Lucio Costa; Designer of Brazil's Capital City

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Architect Lucio Costa, planner of the daring Brazilian capital, Brasilia, and considered the father of Latin American modernist design, died Saturday at his home in Rio de Janeiro. He was 96, his family said.

"With a few sheets of paper he invented the magnificent city that today is our country's capital," Oscar Niemeyer, the architect of Brasilia's monuments and palaces, wrote of his colleague in the newspaper Jornal do Brasil.

Born in 1902 to Brazilian parents living in Toulon, France, Costa studied at the National School of Fine Arts in Rio de Janeiro.

He was little known outside architectural circles until 1957, when he won an international competition to design a new Brazilian capital to be built on the country's barren central plateau.

Under his unique design, Brasilia, which took over from Rio as the country's capital in 1960 and is one of the world's newest cities, was laid out in the shape of a cross.

Government agencies and ministerial buildings are built on both sides of the main east-west axis with the Presidential Palace, Congress and Supreme Court buildings at one end. The north-south axis is the site of residential districts.

The city was hailed as a monument to modern architecture, and shortly after it was inaugurated in 1960 it was added to UNESCO's World Heritage List, which includes the Great Wall of China and Venice.

Despite his role in designing Brasilia, Costa was always overshadowed by Niemeyer, the controversial architect who designed most of the important buildings in the new capital.

Costa's only standing construction in Brasilia is a television tower, a huge concrete and steel antenna of no remarkable architectural value.

Costa seriously miscalculated how fast the new city would grow. Originally designed for no more than 500,000 people, Brasilia is now home to more than 2 million, mostly bureaucrats, lobbyists and politicians.

A quiet, retiring man, Costa never again designed anything to compare with Brasilia and always seemed a little in awe of his greatest work.

Shortly after returning from one of his last visits to the city, he remarked to a friend: "The truth is the dream was smaller than reality. And the reality was bigger and more beautiful than the dream."

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