Zaha Hadid, Calatrava, and a Host of Other Architects are Reshaping Rio de Janeiro

The 2016 Olympics in Rio will soon draw to a close, and in spite of the protests that questioned the worth of such a costly initiative in a city plagued by social challenges, there’s no question that much was gained, be it the massive global exposure, infrastructure, or sense of pride. While some projects were not necessarily developed because of the Olympics, the global event helped catalyze and inspire their completion. In terms of transportation alone, a much-needed expansion of subway and light rail promises to permanently impact the city’s chaotic traffic. Not to mention that the city’s urban landscape will host a multitude of high-profile architectural commissions guaranteed to shake up the tropical metropolis. Designed by an eclectic mix of starchitects and homegrown talent alike, these six recent builds and projects on the horizon are slated to impact Rio for years to come.


Designed by Santiago Calatrava and inaugurated in December 2015, the Museum of Tomorrow will host visionary, science-oriented exhibits to stimulate conversations about a more sustainable future. Conceived as a connector between city and bay, the unusual structure features giant pergola-like cantilevers on both ends, opening the building toward Rio to the north and the Guanabara Bay to the south. Adjustable solar panels will power the entire museum, which will play a crucial role in the long-term revitalization of Porto Maravilha.


Facing the world-famous Copacabana Beach, Dilller Scofidio + Renfro's dynamic Museum of Image and Sound (MIS) features daring diagonals criss-crossing the main façade, breaking the geometric grid of the never-ending wall of neighboring condos. While no opening dates have been announced, the building's external shell is nearing completion.


Fresh from the success of his design for the Olympic Velodrome and co-authorship (with AECOM) of the Olympic Park, local architect Daniel Gusmão has two new important projects in the pipeline. The first, the BNDES Building Annex, will expand a 1970s office tower and connect it to a 17th-century monastery—construction is slated for 2018 in Rio’s business district. Next, the Museum of Brazilian Modernist Architecture will occupy a large parcel of land that includes a house designed by Oscar Niemeyer for himself. Still in the fundraising phase, the museum will break ground in the nearby town of Mendes, about 100 miles from Rio.


New York-based designers Brenda Bello and Basil Walter of BWArchitects collaborated with Brazilian artist and developer Vik Muniz to open the "Escola Vidigal," a facility offering complimentary classes on art, design, and technology to children living in the Vidigal favela. Sensitive to the community it serves, the project features a familiar volumetry, letting the design focus on key detail elements such as glass doors and the windows' metal trellis, all inspired by abstract views of the surrounding favela. 


Casa Atlantica—a 11-story residential building and the late Zaha Hadid's first South American project—blends the starchitect's signature boldness with the curvaceous style of Oscar Niemeyer. The result is a sensual spine-like structure that echoes the waterfront's horizon across the street. Despite delays, construction is slated to break ground in the next few months.


A handful of projects, no matter how spectacular, cannot affect all changes needed in a city rife with deep-seated social and urban issues. Yet these projects not only place Rio in the contemporary architectural sphere, but also bring creative, inspired energy of the highest caliber to a people renowned for their ingenuity. 

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