Your browser is out-of-date.

In order to have a more interesting navigation, we suggest upgrading your browser, clicking in one of the following links.
All browsers are free and easy to install.

  • in vitruvius
    • in magazines
    • in journal
  • \/



architexts ISSN 1809-6298


Leia neste artigo a carta dirigida ao povo americano escrita por Lucio Costa em 1961, quando retornava, a bordo de um navio, das comemorações do Centenário do M.I.T., em que proferiu a palestra “O Novo Humanismo Científico e Tecnológico"

how to quote

COSTA, Lucio. Letter to the Americans. On board of S.S. “Rio Tunuyan”. Arquitextos, São Paulo, year 09, n. 104.00, Vitruvius, jan. 2009 <>.

Back home, I would like to say a few words to you, Americans. Although you have an easy life, I understand you are not happy with the trend of events. You worry, you feel the international flood mounting, you see no issue; the future looks dark, and you are pessimistic. Let me tell you that you are wrong. You are looking in the wrong direction, knocking at the wrong door. Right there behind you the doors are wide open, the path is free, you can walk in security towards the rising dawn.

Two years ago Vice-President Nixon was humiliated on his goodwill trip to South America; a few months later President Eisenhower was cheered everywhere abroad by enormous crowds. Why was this? What had happened between? Camp David. It was a spontaneous response from the world to the talks of Camp David. The so called spirit of Camp David. And what does this mean? It means the acceptance of facts, of reality as it is and not as we would prefer it to be; the willingness to understand and hence to coexist.

You may dislike the word – maybe you have heard it to often – but anyhow it is the right word. The first thing to do is to accept the idea of coexistence.

You are capitalists. Profit and success in its widest and purest sense is your main concern. Your freedom, your feelings, your thoughts, your actions somehow spring this basic concept. Well, worldwide war brings no profit whatsoever anymore. They are communists. They believe in collectivism as a means to attain individual liberation, just as you believe in mass production as a means to attain individual comfort. They have an ideal, but they are practical men, they intend to survive. The lethal prognostics of war are such that there is no choice for them or for any of us but to coexist.

I understand you strive for security. But the means of destruction being what they are, there is only one form of security – it is to avoid war. It is not a matter of giving up the fight or surrendering, except simply surrendering to fact. There is no question of option, but merely of fact, blissful fact, imposed – not by moral principles or religious beliefs – but by scientific and technological know-how. And this magnificent, tremendously moving fact is that we are on the threshold of a New Era, when the normal process of evolution, violently interrupted through the 19th century and the first half of the 20th by the industrial and technological revolution, will once more resume its course on a different scale (the jet and the rocket are not the evolution of the horse and buggy – they are a different thing altogether). A New Era is at hand where scientific and technological development will overcome the technocratic challenge and the Orwellian danger. Scientific and technological development brings with it in its womb a new concept of humanism that is not only to benefit certain castes, classes or sectors of the population alone, as in the past, when it was hampered by the natural limitations of the techniques of handicraft production, but is destined to extend to all mankind.

We still live oppressed by limitations, fears and prejudices, contingent or immemorial, superimposed as if it were on our true nature and therefore removable. In developed societies, “masks” are used for self-defense or to try to impress others and “succeed”; in underdeveloped societies, ignorance, disease and a hard work for a minimum benefit impede natural growth and expression of personality. Now, in this New Era that encircles us on all sides so closely that you can almost feel and touch it, scientific and technological development, besides freeing man from the bonds of hunger and poverty, will set up conditions capable of freeing him also from vulgarity and sophistication, these two extremes to which he is brought  by the contingencies of an artificial social hierarchy, and of leading him back to that authentic life, simple, well filled and natural, that is really worthy of his condition.

Scientific and technological development has, indeed, a fundamentally immanent coherence. The misuse that is so widely feared is always the result of  accidental factors, extraneous therefore to its intrinsic unshakable logic, which, carried to its ultimate consequences, is always in man’s favor and not to his detriment, inasmuch as we are all an integral part of the process. Scientific and technological development may be represented by a vertical line – an apple falls and that is it. Mystic, philosophical, political, commercial or social speculations may waver to the left or to the right, but they cannot go far astray or they will fail to work and will make no sense.

