As Brazil prepares to host the 2014 World Cup, the country's civil engineers have already missed a few open goals, but they still expect to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
If there is one football tournament that is destined to be something special, it's the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Ever since the competition was first staged in Uruguay in 1930, only eight countries have managed to win it. Brazil is not only the most successful with five titles, but also the nation that springs to mind when fans think about 'the beautiful game'.
Bringing the World Cup back to Brazil also conjures up some of the most enduring images in football folklore. Chief among these is the last day of the 1950 World Cup, the only other time Brazil hosted the event.
On that day, 16 July, in Rio de Janeiro, the largest crowd to fill a stadium (199,854) witnessed what many regard as the greatest upset in the history of the competition. Brazil were such favourites to win against Uruguay that the players' names had already been engraved on the winners' medals.
Uruguay prevailed 2-1.
The fact that some Brazilian supporters committed suicide, two of them jumping to their deaths from one of Maracana's stands, tragically illustrates how passionate Brazilians can be when it comes to football.
This time around no one is expecting any tragedies – yet everyone will be expecting that famous Latin passion to be a hallmark of Brazil 2014. Visitors and TV viewers are likely to be treated to a festival of colour. What else can we expect from the country that year after year organises arguably the world's biggest party, the Rio Carnival?
Race against time
Working in coordination with the Local Organising Committee (COL), each of the 12'host cities is responsible for dozens of different engineering projects, which can be grouped into five categories: stadium design and construction; transport infrastructure; accommodation infrastructure; security technology; and information and communication technologies.
FIFA, football's world governing body, has calculated that a country looking to host a World Cup needs to start working on some of these areas at least seven years in advance. With less than two and a half years to go, Brazil has been criticised for running worryingly behind schedule, particularly in the construction of stadiums.
Of the 12 host cities, six will have brand new stadiums (Sao Paulo, Salvador, Recife, Natal, Cuiaba and Manaus), five will have upgraded venues (Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte, Fortaleza, Curitiba and Porto Alegre) and one will have a fully rebuilt arena (Brasilia).
"According to FIFA requirements, the'stadiums are supposed to be finished at least two years before the tournament," says Dr Thomas Jedlitschka, a German consultant who, after having been involved in his nation's 2006 World Cup and then in South Africa 2010, is advising organisers in Brazil. "We are now six months away from that deadline, so they will miss that target."
This should hardly come as a surprise considering that engineering work on some of the stadiums only kicked off a few months ago. But Joao Alberto Viol, president of the Brazilian Association of Architecture and Engineering (Sinaenco), says stadium construction or reconstruction is now underway in most host cities.
"Fortaleza, Brasilia, Belo Horizonte, Cuiaba and Rio de Janeiro are in a better situation as they have already completed over 30 per cent of the work. The most critical scenario is that of Natal, which only began demolition at the new Machadao stadium in October 2011," says Viol.
Asked whether he thinks all 12 stadiums will be completed by June 2014, he replies: "The average construction time required to complete a new stadium is 30 to 36 months. Brazilian engineering does have the capacity to respond to the challenge of building under a tight schedule. The problem – and this is an issue that Sinaenco has been raising – is at what cost and at what quality?"
The schedule is indeed so tight that Viol stresses that all local governments, construction companies and consortia will need to devise a very detailed strategic risk management framework incorporating bad weather, worker strikes and any other factors that could disrupt progress.
One of the main engineering groups behind stadium construction is Brazilian conglomerate Odebrecht. The firm has been contracted to upgrade the Maracana in Rio (where, once again, the final will be played) and build three of the six new stadiums: the Itaquerao in Sao Paulo, the Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador and the Arena Pernambuco in Recife.
Asked specifically about progress so far in the latter, an Odebrecht spokesperson simply answered: "We're working to meet the schedule according with our contract."
One host city, three new stadiums
Anyone trying to grasp the magnitude of the task ahead for each of the host cities should look no further than Minas Gerais. The capital of this Brazilian state, Belo Horizonte, is busy working on the refurbishment of the Mineirao stadium.
Sergio Barroso, the World Cup 2014 head for Minas Gerais, thinks calling what they are doing to the stadium 'upgrade work' is a gross understatement. "Some people call it retrofit, others say modernisation, some say improvement; as a matter of fact, it's virtually a reconstruction of the stadium."
