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UK architects target Brazil to escape Eurozone

With a booming middle class and a healthy holiday market, Brazil’s strong economy offers British architects scope for new sports, housing and leisure work, writes Greg Pitcher

Fears that the rampant Brazilian economy may slow down were heightened last week when the government cut the country’s 2012 growth forecast to 2.5 per cent.

However, according to practices working in the BRIC powerhouse, there are still plenty of reasons for UK architects affected by tumbling eurozone construction output to target the South American country.

As well as preparing for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games, Brazil has a burgeoning, wealthy middle class (the Financial Times recently reported that two-thirds of Brazilians are likely to count themselves as middle class by 2030) an infrastructure programme worth in excess of half a trillion US dollars over three years – and has discovered oil.

Last week, global practice Aecom signed the masterplanning contract for the Rio de Janeiro Olympic and Paralympic Games, both in Games mode and legacy. About half of its work on the scheme will be carried out from London.

Executive director of operations Bill Hanway told the AJ the signs were good for other UK architects, especially those who have had a hand in London’s 2012 Games, to work on the huge preparation programme.

Those in charge of 2016 are interested in meeting with the teams involved with 2012

‘Wilkinson Eyre is part of our team so already has an entrance [to the project],’ he said.

‘But last week I took the contractors in charge of 2016 on a tour of the London 2012 Olympic Park and they were very impressed with the facilities and the delivery. They are interested in meeting with the teams involved.’

AECOM's Brazil 2016 Olympic plans

AECOM’s Brazil 2016 Olympic plans

While Hanway praised the quality of local architects in Brazil he said it was possible that international practices would be brought in as well. Make, which designed the Handball Arena for London 2012, hopes to play a part in preparations for the Rio Games.

‘There are great opportunities and there is a lot of masterplanning and regeneration work in Brazil,’ said John Prevc, partner at Make, which recently went on a fact-finding trip to Brazil with support of UK Trade and Investments.

‘We have spoken to the contractors that will run the Olympic Park and they wantstraightforward, direct buildings,’ added Prevc. ‘It is about great events, not iconic buildings.’

Alexandre Hepner, partner at Sao Paulo firm Estudio Arkiz, said the country’s relaxed culture could benefit UK firms.

‘The general culture of leaving everything to the last minute means we will have to do more than what was done in London in much less time,’ he said. ‘The knowledge and experience accumulated by UK architects could be very useful in helping to overcome these challenges.’

London-headquartered Broadway Malyan, which has an office in Sao Paulo, sees opportunities far beyond the forthcoming global events. Board director Margarida Caldeira said: ‘The design market in Brazil is growing. The country needs to grow its infrastructure.

‘The World Cup and Olympics are a big part of this, but Brazil is not just Rio and Sao Paulo, it is a huge country – more of a continent. There are many markets within it.’

There’s a burgeoning middle class and the holiday market is booming

Nottingham-based Marchini Curran Associates recently masterplanned a beach resort in Bahia. Director Des Curran said: ‘There is a huge market for holiday development on the back of the booming domestic market.

‘The Brazilian economy is doing well compared with elsewhere. There is a burgeoning middle class and the holiday market is booming.’

Indeed the economy has been growing so fast that it now needs major investment in infrastructure to allow the pace to be maintained. To achieve this, the government has a growth plan worth $582 billion between 2011 and 2014 for infrastructure and building projects. Caldeira said UK practices were in a much stronger position to take advantage of these opportunities than in the past.

‘Traditionally, the Brazilian market has been more focused on US architects, but as Brazilians travel more, they are becoming much more open to European architects,’ she said.

But it is not as easy as boarding a flight to Rio and expecting to win work. Dan Epstein, director at design-led consultancy Expedition Engineering, said: ‘There are lots of opportunities in Brazil but it takes a lot of time to build business and establish yourself.

‘You need to set up an office, find a partner, win trust, get known. It is all about relationships built over time.’

Marchini Curran partnered with a local law firm to overcome language and cultural differences. ‘It is quite a bureaucratic process; there are many rules about plot density and distances from boundaries and so on – all in Portuguese,’ said Curran.

‘Clients like to see a fresh, international approach but it needs to be underpinned with an understanding of local culture.’

One way of speeding up the assimilation process is to work through one of the European Latin countries. Broadway Malyan supports much of its work in South America from its Lisbon and Madrid offices.

The colonial approach won’t work here

‘It is easier for Latin people to adapt than British,’ said Caldeira. ‘But it is a learning curve and I definitely understand the culture better after three years working in Brazil.

Hepner warned UK practices that the domestic architectural sector in Brazil was ahead of what many encountered when first entering South-east Asia and the MiddleEast.

‘Brazil already has a very strong architectural culture that has been developed since the golden days of Brazilian Modernism in the 1940s and 50s,’ he said.

‘The colonial approach won’t work here. UK architects need to develop an equitable relationship with their Brazilian partners in which they are as eager to learn as they are to teach.’

The barriers, although real, are surmountable even by small UK practices, according to Curran. ‘We only have a turnover of £1 million and we are doing it so it is possible for other small firms,’ he said.

‘Brazil would be high on the list of destinations to work in – it’s not Beirut.’

Q&A: RICS economist, Himanshu Wani

What has led the growth of Brazil’s economy?
There are two main factors. First, record-high commodity prices; Brazil was a main exporter toChina. Second, easy credit and a strong labour market have fuelled a consumption boom, with credit recording double digit growth, and consumption rising at a similar pace.

Should we be worried about Brazil’s recent slowdown?
There has been a marked slowdown over the past 12 months, due mainly to the slowing of the credit boom and supply constraints. But the medium to long-term outlook for Brazil is upbeat, due to a young demographic, rising incomes, upcoming international sporting events and the recent discovery of large offshore oil deposits off the coast of Rio.

What is the scale of government spending on infrastructure ahead of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Rio Olympics?
The official budget for the 2016 Olympics is $12.7 billion. The official budget for the World Cup in 2014 is $13 billion.

What about the government’s broader spending plans?
If the Brazilian economy is to grow by 5-7 per cent per year, it needs heavy investment in infrastructure to alleviate massive supply bottlenecks.The government recently announced its PAC 2 programme, which aims to spend $582 billion between 2011-2014 on projects such as social housing, city improvement and large infrastructure.

 

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