By Maria Lopez Conde, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – On March 15th, the city of Rio de Janeiro delivered sixteen eco-friendly apartments to residents of hillside favela communities of Babilônia and Chapéu Mangueira behind the neighborhood of Leme. The initiative uses sustainable materials and construction methods to build homes located in environmental protection areas, as part of the mayor office’s Morar Carioca Verde (Live Carioca Green) project.
The apartment building features solar heating, rainwater collection, special windows that allow for greater ventilation and natural lighting, as well as more energy efficient, long-lasting light bulbs.
The new residences also have lights with motion sensors and special insulation to keep homes cool in the summer. This should reduce the construction’s environmental impact and result in lower utility bills for residents.
The sixteen apartments are the first of 117 eco-friendly units to be delivered in the two communities before 2014, according to city officials.
Conceived by architects from the Rio-based Arquitraço Projetos, the building is the first public housing project to receive Caixa Econômica’s Casa Azul (Blue House) seal certification in gold, the highest possible rating in Brazil’s first ranking system for sustainable buildings.
Priscila Cristina de Souza Chagas, a homemaker, was one of the first Babilônia residents to receive a “green” apartment. In 2008, de Souza lost her hillside home to a mudslide triggered by heavy rains that battered Rio de Janeiro.
At the time, officials removed her from the high-risk area and transferred her to state-subsidized housing. She said she is happy now with the new apartment she will be sharing with her three daughters.
“I’m very happy because there is no comparison between my new house and my old one,” de Souza affirmed. “My old house was made of stucco and wood, but this new house is built right,” she said.
The Municipal Housing Secretariat’s Morar Carioca Verde project made a R$52.4 million investment in these communities. “Rio has a vocation for sustainability and the preservation of nature,” explained the mayor, Eduardo Paes, on a visit to the eco-homes last week.
“This is the first model. The work is more sophisticated and that is why [the development] takes longer to complete, but our objective is to bring the project to other communities,” said Paes.
In the past, issues with quality in favela upgrades have caused the city to backtrack and reinvest in works that had fallen apart. The apartments in Babilônia and Chapéu Mangueira will hopefully demonstrate a new standard for public housing in Rio.
Besides building eco-friendly homes, the Municipal Housing Secretariat says it is also using “green” materials to develop public areas, like using recycled shredded tires to pave roads and energy efficient LED bulbs to light up streets. A small square and a lookout point are both receiving decks made from recycled plastic bottles.
The project has become a noted example of sustainable development, receiving visits from actor and environmentalist, Harrison Ford and Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York city, in the past months.
Babilônia and Chapéu Mangueira were chosen for the pilot project because they are located in an area of environmental protection. According to the IBGE, nearly 4,000 people live in the communities, which received a UPP (Police Pacifying Unit) in 2009.