Brasilia Government Forges Controversial Contract with Singapore

  • 12 Dec 2012
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  • Architecture News Editor's Choice
Aerial View of : Capital of Brazil

While known as the extraordinary city which Niemeyer built, Brasilia is not without its problems. As a recent BBC article noted, while Niemeyer’s architecture is certainly appreciated by its residents, the city itself (designed for the car) lacks a human-scale, mixed neighborhoods, and the vibrant street life which so defines Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo.  The city is in need of a face-lift, but who should be responsible for Brasilia’s new face?

Well, if the debates and arguments at the XXIV Pan American Congress of Architects (XXIV CPA), which took place this November, are anything to go by, it certainly should not be those who have just been given the job.

Brasilia’s Government has contracted consulting company Jurong, based in Singapore, with designing a new Masterplan known as “Brasilia Plan 2060.” The move, which was taken with no outside participation or input, was criticized (loudly) – not only by Brazilian architects and urban planners, but by the majority of American and European professionals present at the XXIV CPA.

More details on this controversial move, after the break…

In October, after Brasilia’s governor signed the contract with Jurong (valued at about US $2.2 million), Brazil’s Secretary of Strategic Affairs, Newton Lins told the state-run Newspaper that the company was chosen because of its “innovative technique for territorial analysis” and “extensive experience in zoning projects, with an impressive portfolio of 1700 projects around the world.”

According to the contract, Jurong has 20 months to prepare studies and undertake “at least six trips” to Brasilia. Commenting on the planning, Lins said: “The idea is more about economic – rather than urban – growth and development. The most important thing is to attract investment, industry. This is a consulting company familiar with management analysis. People just get scared because it’s something new.”

According to Albert Dubler, president of the UIA (International Union of Architects), this is precisely what makes the project so ‘disturbing’: “It is complete nonsense at odds with current thinking, with the interesting projects that are being made today. [...]The perplexing thing is that, if there are people here could do the project, why go to Singapore?”

Dubler also stressed that community participation is vital in any wide-scale endeavor such as this: “We can not solve the problems of Brasilia without consulting the public. You need governance. I cannot imagine how this dialogue will happen with Singapore.” Dubler continued: “To have an idea represents 5% of a project. The design,10%. But 85% of any project is to discuss it with people – to convince the public.”

At the Pan-American Congress of Architects, the President of the Institute of Architects of Brazil (IAB), Paulo Henrique Paranhos, and the representative of the government, Geraldo Lima Bentes, entered into a heated debate on the subject. “This is not about architecture, but about the development we want,” commented Bentes. “But there cannot be economic planning without first thinking about or questioning the urban consequences,” countered Paranhos.

Architect João Filgueiras Lima, or Lelé, who was honored at the opening of the Congress, also criticized the partnership: “As a proposal for the planning of the city for the next 50 years, I find it regrettable. There is no one who is clairvoyant [...but] it is a plan that involves a country that has no cultural affinity with us. ”

Dubler agrees, complaining that there is also a symbolic issue with contracting the foreign company: “The creation of Brasília was an exercise of democracy [...] that’s why the Brazilian people must participate. [...] Brazil is a democratic country and Singapore is not, so there is an imbalance.”

Dubler also questions the capacity of the Singaporean company to take on a project of such scale and architectural importance: “Brasilia is a model for architects worldwide. I don’t know any architects for whom Singapore is a model. It’s like calling McDonald’s to help you open a fine food restaurant in France.”

The FPAA (Pan-American Federation of Associations of Architects) has also aligned itself with the UIA and the IAB in denouncing the move, citing the symbolic importance of Brasilia as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The FPAA has approved a document which will be submitted to UNESCO, asking for intervention in the contract due to the “negative cultural consequences” it will generate. According to the president of the IAB, Sergio Magalhaes: “We cannot let a symbol of Brazilian culture be destroyed or distorted by a company that has no cultural affinity with us. We have the support of the FPAA and the UIA to preserve a heritage that is not only Brazil’s, but humanity’s.”

Story via ArchDaily Brazil

Cite: Quirk, Vanessa. "Brasilia Government Forges Controversial Contract with Singapore" 12 Dec 2012. ArchDaily. Accessed 22 May 2015. <>
  • Gafa

    It’s São Paulo with a “U” not an “O”.

    • Vanessa Quirk

      Thanks Gafa – fixed.

  • Eduardo Oliveira

    Brasilia was not designed by Niemeyer. Brasilia was designed by Lucio Costa. Niemeyer only designed its major buildings.

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  • Walt

    Since 2008, Brazil has become the world’s third-largest agricultural exporter by value. Infrastructure development, especially of roads, rails and ports, is a crucial part of connecting Brazil to global potash markets and international agriculture consumers. On the other hand,China is the world’s largest importer of potash, and grain self-sufficiency is a domestic priority to ensure affordable food prices and dependable supplies to China’s ballooning population. In the past China had asked Temasek, the Singapore state investment agency, to join a consortium that would bid for all or part of Potash Corporation of Canada. Brazil is a viable alternative.

  • shamsher

    thanks for info

  • Mabel

    1) Singapore is a democratic country.
    2) Albeit its tiny size, it is one of the most progressive countries in the world. It is very young, approx 50 years old, yet very wealthy for a country its size and age.
    3) The contract entails a city planning model made by a consulting company. In my opinion, that is rather limited participation since it is merely consult work. The decision-making still lies with the Brazilian power brokers. Nevertheless, it is merely a regional consulting firm. Perhaps the question to ask is if this firm can provide substance that is worth the money?