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Community / Public space

Housing plan for Brazil's football stadiums popular everywhere – except Brazil

In the wake of the World Cup this year, Brazil is facing a veritable stampede of white elephants: a glut of useless, expensive stadiums. And, as we all know, Brazil suffers from a chronic lack of quality housing, leading to overcrowding in the favelas.

These two problems have been well publicised in the international press, and inspired a duo of French architects to tackle them both at once. Just before the end of the cup, they unveiled their plan, given the Portuguese title “Casa Futebol”, which proposed converting existing stadiums into housing via modular units. Et voila: both problems solved.

Given how well known Brazil’s housing issues are, and the coolness of the renderings created by the architects, it’s hardly surprising that this plan went viral in the English language media, getting picked up everywhere from Guardian  to the Huffington Post to NBC. But the response in Brazil was surprisingly muted. There were a few Brazilian sites that did pick the story up, such as Escape and Update or Die (all very Brazilian names) – but it didn’t spread with the same fervor that it had internationally.

Why has the idea not caught on with the locals? Well, let’s look at the details. First, the map created by the architects proves that their rendering skills don’t carry over to cartography. There are a couple of errors that wouldn’t stand out to observers in Europe or America, but that Brazilians would catch right away. As one Brazilian commenter points out: “Recife is missing, Brasilia has wandered a few hundred miles west, and Cuiabá seems to have moved to Rondonia!”

As to the substance of the proposal, its stated aim is to “[reappropriate] the stadiums renovated or built for the World Cup using modules of housing of a surface [sic] of 105 m².” It’s a clever idea with a commendable goal, and the renderings make the project look exquisite. But it raises a number of obvious questions. Will stadiums be able to support the load? What about adequate plumbing? Will stairwells and elevators need to be installed? And even if these issues can be resolved, will living in these massive stadiums, isolated from the rest of the city by massive parking lots, be a remotely pleasant experience?

There’s another problem: since the plan calls for some stadiums to continue operation as sports venues, what will happen to the residential units during actual games or events? There’s no doubt many Brazilians are futebol fanatics. But when you have to actually live in a stadium, your house will regularly be blocked by traffic jams, and you can forget about trying to get to bed early.

And, since some units come with a view of the game, it’s possible that speculators would try to buy up them up as box seats for eager fans. This would basically defeat the entire purpose of creating affordable housing in the first place. A similar example can already be found in Chicago: owners of buildings overlooking Wrigley Field have built bleachers on their roofs, to the annoyance of the buildings’ residents and the owners of the Chicago Cubs – and all to watch one of the worst teams in American baseball.

Image: Axel de Stampa and Sylvain Macaux

Many Brazilians don’t actually seem to feel that the white elephant issue is as pressing as outsiders believe. Igor Rodrigues, the editor of Brazil’s Portuguese edition of This Big City (disclosure: I’ve contributed to this site) points out that only four of the World Cup stadiums will be disused afterward. In addition, he points out that, at first, Brazilians were pleased to have the new stadiums. “Our football infrastructure has been in need of a drastic upgrade since the 90s,” he says. “The original project had great public support because 90 oer cent of the investment was supposed to come from private investors.” Later, as the management of stadium construction was rocked by scandals, some Brazilians came to regret this.

When it comes to the plan itself, Rodrigues notes, “It didn’t take into consideration public transport, sewage and other important points.” He points out, too, that the residential modules might not fit in all stadiums as neatly as they do in Brasilia’s Mané Garrincha.

Perhaps the biggest consideration, though, is that it’s not clear whether the demand is there. As ugly, unsanitary, and crime-ridden as Brazil’s infamous favelas may be, many people still prefer them to other living options. These areas do offer a few elements prized by many urban planners, namely easy access to a wide variety of services, all within walking distance. Residents of any theoretical stadium housing would have to walk 10 minutes, just to make it out of the parking lot.

And there’s one other reason to be sceptical. As Sidnei Nardo, a Brazilian commenter on the project’s page asks, “How will the politicians find a way to make money off this?”

The team of architects responsible for this plan seemed to be aware of most, if not all of these concerns. Architect Silvain Macaux told Fast Company: “We’ve read, like everybody, about the social protests in Brazil about all the money wasted for the World Cup. We tried to find an answer to the issue in our own way, with a concept and a powerful image.” In other words, Casa Futebol is more political statement – or marketing pitch – than a serious architectural blueprint. But if it helps to get people talking about real solutions for Brazil’s housing crisis, that may not be a bad thing.
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