The invention of the Superquadra is one of the most thorough books about the city of Brasilia. It provides a profound understanding of the main concepts of space design that resulted in the city’s plan, focusing on the so-called Superquadra. The first edition of the book was published in 2009, and a second edition was launched in 2020—both of them by IPHAN, the Institute of National Historical and Artistic Heritage in Brazil.
The book’s content is the result of a research project started in 1999 by Marcílio Mendes Ferreira and Matheus Gorovitz, renowned professors from the University of Brasilia.
Brasilia and the Superquadra Concept
Brasilia is the planned capital of Brazil, inaugurated in 1960. Lucio Costa was responsible for its urban plan, while Oscar Niemeyer designed the most important buildings. The city firmly represents the modernist architecture and urban planning concepts, which lead to its inscription as a World Heritage Site by Unesco.
Although the occupation has expanded through the years, the centre of the city, Plano Piloto, is still where most of the jobs and activities are located. It is also where the planning efforts and—as the book mentions—the utopian idea were concentrated at first. Plano Piloto is a scheme of two wings called Asa Sul and Asa Norte. A central axis was placed between them, where the monuments and office buildings were constructed. The wings, however, ought to have a different scale with a more intimate atmosphere. This intention was the baseline for the development of the Superquadra idea, as Marcílio Mendes Ferreira and Matheus Gorovitz explain.
Lucio Costa attempted to recreate the idea of neighbourhood units (NUs), placing them in the plan as modules of the urban grid in the residential area. Each NU aimed to provide basic services for everyday life that residents should be able to access by walking short distances. To guarantee the quality of this mobility, sidewalks with several trees were distributed to connect the houses and apartments to the stores, schools, supermarkets, churches, green areas, etc.
The automobile infrastructure was meant to be designed hierarchically so that the distribution of people in transit culminated in the most private areas. Four residential blocks were distributed near the main commercial area of each NU. These blocks were named superquadras, which means “superblocks”. Each superquadra has around ten buildings, most of them with pilotis and a six-story high limit.
Although the implementation of the buildings and their aesthetics are different, all of the superquadras have similar densities and large green spaces. By freeing the ground level of large obstacles, the adoption of the pilotis provided numerous possibilities of paths for the pedestrian, transforming each superquadra into a wide public space. This architectural typology also matches the aim to encourage social interaction in superquadras.
When explaining how the superquadra idea emerged, Marcílio Mendes Ferreira and Matheus Gorovitz reinforce the fact that it was essentially utopic. They did not hesitate to point out problematic aspects of Brasilia’s plan, claiming that the city did not consider the world as it is, but as the planners wanted it to be. Naturally, many original ideas were subverted as people and businesses established themselves in the superquadras.
One example of controversy mentioned in the book is the predominant occupation of rich families in Plano Piloto, in contrast to the original goal to promote interaction between different social strata in the neighbourhood units.
Structure of the book
The book presents its content dynamically. It explains the concept of Superquadras in different formats such as historical texts, interviews, photos, and drawings. The invention of the Superquadra starts by explaining some of the concepts that influenced Brasilia’s plan and what Lucio Costa expected the residential area to be. Then, some original articles by Lucio Costa are presented, reinforcing the intentions he had for the project of Brasilia.
Texts from other authors are also shown, providing different perspectives with critical considerations about the city. Subsequently, the interviews section starts, which contains talks from former coworkers of Lucio Costa and Oscar Niemeyer and other important architects.
Finally, the book presents its mostly documental part, with several images of plans, sections, and photos by one of the most famous architecture photographers in Brasilia, Joana França. All of the visual content is focused on the buildings that are part of the superquadras in both North and South wings.
Marcílio Mendes Ferreira and Matheus Gorovitz assemble information that is not only interesting but very important for the identity of Brasilia. The invention of the Superquadra turned out to be an essential tool for architects, urban planners, and researchers in the city to have a deeper knowledge about Brasilia and promote effective maintenance of its plan and buildings.
The drawings and pictures show how the buildings and the superquadras differ from one another and yet maintain the same typology and language. Although The invention of the Superquadra presents many qualities of Brasilia’s plan, the highlight of the book is its purpose of encouraging people to look at the city with a critical eye.
Instituto do Patrimônio Histórico e Artístico Nacional. (2021). Segunda edição do livro “A Invenção da Superquadra” é lançada oficialmente. [online] Available at: https://www.gov.br/iphan/pt-br/assuntos/noticias/segunda-edicao-do-livro-2018a-invencao-da-superquadra2019-e-lancada-oficialmente. [Accessed 29 Jul. 2021].
Ferreira, M. and Gorovitz, M. (2020). The invention of the Superquadra.