Most proposals to effect social change through the built environment focus (quite reasonably) on the disadvantaged. This one manipulates the environment of the wealthy. Riolympia is a post-games development of the 2016 Olympics site into a media- and health-themed mixed-use district. The context is one of Brazil’s most secured environments: a suburb of Rio originally planned by Lucio Costa, now a swath of gated condominiums, malls, and inaccessible lagoons. Riolympia includes a major public space - a park along Lagoa de Jacarepaguá - so despite being destined for the upper classes, it cannot close itself off like its neighbors.
In fact, Riolympia’s amenities will attract a broad range of society to shared spaces that evoke and enhance (once) familiar communal patterns. These spaces provide a safety-in-clarity through overstatement of traditional Carioca public elements: a hierarchical street grid, storefront arcades, shoreline as social mixing chamber. The result is a desirable public environment on a manageable scale - an intermediate setting on the return to civil society. To this end, Riolympia anticipates a new socially balanced ring neighborhood around the Barra da Tijuca lagoons.
The luxury residential towers that underwrite Riolympia’s development have both functional and symbolic roles in structuring the new neighborhood. As a type, the tower addresses residents’ security anxieties and plays to their overclass status, but also inserts them into a very public situation. The base is sheathed in a cable net safety zone, while an integrated parking helix minimizes the footprint. Photovoltaic arrays screen east and west sun and provide electricity for the park. The top of each tower is a superscale concrete frame filled with cubistic mirror-glass penthouses, a “Magic Favela” that transfers the architectural strategies of the poor into luxury real estate. This may seem tasteless, but it is meant to legitimize the favela as a characteristic Brazilian urban type in need of appreciation, not eradication.