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Ready, steady, Rio

From infrastructure to quality of life, the strategy used to prepare the city for the Olympics and World Cup will be crucial, writes Hattie Hartman

he Brazilian finale at London’s closing ceremony offered a tantalising preview of the exuberance that is likely to accompany Rio 2016. It is certain to be spectacular, even carnivelesque, but the question of its longterm impact on this beautiful and complex metropolis poses many challenges. Knowledge transfer between London and Rio is ongoing, with the AECOM team responsible for masterplanning London’s Olympic Park now fully engaged in delivering Rio’s Olympic Park, with input from Wilkinson-Eyre and Expedition Engineering. In terms of sustainability, workshops led by the Useful Simple Trust were held in both London and Rio during 2011 to share the London experience.

But what most people don’t realise is that Rio’s Olympic Park (overleaf) is far - more than 20 miles - from its famous beaches and even further from the city centre. It is one of four separate areas where Rio will host the Games. In a departure from precedent, neither the opening nor closing ceremonies, nor athletics will take place in the Olympic Park.

A cluster of stadia north of the city centre including the legendary Maracana football stadium (currently being refurbished for the 2014 FIFA World Cup) will house these events, while the Olympic Park will be reserved for swimming, cycling, basketball, handball, hockey and tennis, alongside the press buildings. Copacabana and other nearby beaches will host a cluster of water and cycling sports, along with beach volleyball. Finally, the Deodoro area, a former military sports complex separated from the beaches by Tijuca National Park, will host equestrian events, shooting and other sports.

The continuity in design team for the Olympic Park is perhaps the only similarity between these two radically different host cities. Stratford’s extensive transport infrastructure combined with an ambitious regeneration agenda for some of London’s poorest boroughs made the Lea Valley a viable location for the Games. By contrast, Rio has palpable challenges. The city’s mountainous topography, sinuous coastline and limited two-line metro system mean that transport is primarily by bus. Hillside favela communities, home to a fifth of Rio’s population of six million, strain basic infrastructure and sanitation.
The number of tourists that visit Brazil annually hovers around five million for the entire country.

London alone attracts 30 million. With the World Cup in 2014 and Rio 2016, all this is set to change. Special incentives are in place to increase hotel capacity by 40 per cent, with 85 new hotels in the pipeline. During a trade delegation to Brazil last month, which included representatives from Foster + Partners and Zaha Hadid Architects, David Cameron announced that British businesses have already won over £70 million in contracts related to the upcoming mega-events.

The upside of this challenge is a £1.7 billion investment in new transport infrastructure, including a metro extension and four new bus rapid transit (BRT) corridors. Already widely adopted in other Brazilian cities and abroad, BRT is a system pioneered in Curitiba in 1974, which uses articulated buses that operate on biofuel in dedicated lanes. When complete, these express routes will transform travel around Rio by cutting through the interior of the city rather than following the coast. The BRTs are estimated to increase rapid transit users from 20 to 60 per cent of the population.

Equally critical is addressing the quality of life in the favelas. In 2010, Rio’s Housing Secretariat launched the Morar Carioca programme, worth approximately £2.5 billion, to upgrade infrastructure in over 200 favelas by 2020 as part of the social legacy of Rio 2016. The ambitious programme aims to consolidate these informal settlements through physical improvements and social outreach. Through a competition organised by the Rio chapter of the Brazilian Institute of Architects (IAB), 40 practices were selected and 11 projects are already underway.

Police Pacification Units (UPP) established in various Rio favelas since 2008 have brought drug trafficking under control through a combination of law enforcement and social services, but rationalisation of property ownership and legal tie-in to basic services remain major issues.

Nevertheless, Brazil’s economic boom has improved the standard of living in favelas next to the more prosperous Zona Sul, where access to jobs and services is relatively easy. Favela inns, unheard of a few years ago, now offer accommodation to adventurous tourists. Yet rubbish removal remains a challenge despite collection three times a day. BioRegional’s One Planet Living workshops in a Rio favela last summer (AJ 28.06.12) spoke of the urgent need to address recycling and improve waste management.

Another project receiving an injection of the ‘Olympic effect’ is Porto Maravilha, a 500-hectare mixed use regeneration scheme located on Rio’s port on Guanabara Bay. Centered on Santiago Calatrava’s Museum of Tomorrow and the new MAR (Museu de Arte do Rio) by Rio practice Bernardes + Jacobsen, the project includes a four kilometer tunnel which will bury the main access road from the airport and connect an area of 19th century port buildings with the waterfront.

Financial instruments called certificates of additional potential of construction (CEPACs) enable developers to trade increased development rights for public infrastructure investment, resulting in very dense plot ratios unlike any other area of the city. Foster + Partners is developing schemes for two potential sites in the port area for property company Tishman Speyer. Given the distances, particularly to the Olympic Park, water transport could provide a solution during the Games and in the future. Another high profile project by the Rio-based Azevedo Architecture Agency is the much-needed restructuring of the access to Corcovado, the granite peak in Tijuca National Park crowned by the 38-metre Cristo Redentor statue that overlooks the city.

One of Rio’s first projects with an explicit sustainability agenda is the recently completed £32 million Madureira Park, inaugurated during Rio+20. Best known as home to two of the city’s most famous samba schools, Madureira houses 32 per cent of Rio’s population in a zone with less than one per cent green space. A nine-hectare linear park has been created by consolidating an electric power line.

An environmental education centre with a green roof and PVs and eight public toilets with green walls are complimented by an irrigation system that uses recycled rain water, estimated to meet 50 per cent of demand. The park has received an AQUA environmental certification, a Brazilian rating adapted from France. Though the extent of green bling in the park is questionable, this project, along with Morar Carioca, indicate the city’s intent to spread the Olympic effect to its needier areas.

Rio is at a crossroads; many talk of a tipping point. ‘We’re good at sustainability,’ one Olympic planner told me, reuse and recycling are part of the culture. But now, the combination of a healthy economy and the rush to prepare for global scrutiny means there is a predisposition to emulate urban and architectural solutions from abroad. The starchitects have arrived but they do not always have the answer. Plagued by repeated delays, Christian de Portzamparc’s Cidade das Artes concert hall complex in Barra not far from the Olympic Park has yet to open.

This tendency to look outwards risks overlooking what may be more appropriate homegrown solutions, evidenced by the phenomenally successful - and temporary - Humanidade 2012 exhibition, a scaffolding installation on top of Copacabana Fort during Rio+20. As time gets short and the mega-events unfold, Brazil’s effervescent creativity is likely to carry the day.

If all goes well, the knock-on effect of the mega-events will have as much impact as the events themselves. On this point, ditto London.

The starchitects are coming

  • Christian de Portzamparc, Cidade das Artes, Barra (pictured bottom), complete 2011, not yet open to public
  • Santiago Calatrava, Museum of Tomorrow, Porto Maravilha (on site)
  • Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Museu da Imagem e do Som, Copacabana, on site
  • Foster + Partners, undisclosed site(s) for Tishman Speyer, Porto Maravilha, in design

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