Brazilian officials move to add anti-drone gear to Brasília’s modernist palaces

Drone Drama

Brazilian officials move to add anti-drone gear to Brasília’s modernist palaces

Oscar Niemeyer’s Alvorada Palace in the Brazilian capital of Brasília (Palácio do Planalto/Wikimedia Commons)

When Brasília was inaugurated in 1960, the new capital of Brazil was meant to be a state-of-the-art city fit for the future. Today, it looks like something imported straight from a science fiction–infused fever dream—Tomorrowland as the seat of South America’s largest economy. But this rainforest-flanked futurist metropolis’s designers and planners—which included, most notably, Rio de Janeiro-born modernist architect Oscar Niemeyer—likely would have never imagined that one day its most prominent buildings might be outfitted with equipment meant to detect and destroy small, un-piloted flying objects.

As reported by The Guardian and Brazilian news website Metrópoles, the administration of Brazil’s right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro wants to install anti-drone systems that include large, cable-supported antennae on top of three of the capital’s landmark Niemeyer-designed buildings: Planalto Palace, which serves the presidential workplace, somewhat akin to the West Wing of the White House; Alvorada Palace, the president’s private residence; and Jabiru’s Palace, a late-1970s lakeside structure that acts as the official residence of the sitting Brazilian vice president, which is currently Hamilton Mourão.

The antennae would soar roughly 66 feet, 33 feet, and 20 feet above their respective palaces—certainly not modest and discreet alterations to the trio of protected, heritage-listed buildings that contribute to Brasília’s status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Photo of Planalto Palace in Brasilia
Planalto Palace, the presidential offices, in Brasília (Eduardo.Coutinho/Wikimedia Commons)

Officials with the administration have urged that the anti-drone equipment be installed and activated posthaste, citing the increased appearances of drones in Brasília and the use of autonomous aircraft for “threatening and hostile acts” per The Guardian.

“I swear this is not a joke,” Rolando Figueiredo, an engineer and architect who runs an Instagram account dedicated to showcasing the work of Niemeyer, wrote in an August 6 dispatch that includes renderings illustrating how the three buildings would appear with the anti-drone systems in place. “Even though the absurd interventions were already blocked by the authorities, the fact that such a pathetic proposal was even made indicates the cognitive capabilities of all involved.”

As mentioned by Figueiredo, the plans to alter the buildings were submitted to the National Institute for Historic and Artistic Heritage (IPHAN), which stuck them down in April. Officials recently returned with revised plans that, most notably, involve smaller but still highly conspicuous antennae. As The Guardian noted Metrópoles as reporting, IPHAN also pushed back on the revisions “despite government pressure.”

Per Metrópoles, Brazil’s Institutional Security Office (GSI) would oversee the installation and operation of the historic architecture–marring anti-drone systems, which would cost a little under a half-million U.S. dollars to implement as part of the so-called Project for the Protection of Presidential Facilities (ProPR) initiative.

Wrote General Luiz Fernando Estorilho Baganha, secretary of security and presidential coordination of GSI, to IPHAN superintendent Saulo Diniz in March:

One must consider the urgency that the matter requires, in addition to the Presidential Security subject being an act provided for by Law, the use of drones is no longer just for leisure and as a work tool, but is now used in threatening acts and hostile actions, bringing risks and being increasingly applied for different shady purposes.

While the Bolsonaro administration moves to quell any menace posed by flying objects, one has to wonder if the GSI has also considered additional protective measures against presidential threats of the non-flying variety.