The Greening of Brazil
Kathleen Maher
Issue: Volume 35 Issue 7: (Dec 2012)

The Greening of Brazil

Brazil is the land of re-invention. Brasilia, the capital, was founded in 1956 and inaugurated in 1960. What a crazy idea: Don’t wait for the future, build the future, and let it rise out of the jungle to show the world what Brazil can really be.

The decision to move Brazil’s capital from Rio de Janeiro on the east coast to the more centralized location where Brasilia now sits, was born of a desire to create a capital that represented all the people of Brazil, and not just those on the coast. Today, Brasilia is the largest city in the world that did not exist at the beginning of the 20th century.

Brazil has changed dramatically since the founding of its current capital. It has become a major world economy, but the people of Brazil see a bigger future for themselves, and not too surprisingly, it starts with the sport of soccer.

In 2014, Brazil will host the FIFA World Cup soccer championship, played every four years on an international stage. Not only is soccer immensely popular in Brazil, but it is also recognized as the most popular sport in the world. So what better showcase for the country to re-introduce itself to the world?

Early work using Autodesk's Sketchbook Designer

And Brazil is determined to use the opportunity to show itself as a modern, dynamic country, an economic powerhouse for the 21st century as it tries to scrub its reputation for those who only know the country from limited images of jam-packed Carnival and the sights of the Rio ghettos perched high on the hills surrounding the former capital city.

Making Plans

The architect firm Castro Mello specializes in sports architecture. Its founder, Icaro Mello, was a track and field Olympian. His son and grandson, Eduardo and Vicente, respectively, have continued the architectural legacy. The company has heavily involved itself in the development of new stadiums and infrastructure for the coming soccer event.

In 2007, in early preparations for the World Cup, Castro Mello participated in a study on Brazil’s infrastructure for the World Cup led by Brazil’s National Association of Engineering and Architecture companies (SINAENCO-SP) and its president, Jose Roberto Bernasconi. The study found that the country is good at building stadiums, but it was not good at maintaining those facilities. In fact, the study revealed that the current stadiums were in disrepair even though some of them were relatively new.

Construction of the new stadium in Brasilia.

Bernasconi contends that the poor conditions of the stadiums was both a cause and a consequence of low ticket prices in Brazil. Soccer might be Brazil’s national obsession, but it has not been paying for itself. The report made waves in Brazil and, tragically, it was released just before the terrible collapse of a stand at the Fonte Nova stadium that killed seven people who fell from its highest point. That Brazilian stadium in Nazare, Salvador, held the last-place position in the study.

The year 2007 is a watershed for Brazil: The country was officially awarded the World Cup for 2014 at the same time the study reported the country’s stadiums were far from ready to host such a large event. Bernasconi describes the coming of the World Cup as a challenge and as an opportunity. Castro Mello was determined to make the most of the World Cup as an opportunity.

The firm spearheaded the formation of CopaVerde, an effort to use the World Cup to kick-start a new round of sustainable infrastructure building in Brazil that included airports, highways, hotels, and stadiums. Castro Mello partner Ian McKee calls the CopaVerde a competition in which everyone wins.

In fact, McKee and Vicente Mello are leading the charge for sustainable building around Brazil’s World Cup. To this end, all the stadiums for the 2014 World Cup will be built according to sustainability standards, and 11 of the 12 stadiums are applying for LEED certification. Only Sao Paulo is not going for LEED certification, a rating designation for the design, construction, and operation of high-performance green buildings.

Going for Platinum

The young Castro Mello architects are competitive. They are building the stadium in Brasilia, and they’re determined to make it a showcase design and LEED project for Brazil. As the team focused on the design, they looked at the work done in China for the Bird’s Nest Olympic venue from the 2008 summer games and in South Africa for their “green” stadiums built for the World Cup games hosted there in 2010. Clearly, the Bird’s Nest just bugs the Castro Mello guys.

A look at the final design of the new Brasilia stadium, produced in Autodesk’s 3ds Max Design Suite.

“The façade serves no purpose,” says McKee, noting that it’s a waste of steel. However, he will admit that there were energy-saving advances made in the design and building of the Bird’s Nest and that the Olympia Village in Beijing is completely LEED certified.

The Castro Mello architects also point to the South African stadiums’ pioneered water-saving techniques, which are consistent with the water challenges in that part of the world. As a matter of fact, sustainability has become an important qualification for buildings designed for mega events such as the Olympics, World Cup, and Pan American Games. Brazil’s work being done for the World Cup represents the largest green building effort to date, encompassing airports, hotels, hospitals, public transportation, parks, and public spaces. The CopaVerde initiative is a plan to leave Brazil with 12 green cities after the World Cup is over.

Castro Mello is going for LEED Platinum certification, the highest rating, for the Mané Garrincha multi-purpose stadium in Brasilia. If they succeed, Brasilia will have the first ever LEED Platinum stadium. The architects are taking advantage of Brasilia’s climate, called by some “an eternal spring.”

