Co.Design

Brazil Uses "Homeless World Cup" to Build Local Community

The Homeless World Cup just might be even more interesting than Netherlands vs. Germany.

The most exciting soccer game of the year will not be the Netherlands v. Germany (or the Netherlands v. Spain, but c’mon, Spain doesn’t stand a chance*), it’ll be lost-my-job in the U.S. v. toothless in Scotland. We speak, of course, of the Homeless World Cup.

Yes, there’s a Homeless World Cup, and it has all the trappings of its moneyed big brother, except instead of rhetoric about soccer as the torchbearer of world peace, we’re told about “the power of football to unite people living on the edge of society"; and instead of rakish young athletes who go home to gorgeous cars and elaborate manses, players return to busking and SROs; and instead of glinty new stadiums that are thrown up for a few games then never get used again, the 2010 Homeless World Cup, in Rio, will build a decidedly more appropriate tribute -- architecture for the community, as the organizers have billed it.

That includes a “legacy center” in Rio’s down-at-the-heels Santa Cruz neighborhood, designed by the Brazilian architects Lompreta & Nolte Arquitetos. One of the chief complaints about international sporting events, whether the World Cup or the Olympics, is that they necessitate capital building campaigns that rarely redound to the benefit of local residents. (Exhibit A: the Bird’s Nest; exhibit B: pretty much everything in South Africa.) The legacy center -- a partnership of the Homeless World Cup, Architecture for Humanity, Nike GameChangers, and the soccer star-founded Instituto Bola Pra Frente -- is an explicit gesture to the people of Rio.

The first phase of the project includes an amphitheater-ramp reminiscent of the Times Square TKTS Booth that, in the words of the architects, is “cultural space for film and theater presentations"; its only relation to the Homeless World Cup is that the Brazilian team will practice at a pitch nearby. (The actual games will be played in a beach-side stadium crouching beneath Rio’s iconic statue of Christ the Redeemer.) It’s strictly incidental and, yeah, a little unfortunate, that from some angles the ramp looks like a cardboard box.

But never mind that. The moral of the story here is that a feel-good sporting event -- one that draws nonprofits, bleeding hearts, and PR-slavering corporations in equal measure -- is being exploited for local interests. The complete legacy center will have four pitches and a 33,000-square-foot building for classrooms, administration, and the like -- at no cost to the public (as far as we can tell) and run by Boa Pra Frente, which tries to get kids hooked on sports instead of, you know, other stuff. It won’t even be done in time for the games this fall, and so what? It isn't for the tourists. This particular part of Santa Cruz has little infrastructure -- few schools, commerce, and public transit. It’s “mainly residential,” the architects tell us, “with one-family houses not much better than favela housing.” There's a sad irony in all this Homeless World Cup money going to build something other than housing, but at least they're providing a nice place to play.


[Images courtesy of Lompreta & Nolte Arquitetos]
*Boy were we wrong! Spain beat Germany 1-0 today. Auf wiedersehen, Mannschaft.

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