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Frantic finish for Populous-designed World Cup stadium

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World Cup organisers in last-minute dash to make ready tournament overlay on Arena das Dunas in time for first match

The Brazil World Cup arena designed by London 2012 stadium architect Populous was frantically being readied for today’s (Friday, 13 June) match there as AJ went to press.

At 5pm today, Mexico will play Cameroon in the Populous-designed Arena das Dunas in the coastal city of Natal in the north-east of the country.

But, despite the fact that the 42,000-capacity stadium was officially ‘opened’ by president Dilma Rousseff in January, international football governing body Fifa has spent recent days piling pressure on the authorities in Natal to have its temporary or overlay facilities – for which Populous, it says, is not responsible – completed in time.

On 28 May, just a fortnight before the stadium’s inaugural match on Thursday, Fifa general secretary Jerome Valcke posted a photograph of the stadium interior on Twitter, showing major parts with seating yet to be installed. He wrote: ‘Just completed visit at Arena das Dunas. Race against the clock. Still lots to be done for #WorldCup fans & media.

‘We need full commitment from all parties in Natal to ensure all will be in place & tested prior to match on 13/06.’

Speaking last Friday, Populous project director Chris Lee said it had completed its work and that Valcke’s comments were about the overlay element of the project.

He said: ‘Arena das Dunas opened in January. It was the last stadium to start, admittedly, and the first one that was completed.

‘Valcke’s discussion is about the temporary overlay that goes all around the building to host all the Fifa requirements, which are media and outside broadcast provision, hospitality tents and the like.

‘We are not involved in that part of the contract with Natal and not really familiar with what is going on with the overlay of the stadium. Overlay was done centrally by the organising committee out of Rio, and the detailed overlay was done by the local organising committees.’

Brazil’s Fifa World Cup construction programme as a whole has been hugely controversial. Eight workers have died and widespread riots and demonstrations have been attributed to public anger over a lack of legacy planning associated with the US$11 billion (£6.5 billion) invested in Cup-related infrastructure work. A third of this money went into building or overhauling stadiums in a dozen host cities.

‘The problem is that everything is so up to the wire,’ said Manuel Nogueira, founder of Battersea-based AND Architects, whose practice is designing the Handball Arena for the 2018 Rio Olympic Games.

He added: ‘There have been no tests. It is worrying.’ 


Jaime Lerner

Jaime Lerner, architect and politician

‘Our country is not logical. The only thing we have as a result of the World Cup is stadiums. We didn’t need more. Our problem when hosting important events is urban mobility and our reliance on aerial logistics. An existing stadium in Curitiba was a very good stadium, but Fifa – I don’t know why – wanted it rebuilt; so they are rebuilding for a difference of 5,000 people. It’s a waste.

‘In São Paulo, they have two big stadiums – good ones – and they started a third one because then-president Lula wanted one, so they made a huge investment.

‘And what’s the legacy? Twelve stadiums. The legacy could have been good public transport and good aerial logistics with good airports. They started some projects without finishing them. They took the wrong decisions, like making airports connect to stadiums, which is ridiculous. 

We are all bowing to Fifa. People are becoming angry

‘On the day of an important match, all you need to do is just organise your public transport to go to the stadium. It’s not difficult. Just reorganise it. We did this when we celebrated the 300th anniversary of Curitiba. The only access was a 7m-wide street, but we provided charter transport and accommodated 60,000 with no problem at all.

‘We are all bowing to Fifa. People are becoming angry. If Brazil wins the World Cup, it will be OK. If not, we will have problems, because there will be demonstrations. We want education to Fifa standards, we want health to Fifa standards, we want public transport to Fifa standards.’ 

The AJ’s guide to Brazil’s World Cup stadiums


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