Babilônia da Asa Norte, Brasília’s Unusual Commercial Street

The arched openings along the corridors of Superquadra 205/206

photography by: Omri Westmark

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In an entirely planned city like Brasília where uniformity reigns supreme, it is often challenging to find a place which overtly deviates from the widely enforced norms. Standing out as the only commercial avenue across the city’s pilot plan with an inward-facing façade, Superquadra 205/206 is an urban oddity, home to maze-like corridors, verdant patios and a series of quirky dwellers.

During the 1960’s, the then newly erected capital of Brazil, Brasília, was in the midst of a building frenzy, absorbing an incessant influx of people and institutions alike. As a planned city, Brasília was divided into two main zones, a central axis where all governmental and public edifices were concentrated, and a pair of wings, allocated mostly to residential neighborhoods.


The entire layout, known as the pilot plan, was designed by architect Lúcio Costa as a cluster of 96 superblocks spread out across the plan’s two wings. Created as a self-sufficient unit, each superblock was comprised of dozens of up to six-story tall apartment buildings, steeped in a tropical greenery.


To provide residents with essential needs and services, every block was designed with a main street, where restaurants, shops, cafés and other businesses were huddled. As a way to increase efficiency, all commercial strips were situated in front of their counterparts in the nearby block, thus forming pockets of urban intensity amid the otherwise sleeping district.


Named Comércio Local, each sliver of commerce is recognized by its block number and the initials of CLS or CLN, while S and N refer to its location in either the north or south wing. As all of these commercial streets were modeled after a single prototype, they bear an uncanny resemblance to each other. That is, unless you are talking about Superquadra 205/206.

In stark contrast to any other CL throughout the Brazilian capital, CLN 205/206 features a completely different design, defying the city’s architectural homogeneity. The brainchild of Doramélia da Motta, who conceived the project at her time as a student, CLN 205/206 is oriented towards the parent superblock rather than the adjacent road.


Eager to create something different, Da Motta sprinkled the shops along the verdant patios in the rear part of the buildings. As a result, businesses were now surrounded by the superblock’s wooded and grassy grounds. Aside from its inward orientation, the structure is well-known for its labyrinth of open-hallways, ramps, stairways, arched windows, rooftops and even an underground passage that connects both sides of the avenue.


Over the years, the place was hilariously nicknamed Babilônia da Asa Norte (Northern Babylon) for its otherworldly look, as if it was modified by a foreign civilization. Despite the glut of good intentions, this utopian project didn’t live up to its expectations, with most stores and eateries closing their doors due to a lack of customers, who presumably couldn’t spot their presence because of their unusual whereabouts. Instead, most of the 2-story complex’s 72 commercial units were converted into offices, studios and perhaps most curiously, a Buddhist temple.