By Ben Tavener, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Rio’s booming construction industry has been given a fearsome wake-up call after the collapse of three buildings – one twenty stories high – last Thursday evening on Avenida Treze de Maio, in downtown Rio, killed at least seventeen people. Questions are being asked as to how buildings next to the Theatro Municipal, one of Rio’s most iconic buildings, could simply be razed to the ground in seconds.
Officials have since announced more stringent preventative measures, which should be subject to more rigorous enforcement by authorities.
Sérgio Dias, Rio’s Municipal Secretary for Urbanization, said condominiums will be made to deliver periodic reports on the structural condition of their building, completed by a qualified professional.
“We realize it will be impossible to monitor every building, but we will enforce licensing requirements more rigorously; any structural work must have someone qualified responsible for it,” he said.
Mr. Dias will discuss the proposal with the relevant bodies in Rio – CREA (Regional Engineering and Architecture Council), CAU (Architecture and Urbanization Council) and ABADI (the Brazilian Association of Real Estate Administrators).
CREA President Agostinho Guerreiro told O Globo newspaper that he supported the idea, which he said had been proven “effective” in a number of other countries: “The reports could be done every four, five years [...] and then, by law, have to be handed to the authorities in charge of verifying them,” he said, defending the creation of a hotline to report irregularities.
Experts interviewed by The Rio Times say that standards are improving, largely driven by ever-increasing demand for property by international companies, but that last week’s tragedy must act as a much-needed wake-up call for the construction industry at large to expedite the revolution in better building techniques, and that any new preventative measures, along with those already in place, must be more rigorously enforced.
London Rio owner Gordon Lewis, who develops commercial real estate in Brazil and the UK, says that there is a desperate need for quality office space in the city, particularly in the crucial downtown area, and an even greater need for better industry standards.
“Some firms will have the budget to do everything to a good standard employing Rio’s top professionals, but all too often these are secondary considerations for those looking to do things fast or cheaply,” Mr. Lewis said to The Rio Times.
In his experience, landlords rarely want to spend money, and if tenants wish to make alterations, owners will have nothing to do with their implementation.
“When we buy a property, we ask to see the building plans. However, often they are poor or missing, and you have to bring in a professional to second-guess how the building was put together – and see, for example, ‘if that wall can come out’. Rio does have top structural engineers, they’re just in short supply.”
Jonathan Kendall, co-founded of investment consultancy TSS Brazil Group, says stricter building regulation and oversight is now critical.
“Insufficient structural systems can be forced beyond their breaking point as construction goes on around them with large machinery, vibrations and weak materials,” he told The Rio Times.
Since the tragedy, many have seen officials’ calls for more enforcements as reaction to a problem that has existed for years. A similar tightening of the rules was implemented in 2007 following a series of accidents, which also led to a number of deaths. Then, a new mandatory declaration was required to be renewed every three years about “marquises”, structures overhanging the street.