brasilia” published by the state construction company, and pictures of Taguatinga and Cidade Livre from the Public Archive of the Brazilian Federal District.


Architectural History
or History of Property?


Respondent: Nitin Bathla, ETH

Bangalore in this rare 1912 map shows the large-scale suburbanisation of the late 19th century in the city. Source: India Officer Records, British Library.

That the ‘touchability line’ could not be permeated by those castes classed ‘untouchables’ in South Asia is well known. But how did this line manifest across the colonial city, the product of 20th-century capitalist modernity? This paper explores the drawing of this spatial demarcation of caste through the bungalow in Bangalore at the turn of the 20th century. Setting aside dominant histories of the bungalow as the quintessential product of a global culture, co-produced by localisation, I show its proliferation as that of the naturalisation of real property. The making of property introduced a racial regime of ownership. Examining this regime in Bangalore, I reveal how caste elites who previously had a virtual monopoly over land and public resources, mobilised newly introduced legal systems to monopolise property.
Property born as real estate in Bangalore’s residential schemes had little value without housing on it. It is here the colonial government insisted upon a detached house set in a compound-the bungalow- to be deployed across the city through specifications and byelaws. If what makes a bungalow distinct from other house types is that it sits within a compound and not its form that went through continuous formal and semantic transformations, I contend that the bungalow’s ubiquity represents the proliferation of private property. Through seemingly quotidian legal judgements of petty officials on land expropriation, I reveal a shadow legal system where decisions over inheritance to land and housing were accrued through ‘precedent’ to reproduce upper-caste domination and Dalit sub-ordination. Examining claims to property, I show how the writing of architectural history through the history of property enables us to uncover for whom and how the touchability line was made impermeable.

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