Brasilia beyond the Pilot Plan sector: memories from the satellite towns

The exhibition uncovers images evoked by the memories of Brasilia's satellite town residents. They show scenes from everyday community life in areas far from the monumental city center.

By Museu do Cerrado

Maria Fernanda Derntl

This exhibition is based on a series of 68 interviews carried out with residents of the satellite towns of Taguatinga, Núcleo Bandeirante, and Ceilândia between 1995 and 2005 as part of the Federal District Public Archives' Oral History Program. These statements allow us to look afresh at Brasilia's history, this time from the perspectives of those migrants who were there when the urban centers were first set up rather than from the standpoint of the key figures—politicians, technicians, and the authorities—that we usually hear from.

Congresso Nacional em construção by Arquivo NacionalMuseu do Cerrado

The sculptural shapes designed by Oscar Niemeyer and the wide open views of the Pilot Plan sector outlined by Lúcio Costa are the iconic images of Brasilia. But, in statements by migrants who experienced the early days when the satellite towns were being built, …

Trabalhador em parada de ônibus na SQN 105 (ca. 1970) by Arquivo Público do Distrito FederalMuseu do Cerrado

The capital meant something very different from what was envisaged on architects' drawing boards or in political speeches.

Trabalhadores em frente ao Supremo Tribunal Federal, no dia da inauguração de Brasília (1960-04-21) by Mário Fontenelle, Arquivo Público do Distrito FederalMuseu do Cerrado

an adventure, everyone embraced the president's dream” (Francisco Soares Pereira, 2004).

Cúpula do Congresso em construção by Arquivo Público do Distrito FederalMuseu do Cerrado

Those migrants who moved to Brasilia in search of work on the building sites clearly recall the climate of enthusiasm at that time but they also talk about the anxieties and difficulties facing them both then and now.

Desenhos de Lucio Costa apresentados no Relatório do Plano Piloto, de Brasília (1957) by COSTA, Lucio. “Relatório do Plano Piloto de Brasília [1957]”Museu do Cerrado

The plan drawn up by Lucio Costa for the new capital adopted concepts and instruments of urban and regional planning in vogue at that period. It was based on the creation of a central nucleus with an orderly layout and limited dimensions – the Plano Piloto – implicitly presupposing growth through satellite cities also ordered and in the midst of a green belt.

The campaigns promoting the building works for the new capital and advertising the job opportunities available in the Brazilian Highlands led to a huge influx of migrants, but the accommodation provided by the construction companies was only for unmarried workers. Faced with a lack of official accommodation for those who had traveled with their families, many migrants recall that they initially had to rough it in the areas around the Pilot Plan sector.

Ocupação nas proximidades do Palácio da Alvorada by Mário Fontenelle, Arquivo Público do Distrito FederalMuseu do Cerrado

"the people who had come from outside each took a piece a land and built a shack. At the time, it was called the invasion but nobody did anything to stop it"
(Edgar Galdino da Silva, 2000).

Plano do sistema de abastecimento de Brasília (ca. 1958) by Arquivo Público do Distrito FederalMuseu do Cerrado

The issue of illegal migrant settlements on the outskirts of the Pilot Plan sector soon got out of control. In 1958, a policy was launched to move the residents from these so-called invasions to residential centers, which were preferably located outside a sanitation zone defined by the Lake Paranoá basin. 

And the two cities grew side by side: the Pilot Plan sector, the beautiful, clean, white architectural city, with elegant lines; and Taguatinga, the ugly, dirty, dusty town, with its shacks. but it was in Taguatinga where you really found the people who were building Brasilia” (Cid Ferreira Lopes Filho, 1997).

Mapa da ocupação urbana do DF em 2013, com a localização das “cidades-satélites’ criadas até o início dos anos 70. (2013) by Marcos Cambuí, Intervenção gráfica sobre mapa da SEGETH-GDFMuseu do Cerrado

Initially, the satellite towns lacked any basic urban infrastructure and had only very poor transport links to the city center. In 1958, the first satellite town, Taguatinga, was built, followed by Sobradinho (1959), Gama (1960), Guará (1968), and Ceilândia (1971). 

Taguatinga (1960) by Mário Fontenelle, Arquivo Público do Distrito FederalMuseu do Cerrado

Wherever you were going, you'd arrive dirty, the old buses, the worst ones they had, were just dumped here [Ceilândia], old buses that were rubbish, with a load of dust blowing in onto everyone” (Ilton Ferreira Mendes, 2002)

The name satellite town was established by law in 1960 but it was replaced in 1961 when the Federal District was subdivided into sub-prefectures before being split again, in 1964, into different administrative regions or RAs, each with its own number. In 1998, a government decree banned the use of the term satellite town in official documents in an attempt to suppress the term that was seen as derogatory despite its widespread use.

