Brasilia, Brazil (2,606,885)
Brasilia was built in just three years between 1957 and 1960. Like most other planned capitals, its site was chosen based on its central location. Rio de Janeiro was the previous capital. One axis of the city is anchored by Brazil’s capital building and Supreme Court and lined with civic facilities, sporting arenas, ad industrial parks. Intersecting this is a curved axis along which the main residential and commercial areas are built. The whole design resembles a bird in flight from above. There are lots of open spaces throughout the city and the road system was designed to eliminate the need for traffic lights (though it did not succeed) with a series of arterials, ramps, and traffic circles. The design was largely successful and in 1987 it was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Today it is a marvel of urban planning and Modernist architecture.
Helsinki, Finland (588,195)
Helsinki was originally founded all the way back in 1550, when Finland was part of Sweden. It was intended to be a major trading center in the Baltic region, but it never caught on. In 1809, the Russian Empire defeated Sweden and annexed Finland. Czar Alexander I moved the capital to Helsinki, and shortly thereafter the country’s only university was moved there too. Johan Albrecht Ehrenstrom was tasked with redesigning the city center, and Carl Ludwig Engel was his architect. Their plan called for wide streets arranged in a grid, with new buildings constructed in the neo-classical style. At the heart of the city is the Senate Square, lined with neo-classical government buildings with the magnificent Helsinki Cathedral at its center.
Islamabad, Pakistan (689,249)
Karachi was the seat of power in Pakistan upon independence in 1947, however the new country’s leadership thought it would be better for the capital to be in a more centralized and more defensible location. They eventually settled on a place outside the city of Rawalpindi in north Central Pakistan in the foothills of the Himalayas. The original plan called for Islamabad to be laid out in a series of 2km x 2km grids, with each zone serving a distinct purpose (housing, civic areas, parks, shopping, etc.). There was also an urban plan in place for Rawalpindi, but due to rapid growth it was completely abandoned and its chaotic sprawl is in stark contrast to Islamabad. The two cities have become one of
Pakistan’s most important metropolitan areas.
Paris, France (2,193,031)
Today Paris is the City of Lights, a popular tourist destination and the world’s capital of romance. But before the 1860s it was crowded, dirty, and filled with slums. In 1853 French emperor Napoleon III commissioned Baron Haussman to redesign the city. The aims were twofold: to create a more pleasant and livable city, and to make it harder for disenchanted citizens to seize control of the city, which was a constant threat. The first step was to create wide boulevards throughout Paris, with large squares at their intersections. Two new railroad stations were built, as well as new parks and green spaces. Magnificent new buildings were built to match the new scale of the city. Paris’ massive sewer system also came out of this renovation. The sewers, a marvel of the modern world, greatly improved the city’s sanitation, reduced the threat of disease, and also provided Parisians with fresh drinking water. Even today the renovation is controversial for the impact it had on the city, but there is little doubt that it has made Paris the world class city that it is today.
Washington, D.C., United States (601,723)
The notion for a planned federal district dated back to the founding of the United States. The site was chosen because of its central location among the original thirteen states and its position along the Potomac River. President George Washington commissioned Pierre Charles L’Enfant with the construction and design of the new capital in 1791 (though he was soon replaced, his design was essentially the one that got built). The streets were to be laid out in a grid, connected by diagonal avenues named after the states and connected by circles. At the heart of the city was to be a grand boulevard lined with monuments and terminating at the capitol building. Of course, the plans never really came to fruition and by the start of the twentieth century the city was a jumbled mess. In 1902, the McMillan Commission was tasked with restoring Washington. Its greatest contribution was the National Mall, which today one of America’s great attractions.