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So i was at this hostel and some guy asked me whether he should visit Brasília but, as i was about to answer, that insufferable chick kept sneering, anyway the thing got totally derailed, but it got me to realize i gave this rant so many times it should see online publishing.

So keep the following in mind: You’ve never gone to Brasília, you saw pictures maybe, you have no idea about it’s importance as for history of architecture. Should you go there?

You sure can see big concrete buildings at many other places. And there are way too many cool trips to be had in Brazil. But.

But Brasília is a city like no other. As such, it can be both a very revealing experience and a very difficult one to understand.

Maybe the best answer is: Go if you have the right guide.

Brasília is the result of a very particular way to think a city, one that may have many failings (and that is something to be long argued about), but that certainly dared to think outside of the box. Brasília defies expectations. Most importantly, it creates a relationship with space which is probably impossible to understand except there.

The parts of the city made for living are the wings. There, every building has a hollow first floor. The buildings stand above pillars. That means you don’t have to go around them, you can go right through them. And that in turn means that when you want to go somewhere, you just point in that direction and go. You don’t think about which road you must take, you think about directions. And thus the city is more like a big grassy field than like a maze.

The code for that in architecture is garden-city, and as many sins as modernist urbanism might have committed, Brasília certainly is a city that feels like a big garden.

So, this is Brasília. Should you go? Maybe. All of this, and everything else i could say about Brasília, are things you’d take for granted if you lived there, but that are very puzzling for outsiders.

It is not that Brasília is difficult. Actually it is way too easy. Like addresses in Brasília are coordinates. They can be decoded to x and y positions. So that you do know where it is, even if you never actually went there. That ends up giving you a certain trust you can go anywhere.

Again, not something you’d feel in one visit. But what you’d might come to realize is just how much all the other cities are alike one another. How many conventions you take for granted to navigate these other cities, even ones you’d never been to. How many expectations you didn’t even realize you had.

Of course, this is because Brasília breaks these expectations. That is why the bitch from the hostel hated it.

Brasília has to be decoded. Every city has, but Brasília had a different idea of which codes to use. Without a key, it can be painful. And these keys are sometimes things people will not tell you exactly because for them it is obvious. A key is needed, but it does not look like a keyhole. That is why you should not go to Brasília without the right guide.


So, a kind of a visual guide…

the hundreds denote the x direction, the units denote the y direction

image shamelessly stolen from google maps

In the middle of the wings runs the “Eixão”, or “Big Axis”, officially the “Highway Axis”, which is four lanes each way — it shows in red in my picture (it is not that wide, it’s just there are lanes of trees between the roads themselves). It forms a cross with the “Eixo Monumental” or “Monument Axis”, six lanes wide each way, shown in pink. These two big roads define the basic form of the city, the “airplane”.

Now look at the blue squares. Each one is a superblock, each has its own number. The units show how far they are from the Monument Axis, so 102 is the closest to the crossing of the two axes and 116 is the farthest. And the hundreds part of the number shows which row of superblocks it is. Just there is this weirdness that odd hundreds are west of the Eixão and even ones are East, but not too difficult, is it?

And the other wing is a mirror image of it.

Also, since each superblock is roughly 500 meters on a side, you can guess the distances easily.


Right now, i feel like my time in Brasília is spent. So that i can’t really be anyone’s guide. Which also means all this rant is in a way for naught. In stead of a guide, then, the best i can offer are some tips.

  • Stay at some place near the wings. That is surprisingly easy to overlook, for example, the HI Hostel in Brasília is located at a totally remote and unreachable place. Bad. And CouchSurfers might be inclined to stay at more luxurious houses on the Lakes-part of town. Also not good. These options would require you to have a car. But to understand Brasília without walking is nigh-impossible. (The Hotel Zones, orange-y on my picture, are pretty much central, probably more expensive than a backpacker would be used to, but it’s an option. There are more shabby places close to a street called W3).
  • Go to 508 Sul (that is 508 South superblock). That is the model housing block, that entails the very idea of the city.
  • Underneath the “3 powers square” which you’d go to anyway there is a scale model of the city, good for understanding the overall plan. Also close-by, the visit to Itamaraty Palace is a can’t miss.
  • Subway: Don’t. Just don’t. Public transportation in Brasília is really bad, so you should plan around it.
  • If it is not vacations time, i’d recommend a visit to the campus of University of Brasília, there are all sorts of weird buildings there… The Library looks Blade Runner-y and there is a building that is almost 1 Km long, called “the big worm”.
  • Brasília is a ver foody place, there are dozens and dozens of things to eat, from Northeast Brazilian food to World Fuzion food. Lots of expensive stuff, but also affordable ones, if you look for it.
  • If you can find a bike rental, riding a bike in Brasília is simple amazing.

Brasília is a city for free-souls, in a desperate need of free souls to live there. Do not believe everything you hear about it.

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