Praça do Relógio, Taguatinga (2018) by Maria Fernanda DerntlMuseu do Cerrado

““The idea of a satellite is that it depends on something, but we don't depend on anyone [in Taguatinga], and seeing as we help [each other], we can ditch the word satellite” (Francisco Soares Pereira, 2004)

Ocupação irregular junto ao Núcleo Bandeirante conhecida como Vila IAPI (1969) by Arquivo Público do Distrito FederalMuseu do Cerrado

Legally purchasing a plot of land in a satellite town was seen as a triumph but it could cause the breakdown of long-standing, valuable support networks in the illegal settlements.

"We used to live there [in the town called Vila do IAPI], four mates, all nearby, next door to each other. It was a nuisance but we wanted to all stay together here [in Ceilândia] but we all got split up" (Francisco das Chagas Nogueira, 2002).

Núcleo Bandeirante, planta geral (1965) by Acervo Secretaria de Desenvolvimento Urbano e HabitaçãoMuseu do Cerrado

Even as the satellite towns became established, the residents' feelings of instability and precariousness were clear in their' tales of frequent moves. Sometimes they were just looking for new jobs or new places to live but other moves involved forcible relocation or the authorities imposing urban planning on areas that were already occupied.  

"I had to build my shack three times. Once during the invasion. Then, when it was moved to the right place so they could maintain the roads, build the streets in a straight line. And later here, where I am now [in Taguatinga], which specified the area there" (Vicente Paula Souza, 1995).

Trabalhadores em Brasília by Mário Fontenelle, Arquivo Público do Distrito FederalMuseu do Cerrado

Their stories tell of a periphery undergoing rapid transformation, suggesting that either the area would be tolerated or ignored by the authorities or it would become a target for control measures and attempts to impose urban planning..

people worked a lot but they moved around a lot, too. At that time, people were always moving around.” (Vicente Paulo de Souza,1995).

Transferência de moradores da vila Dó-ré-mi para Taguatinga (ca. 1965) by Arquivo Público do Distrito FederalMuseu do Cerrado

Many residents remember the day when they moved from the illegal settlements to a satellite town. Each wooden shack was dismantled and transported in a Novacap truck to the plot in the new center. It then had to be rebuilt so they'd have somewhere to live initially. 

"When we moved to Ceilândia, the truck dumped everything [that we had] here, just dumped me and my stuff right here on the ground, and [it was] a rainy night in May, the rain came down in sheets, night and day" (Severino Bezerra da Silva, 2002).

Início da implantação de Ceilândia (ca. 1971) by Acervo pessoal de Maria de Lourdes AbadiaMuseu do Cerrado

From Lúcio Costa's perspective, the vegetation of the Cerrado savanna acted as a backdrop for the Praça dos Três Poderes (Square of the Three Powers), enabling him to express the symbolic contrast between the constructed civilization and the natural environment. In the memories of the satellite town residents, the savanna was a hostile environment that they had to endure in the early days of living in areas without any urban attributes.

when I had the idea of positioning the Square [of the Three Powers], it was, partially, with the aim of highlighting the contrast between the civilized part, under the control of Brazil, and the wild nature of the savanna” (Lúcio Costa, 1974)

Instalações provisórias em Brasília (DF) (1957) by Acervo Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e EstatísticaMuseu do Cerrado

they [the authorities] dumped us in the middle of the savanna. We had no water, no electricity, no transport, nothing” (Hélio Dom Bosco Bonifácio, 2004).

Fragmento do Mapa do Distrito Federal (1963) by Arquivo Público do Distrito FederalMuseu do Cerrado

Novacap technicians, administrators, and bosses also gave interviews explaining the urban planning design for the satellite towns and sometimes criticizing the disruptions to that planning. 

In the planning of Taguatinga, there was no prior plan as there was for Ceilândia, for example. That was a city which, from when it was first created, was already fully planned out. And the layout is practically still the same today. ... While the plan for Taguatinga was done piecemeal, through juxtaposition, so that it's all very different, with no symmetry there …" (Cid Lopes Filho, 1997).

Escola em Taguatinga by Arquivo Público do Distrito FederalMuseu do Cerrado

Once they realized that there were few support agencies and very little official help, residents started valuing their family and friendship ties as the only source of help in difficult times and the only means for ensuring their actual survival. In contrast to the homogeneous and impersonal layouts of urban planning, the residents describe how space continued to be arranged and occupied in more traditional ways.

"People were living opposite the land, the big piece of land belonging to my mother-in-law. So, as I was her son-in-law, she let me and some other in-laws and friends camp out on the grassy bit of land she owned" (PRETO, 2000).

Torneira de água em Ceilândia by Arquivo Público do Distrito FederalMuseu do Cerrado

Several of the people interviewed recalled the water spouts, taps, springs, and creeks where they'd go to collect water, wash clothes, or take a bath. Often located on the outskirts of the planned design, these were places where people could socialize. This was particularly the case for women, whose daily lives were taken up with water-related tasks.

"It was just working, going for water, cooking”
(Ana Maria de Jesus, 2002).

Transferência de moradores da vila Dó-ré-mi para Taguatinga by Torneira de água em CeilândiaMuseu do Cerrado

Several stories place more emphasis on the ties of solidarity than on the conflicts and problems they faced, reinforcing their shared narrative about the value of community when building a new place to live.

