“In architecture,” he once said, “the most important thing is astonishment.” That would be the word for Brasília. The spanking-new Brazilian capital, its landmarks all designed by Niemeyer, landed in 1960 like a meteor in the nation’s vast interior. Niemeyer was an unorthodox Modernist with lyrical instincts, one who liked to massage the square shoulders of the Miesian box with teasing curves. The city has always had its critics; the late Robert Hughes, then TIME’s art critic, called it a “utopian horror.” But the brave new Brasília epitomized the 20th century will to find the forms of tomorrow. They just don’t make the future like that anymore.
Lacayo is TIME’s art and architecture critic
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