“It’s hot, but it’s dry,” says McKee, so it’s cool in the shade.

Like South Africa, Brasilia has water constraints. And, as McKee describes it, stadiums are surge buildings. They accommodate lots of people for huge events, but after all is said and done, they usually will be called on to host much smaller crowds. Brasilia’s stadium can be downsized to accommodate smaller audiences for concerts, in the range of 27,000 people. Its capacity for the full World Cup soccer crowd will be 70,000.

Castro Mello is relying on open ventilation with a screen roof made of magical white photocatalytic membrane that helps neutralize pollution and foster cool shade. Around the top of Mané Garrincha stadium will be a very large bank of solar panels. The solar panels will produce 2.5 MWp (watt-peak) of capacity, and when not in use, it will be able to feed electricity back into Brasilia’s grid. When the stadium is at capacity, the solar panels are expected to meet 50 percent of the power demand. Overall, it is believed that the stadium will help save $3.78 million in energy costs per year.

The complex design for the stadium was created using Autodesk tools.

Then there are the aesthetics to consider. The stadium has to fit into Brasilia’s very design-conscious architecture—structures are set back from large plazas. The stadium is supported by pillars around the outside of the building, facilitating airflow. Moreover, the design reflects other buildings in the city, yet adds a more modern commentary. The plaza features reflection pools that function as reservoirs to catch water during the rainy season and save it for the dry months.

As a planned community, Brasilia itself already cooperates with the grand plan of greener living, but there’s more that can be done. “This is an opportunity to transform the city,” says McKee. The city is laid out with logical areas for business and entertainment. Many of the visitors coming in for the World Cup will be able to walk from the hotels—there will be bike lanes, as well, and public transportation will help alleviate traffic congestion. Less traffic, less emissions polluting the air.

Visual Tools and BIM

Castro Mello is not only handling the design of Brasilia’s stadium, but is also overseeing the project throughout construction—a situation that’s not unusual for large-infrastructure projects, and, of course, the firm has long experience in this area. The company is Autodesk’s poster child for the firm’s suite of products. Castro Mello is using everything in the box—and even some tools that are not. The firm has experimented with the Project Vaseri Ecotect Wind Tunnel tool (from Autodesk Labs) and used virtually everything Autodesk offers for visualization.

Yet, it’s always helpful to remember that the real bread-and-butter tool for the company is AutoCAD. It’s used in most of the design and for the construction work, as well. The advantage of AutoCAD is that it’s a common language for CAD and design. Everyone knows how to use it, and changes are easy to make from the construction site to the office. Revit can sit in the middle and add 3D intelligence, which helps everyone understand what’s going on in the project.

In a way, it’s kind of heresy to say this, but in reality, it’s not what the products are used to do, it’s how the tools enable people to work. Castro Mello is planning a system that takes advantage of basic CAD for documentation and communication. It uses 3D visualizations and simulations, and in the end, all this work is designed to produce a building that can be managed. As mentioned, the size of the building can be adapted to be comfortable and efficient for smaller crowds. It has a sleep mode. It’s designed to keep the promises made through the design and build phases.

Other Problems

Castro Mello reports that the Brasilia stadium is on track, but while the building and design of the stadiums have been high profile and inspiring, the devil is at work in the details—well, he’s been at work in more than the details. Charges of corruption have been thrown all around.

As reported in Forbes, International Olympics Committee (IOC) Board Member João Havelange quit after he was accused of taking millions in kickback payments during his reign as FIFA’s president. His son-in-law, Ricardo Teixeira, was president of the Brazilian Football Confederation up until March 2012, having resigned from his posts after the accusations of corruption started piling up to an embarrassing degree. Teixeira finally resigned from that post as well as from the FIFA executive committee.

There are also some doubts that all the stadiums will be ready on time. While there’s corruption on one hand, there’s bureaucratic bungling on the other. The hope was to have some of the stadiums ready for the FIFA Confederation Games in 2013. FIFA is looking at these preliminary rounds in 2013 as an indicator of how ready Brazil will be by 2014, and they may seek to shift venues or reduce the number of cities planned for play. Ironically, it was Teixeira who pushed for 12 cities. The original plans called for eight.

Now, this hasn’t been researched, but has there ever been a giant undertaking like the Olympics, the World Cup, an election, or a war that hasn’t been plagued by corruption charges, bureaucratic problems, and delays?

Bernasconi insists that the World Cup is Brazil’s opportunity to leapfrog progress. He notes that as better stadiums are coming online, ticket prices are going up. And the infrastructure being built now will last the country for decades. No question, the country can’t afford to fail. After the World Cup, Brazil has to prepare for the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

Kathleen Maher is a contributing editor to CGW, a senior analyst at Jon Peddie Research, a Tiburon, California-based consultancy specializing in graphics and multimedia, and editor in chief of JPR’s “TechWatch.” She can be reached at