"there was a togetherness, you saw someone building their shack, it was (bang, bang, bang), the noise of the hammer all day long and all night long, but whoever finished first turned up [to help]" (Adair José de Lima, 2005).

Início da implantação de Ceilândia (ca. 1971) by Acervo pessoal de Maria de Lourdes AbadiaMuseu do Cerrado

While this code of mutual help was instrumental in organizing groups and ensuring survival, there were also residents who were less dependent on these support networks, although that made building a house in the satellite town more difficult for them.  

When a resident had a big team working with him, he'd sometimes manage to get the shack up and covered in one day, but ... some families spent years with just a small tent on bare earth" (Maria das Graças Pimentel, 2001).

Barraco em cidade-satélite by Arquivo Público do Distrito FederalMuseu do Cerrado

 Plots in the satellite towns were granted by Novacap on a provisional basis until the legal status of the land could be definitively sorted. Ownership of land required it to be occupied and the residents' stories mention the ever-present risk of having their land or shack occupied by other people.

"I started the shack three times, the framework for the shack three times, when I turned up, there were people living in the shack. I covered it and there were people living there ... I fenced it, I put a fence there" (Otávio Macedo, 2004).

Unidade de Saúde em Taguatinga by Arquivo Público do Distrito FederalMuseu do Cerrado

Public facilities, albeit scarce in the early days, were landmarks that lent their names to streets and places but some names also came from everyday, more mundane locations in the urban landscape.

"The landmarks were the following: the Café sem Troco back here, the Walkway, the Water Tower, which was a landmark, the Bar Estrela, the Virgem da Vitória, the Curva da Onça ... That avenue down below, the Samdu avenue. It's there because that's where the health center once was" (Vicente Paulo de Souza, 1995).

Capela de madeira em acampamento de obras by Arquivo Público do Distrito FederalMuseu do Cerrado

Part of creating this frame of reference for naming places included recalling characters who played a key role in setting up and organizing life in each of these communities, especially representatives from religious and welfare organizations.

"Father Roque was a significant figure in the Núcleo Bandeirante settlement and he was well-known, people would bump into him in the street at all hours, he wasn't a reclusive priest stuck in his church …" (Carlito Alves Rodrigues, 2000).

Núcleo Bandeirante (ca. 1960) by Arquivo Público do Distrito FederalMuseu do Cerrado

These memories of the contributions made by each of the satellite towns to the history and shaping of Brasilia highlight the need to give them greater political attention and provide them with urban facilities. After all, these references to the past are just another way of expressing the problems and concerns facing these communities today.

"the authorities should have focused their attention on the Núcleo Bandeirante settlement and, actually, it still needs that attention because, as the pioneer town, it deserves a bit more care" (Waldemar Alves de Magalhães, 2000).

Grafite em Ceilândia by Juliana TorresMuseu do Cerrado

In the present-day metropolis, new ways of experiencing and viewing the capital city are emerging and the traditions of that first migrant group are merging with broader cultural references. Brasilia is more than simply a collection of modern buildings and monuments: it is a symbolic creation that is being continuously shaped by different groups and individuals.

Credits: Story

Curadoria: Rosângela Azevedo Corrêa
Texto: Maria Fernanda Derntl
Professora e pesquisadora da FAU-UnB, líder do grupo de pesquisa Capital e Periferia: dinâmicas urbanas de Brasília (CNPq). Suas publicações mais recentes incluem os artigos “Dos espaços modernistas aos lugares da comunidade: memórias da construção das cidades-satélites de Brasília,” e “Brasília e suas unidades rurais,”, contemplado com o X Prêmio Milton Santos da ANPUR em 2021.

Fotos e imagens extraídas dos acervos: Arquivo Nacional (AN), Arquivo Público do Distrito Federal (ArPDF), SEGETH-GDF, Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística (IBGE) e acervos pessoais de Maria de Lourdes Abadia e Juliana Torres.

Depoimentos orais citados: Hélio Dom Bosco Bonifácio, Ana Maria de Jesus, Adair José de de Lima, Cid Ferreira Lopes Filho, Otávio Felix de Macedo, Waldemar Alves de Magalhães, Ilton Ferreira Mendes, Francisco Chagas Nogueira, Francisco Soares Pereira, Maria das Graças Pimentel, Sebastião Teixeira Preto, Carlito Alves Rodrigues, Edgar Galdino da Silva, Severino Bezerra da Silva, Francisco Soares Pereira e Vicente Paulo de Souza (Depoimentos coletados pelo Programa de História Oral do Arquivo Público do Distrito Federal entre 1995 e 2005).

Vídeo: trecho da obra Alvenaria, criado e realizado pelo Teatro do Concreto, para o evento 'Noite das Ideias 2021' da Embaixada da França no Brasil

Foto de Capa: Cidade Livre, depois Núcleo Bandeirante (ca. 1957-60), de Thomas Farkas, Arquivo Público do Distrito Federal. 

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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