10 Of The Most Beautiful Buildings in Brasília

Maria Angelíca Maia

In 1883, the Italian saint Dom Bosco dreamed of a utopian city of the future. This dream influenced the construction of Brasília, the capital of Brazil, in the 1950s and 60s, and can be seen in its oneiric, ethereal buildings. Nestled 1,000 meters above sea level, the horizontal landscape is a natural showcase for sculptural architecture. The city, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was projected and developed by urbanist Lúcio Costa and architect Oscar Niemeyer. Here are the absolute icons of Brasília and Brazilian modernism.

Catedral of Brasília

The Catedral Metropolitana was one of the first buildings designed by Oscar Niemeyer to be inaugurated in Brasília. It features all the core elements of Niemeyer’s architecture: exposed concrete, simplicity, harmonious curves, structural daring and bold forms. Outside the entrance you’ll be delighted by the exquisite giant bronze statues of the four Evangelists. You enter through a dark tunnel that emphasises the well-lit main interior. Inside Niemeyer’s vision is striking: the nave is flooded with abundant light that enters through the massive stained-glass windows surrounding the white marble structure. Looking up, you’ll see three huge sculptures of angels suspended by thin steel cables that gives the impression that they are flying.

Catedral Metropolitana

The Itamaraty Palace

The Itamaraty Palace, which is also designed by the visionary architect Oscar Niemeyer, was inaugurated in 1970 as the headquarters of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Inside this elegant, sylphidic building you’ll find artistic panels by Athos Bulcão, Rubem Valentim and Alfredo Volpi – three icons of Brazilian modernism. The indoor and outdoor landscape has been superbly executed by Roberto Burle Marx. In front of the reflecting pool there is a beautiful sculpture, Meteoro, by Bruno Giorgi, that seems to float over the waters.

Itamaraty Palace

Palácio da Justica

Also designed by Niemeyer, the Palácio da Justica is one of the most daring buildings in Brasília. The main façade is covered with artificial asymmetrical waterfalls that feed a large pond, a poetic vertical moto perpetuo that contrasts with the wider horizontal landscape where the edifice is located.

Palacio da Justica

Congresso Nacional

The Congresso Nacional is one of three monumental buildings composing the Praça dos Três Poderes (‘Three Powers Plaza’) along with and the Palácio do Planalto and the Supremo Tribunal Federal. It is regarded as the greatest symbol of Brazil’s capital and often revered abroad as an icon of the country. The complex is structured in two half-hemispheres and two linear towers interconnected by a tunnel. A ramp provides access to the buildings, and around them vast green spaces are used for mostly for civic events and demonstrations.

Congresso Nacional

Templo da Boa Vontade

Accordingly to official numbers, the Templo da Boa Vontade is the most visited site in Brasília. Designed by the architect and engineer R.R. Roberto, this seven-faceted pyramidal temple has a pristine white marble façade. It encourages personal introspection: in this ecumenical hub you can pray, meditate or read. Set in the pinnacle is the largest stone of pure crystal in the world, weighing 21 kilograms. Entering the nave visitors walk around a spiral that represents the journey that the human being takes in search of balance and transcendence.

Templo de Boa Vontade

Santuário Dom Bosco

Projected by the architect Claudio Naves, the Santuário Dom Bosco pays homage to light. Its walls are formed by 80 columns joined at the top in Gothic arches. Amongst the structure is 2,200 square meters of hypnotic blue stained glass in 12 shades. This glass covers almost the entire structure, and fills the building with a blue light. Once inside, you have the feeling of being under a starry sky. In the middle of the ceiling hangs a huge chandelier designed by architect Alvimar Moreira. This chandelier is made up of 7,400 small pieces of Murano glass, weighs 3,000 kilograms, and is 3.5 meters high.

Santuário Dom Bosco

Museu Nacional

Projected by Oscar Niemeyer, this edifice isn’t contemporary to the works from the original plan for the city. It was only inaugurated in 2006, when its architect was 99 years old. The Museu Nacional Honestino Guimarães is a massive dome-shaped structure, similar to a flying saucer, with a large ramp for access instead of staircases. Outside, it features a large area for exhibitions and concerts. Inside, a large mezzanine, suspended without pillars, is home for exhibitions and film showcases. Built in a privileged location, the venue has a view to the Esplanada dos Ministérios and its free horizon.

Museu Nacional Honestino Guimarães

Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil

Home to a plethora of rich cultural programs, such as world-class exhibitions, concerts, film showcases, plays, workshops, fairs and other cultural manifestations, the Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil, inaugurated in 2000, is another architectural gem by Niemeyer. The CCBB is the second-most-visited cultural center in Brazil. This huge horizontal complex features a fair-faced concrete façade dotted with wide windows reminiscent of submarine portholes. The stilts create an illusion of unattainable lightness, enhancing the beauty of the green areas that surround the structure. Glass corridors and stone pathways connect the main building to the annexes, inviting the visitor to a pleasant, contemplative walk.


Supremo Tribunal Federal

This building is located on the Three Powers Square, and is one of the vertices of the imaginary triangle drawn by Lúcio Costa. The design of the STF’s columns provides a variety of perspectives to be explored by visitors. Outside you’ll find an intriguing granite sculpture depicting Lady Justice, by Alfredo Ceschiatti. The representation of justice as a female figure dates back to depictions of Themis and Justitia in ancient mythology. Themis, the Greek god of law and justice was known for her keen insight and insightful judgement. In Roman mythology, Justitia was one of the four virtues, along with Prudence, Fortitude and Temperance. The statue is depicted as blindfolded to represent the importance of objectivity and equality in law.

Supremo Tribunal Federal

Teatro Cláudio Santoro

This project by Niemeyer is the largest architectural complex developed in Brasília that is exclusively devoted to art and culture. It was located in the Cultural Sector North in the Brasília Pilot Plan. Its composed of three multipurpose salons, the Sala Martins Pena, the Sala Villa-Lobos and the Sala Alberto Nepomuceno, in homage to this triumvirate of talented Brazilian composers. Entirely built in concrete, the edifice, designed by the structural design engineer Joaquim Cardoso, has the shape of a pyramid without an apex that was characteristic of Aztec architecture. White cubes of various sizes in the north and south walls were designed by Athos Bulcão. Oscar Niemeyer collaborated with the Italian Aldo Calvo, and the gardens were designed by Roberto Burle Marx.

Teatro Cláudio Santoro

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