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Brazil's modernist palaces could soon be disfigured by anti-drone systems

“Surprise is the main element of a work of art,” Brazil’s most celebrated architect once said.

But were he alive today, Oscar Niemeyer would probably be horrified at the thunderbolt the country’s current leaders are hoping to inflict on three of his most spectacular creations in the futurist capital he helped build.

According to the Brasília-based website Metrópoles, President Jair Bolsonaro’s security chiefs are cooking up plans that could radically disfigure three of the modernist palaces at the heart of Niemeyer’s masterpiece.

Lilian Tahan (@lilian_tahan)

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Blueprints were reportedly submitted to the institute responsible for protecting historic buildings this year outlining the construction of anti-drone systems on the roofs of the Planalto, Alvorada and Jaburu palaces.

Metrópoles said officials wanted to place a 20-metre antenna on the presidential Planalto palace; a 10-metre antenna on the Alvorada presidential residence; and a six-metre antenna on the vice-presidential Jaburu residence. The antennas – reportedly designed to detect and “neutralize” drones – would be supported by diagonal cables, creating a pyramid-style effect above the stunning low-rise structures.

In their planning application, officials claimed the changes were urgent, arguing drones were increasingly used for “threatening and hostile acts”.

Nicolás Maduro, the leader of neighbouring Venezuela, was the subject of a botched drone attack in 2018 while addressing a rally near his presidential palace.

But Brazil’s National Institute for Historic and Artistic Heritage was reportedly unimpressed by the plans. There were limits to changes that could be made to Niemeyer’s iconic monuments, “listed heritage buildings which are internationally acclaimed for their modernist style”, it reportedly said in April.

Two months later, officials presented revised proposals to the agency, which Metrópoles said were also being resisted despite government pressure.

Bolsonaro was the victim of a pre-election assassination attempt in 2018. But since the far-right populist took office last year, the most serious physical attacks on Brazil’s corridors of power have been the work of his own hard-line supporters.

In June, Bolsonarista extremists tried to storm the country’s congress – another of Niemeyer’s works – waving Brazil flags and using loudhailers to shout: “It’s fucking over!”

Later that day they launched fireworks at the supreme court, which the Brazilian architect completed in 1958 two years before Brasília’s official inauguration.

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