The shortcomings in the performance of these buildings drew early critics' attention to other problems in the capital's design. It was a city of freeways for a population of people who mostly did not yet have cars; a city of organized socialization in a society that loved spontaneity; a city that was already falling to pieces less than a decade after it was built. A mischievous 1967 article in the Journal of the Royal Institute of British Architects depicted a city of ruins, raw sewage pouring untreated from apartment blocks, the city's museum inundated. It was a terrible sight, one that set the tone for at least two decades as Brasilia's utopian promise evaporated. As Brazil's economy labored in the late 1960s, foreigners visited the city not in search of a miracle, but the sublime spectacle of modernity ruined. A slew of highly skewed anthropological studies followed. In Brasilia: Plan and Reality (1968), an American academic, David Epstein, described a city of garbage-strewn slums, patrolled by feral dogs. By the late 1960s, architecture for the most part moved on. There's barely a mention of Brasilia in the international architectural press from 1970 onward.
Even Niemeyer could admit to the city's difficulties. In 2008, at age 100, he complained to the Guardian that the city had grown beyond his vision. "The way Brasilia has evolved, it has problems. It should have stopped growing some time ago. Traffic is becoming more difficult; the number of inhabitants has surpassed the target; limits are being exceeded."
Holding Niemeyer responsible for all the capital's urban-planning failings is a bit unfair. Although often discussed as if he were the city's primary designer, in the mold of Pierre L'Enfant with Washington or Baron Haussmann with modern Paris, Niemeyer's relationship with Brasilia is actually far more ambiguous. He was employed from the start by Kubitschek to build a presidential palace and the government buildings, but (calmly ignoring the results of an international architectural competition) employed his friend Lucio Costa to do the street plan. It is Costa who was in effect responsible for most of the lived city.
Adapting Le Corbusier's 1920s urbanism, Costa built a rigidly zoned city, with separate areas for work, residence, and play. Costa was extremely talented, and the city plan is beautiful by any standards (from space, it looks like a bird). But he made two mistakes: He assumed everyone would be middle class, so there is literally no room for the poor; and he assumed that the city, once finished, would not grow. Costa was an idealist and an aesthete, and much as he admired organic form, organic growth -- city growth -- was intolerable.
Niemeyer certainly shared Costa's antipathy to uncontrolled development. His aims were purely aesthetic and limited to the Eixo Monumental (Monumental Axis), the central avenue where the most important government buildings are located. He aimed to create a sense of surrealist spectacle that would literally "shock and surprise" visitors out of their everyday lives. This he certainly achieved in the otherworldly Square of the Three Powers, an astonishingly inventive set piece that simultaneously invokes neoclassicism and Hollywood science fiction, while being entirely sui generis. There is nowhere on Earth like it.