The final objective of  scientific and technological development is the liberation of man, and the liberation of man is also the ultimate goal, not only for your society – the new capitalistic society – but of collectivistic society as well. They are streams of that have different watersheds, but both converge to the same estuary. You inherited freedom from the very beginning. They have inherited despotism and made use of it, but the fundamental Marxist purpose is just that: freedom. And, believe it or not, they are Marxists still. It is wrong to suppose, as most ex-communists do – disturbed as they were by the Trotsky-Stalin feud – that competition between East and West is not ideological anymore, but simply a struggle for power in the Bismarckian  style, and that therefore the URSS and China will finally come to clash for leadership. Don’t be illuded by this fairy tale. In spite of differences in their approach, they have the same ideal and, strange as it may sound to your ears, they are honest people. They believe in the New Era. They feel that they are moving in the right direction and in accordance with the historical trend. You, instead, rejecting your progressive tradition, you turn your back on the New Era, you resist the flow of events, and move forward only when forced to do so by circumstances.

I can understand that, things being as they are, you need security, and building for war and peace simultaneously is still an advantage for you now. Although you pretend to lament the waste, you profit by it, for thus you maintain the normal rate of employment and avoid depression; at the same time you have that illusion of security. But the fact, the real fact, is that war on a worldwide scale is, from now on, impracticable, so, sooner or later you must face the facts, and facts are clear: you cannot destroy them, as you would like to; they cannot destroy you, as they wanted; neither of you can count on interior deterioration any more; you cannot go on forever stockpiling useless destructive rubbish, so you need to plan for peace and disarmament, and as a corollary thereto you must face the obsolescence of the notion of “balance of power” and consequently of leadership. Sure, competition will continue, but on different terms, on a different level. Instead of “leadership”, contribution: each individual and each country contributing with the maximum of their abilities and their power to the shaping of the New World that is no longer on this side of the Atlantic and will not be on the other side of the Pacific either; that is not left or right, but upwards; we must lift our minds to reach it, for it is no longer a question of space, but of time, growth and maturity. The New World now is the New Era. That is the point. You must accept and believe in the New Era. Then, and only then, the problems that obsess you  - Castro’s Cuba, neutral Laos, free Berlin, the admission of China, the pace lag – will acquire a different perspective. ”But this is exactly what they pretend.” Precisely. They are already reasoning in terms of the New Era, and you too must accept such terms and move forwards, not backwards. The sooner you understand this truth, the further you will participate, benefit and share in the shaping of the New Era. You have a natural right to it; it is a part of your heritage. The American approach and the socialist approach are twins, they are both offsprings of the Industrial Revolution. You have already made a tremendous contribution to the New Era: the American Century. But you have said the original things you had to say. The rest of the world cannot expect anything really new from you, anything that can outdo what you have already done, anything but perfection and refinement. The American Century as a unique historical entity is now coming to an end under your very eyes, which can neither realize nor understand it, and that is the profound cause of your national crisis. The American Century began with the War of Secession and is now drawing to a close – like happiness, you will only realize it when it is already gone. Significantly, MIT has just commemorated its first Centenial, 1861-1961 – your century. The next centennial to be commemorated will be the first World Century, the first century of the New Era, to the shaping of which the USA, the URSS, the Commonwealth, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America will all contribute, each with its own genius and on its own particular way, so that the new humanism that scientific and technological development brings as an inherent gift, may finally grow, bloom and flourish.

Americans, you belong to the New Era. Look forward – that is your tradition.


Note by Maria Elisa Costa – This text was written in 1961, when in the USA public opinion, worried about what would come out in the future, was depressed in front of communist scare-crow. This same year of 1961, two facts occurred simultaneously: In the middle of Pacific Ocean a little boy was just born, son of a completely black father and a completely white mother – Barak Hussein Obama was his name. In the middle of the Atlantic, architect Lucio Costa, coming back home by boat after presenting his paper – “The New Scientific and Technological Humanism” – at M.I.T. Centenial commemorations, wrote on board a letter addressed to american people, that came to be published many years after  (COSTA, Lucio. Registro de uma vivência. São Paulo, Empresa das Artes, 1995, p. 383-384). The speach made by the new President of the U.S.A. on January 20th is, precisely, the answer to the Letter to the Americans, 48 years later.

about the author

Lucio Costa (1902 – 1998), Brazilian architect and urbanist, graduated in 1924 at the Escola Nacional de Belas Artes in Rio de Janeiro. Creator of the Brasília´s Urban Project and works like Missões Museum, Friburgo Hotel Park, Brazilian Pavilion at the New York´s World Fair, with Oscar Niemeyer, among others. He was member of the team responsible for creating the Ministry of Education and Health. Author of the book “Lucio Costa – Register of a Living”



© 2000–2021 Vitruvius
All rights reserved

The sources are always responsible for the accuracy of the information provided