Belo Horizonte was tasked with turning the Mineirao, built in the early 1960s,'into one of the top three most technologically advanced stadiums in Brazil. The logical thing to do was to tear it down and start from scratch. But this wasn't an option: "The Mineirao is a historical landmark, which meant there were some parts of its structure that we couldn't touch," Barroso explains.
"This is a tremendously complex engineering project in the sense that a modernisation of this calibre, where you also need to comply with high-quality FIFA standards, is way more complex and requires much more creativity than it would if we were just building a new stadium."
As if reconstructing this massive venue wasn't a challenge in its own right, Minas Gerais embarked on the refurbishment of two other stadiums. Unlike the Mineirao, these arenas won't host any games but will be used as training grounds by some of the teams participating in the tournament.
One of them, the Estadio Independencia in Belo Horizonte, has just been remodelled to host a 25,000 crowd.
With Brazil keen on using the 2014 World Cup (and the Olympics two years later) to showcase its technological prowess, I wanted to find out how much innovation had gone into the design of stadiums. Will these modern architectural statements incorporate any specific features that will truly set them apart from anything the civil engineering world has seen so far?
Put this question to people familiar with stadium work in Brazil right now and the first reaction you will usually get is negative. Take Jedlitschka: "Honestly, I can't think of anything like this." Or an Odebrecht spokesperson – again, asked specifically about the Pernambuco stadium: "Not really. The Arena design applies all best practices applied worldwide."
Look closely, though, and you will find one common theme running through nearly all venues being built or renovated: the use of technologies and practices designed to minimise the environmental impact of both construction and operation of the stadiums.
According to Belo Horizonte's Superintendence of Urban Sanitation, the construction sector is responsible there for 40 per cent of all solid waste sent to landfills. In 2007, the city collected over 700,000t of removed soil and rubble from building sites.
One important modification that the Mineirao has undertaken was the lowering of the original pitch by 3.4m. This was necessary to give each of the 64,500 fans that will be seated in the stands an unobstructed view of the pitch – a rare feat for a football stadium originally designed in the late 1950s.
But instead of ending up in a dump, the thousands of tonnes of removed soil were reused in the expansion of the Arrudas Boulevard in Belo Horizonte. Similarly, old concrete was turned into gravel at the construction site and used to pave new streets; discarded metal has been recycled for industrial purposes; and even old plastic seats have been donated to other stadiums.
Before the Mineirao was closed to begin its reconstruction, the venue's average water consumption rate was 4,400m3 a month. When it reopens in December 2012, it will be equipped with a rainwater harvesting system featuring a 6,270m3 reservoir. The water it collects will be used for lawn irrigation, toilet flushing, gardening and the cleaning of external areas.
"The added investment to build the rainwater collection system will end up paying for itself in less than three years thanks to the operational savings it will bring to the new Mineirao," says Barroso.
Photovoltaic cells with the capacity to generate up to 1MW per hour will also be installed on the roof. "The stadium won't be self-sufficient, but at least a good portion of its electricity demand will be met through its own solar power generation system," Barroso explains.
Environmentally friendly stadia
The Arena Pernambuco in Recife, which will also feature a rainwater harvesting system and solar energy generation, will additionally have a solar heating system (to provide hot water to all changing rooms, bathrooms and kitchens) and four wind turbines. Their 1.6MW per hour output will cover all air conditioning needs, and will complement the 49.5MW per hour output of the photovoltaic cells.
According to Viol, there are at least five other stadiums (those being built in Cuiaba, Brasilia, Manaus, Porto Alegre and Salvador) that can be considered as environmentally friendly, too.
Taken individually, the deployment of renewable energy generation, rainwater collection or intelligent electrical systems; the implementation of building material recycling or rational water use policies; the use of energy-efficient lighting, water-based only paints and other certified supplies; or the achievement of LEED (leadership in energy and environmental design) certification are all elements that have indeed been previously seen in stadium construction and operation in the past.
But having so many of them simultaneously being applied to so many stadiums might mean that fans of the 'Verde-Amarela' (Green-Yellow) won't be the only ones rooting for Brazil in 2014 – fans of the Verde camp could be just as supportive. *