Brazilian Building Codes in Need of Reform in Wake of 17 Deaths

by Emilee Gaebler
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America 

BRASÍLIA, Brazil – A twenty-story building’s collapse in Rio de Janeiro has sparked intense scrutiny of the state of the construction industry in the country set to host two mega sporting events on the world stage over the next few years.

Firefighters on site of the building collapse in Rio's historic theater district. (Photo courtesy of CBS)

Seventeen people in total were killed in the building’s collapse and three are still missing, as reported by the Washington Post.  The building collapsed at night, around 8:30 pm, which helped to minimize the casualties and injuries.  As the building collapsed it also pulled down two neighboring smaller structures.  The buildings were located in the historic theater district of Rio.

Officials are citing illegal construction as the most plausible explanation, although investigations are still underway.  It is alleged that two illegal construction projects were underway on the 16th floor of the building.  Luiz Cosenza, a worker in the building, claims to have been employed on one of those illegal jobs.

Cosenza states that the project was not registered with the building council and that there was no authorized and licensed professional overseeing the work.  He declined to provide further information on what type of work was being done illegally.

The current upswing in construction in Rio has steadily continued as the city prepares to host the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics.  FIFA officials have expressed concerns that the city’s infrastructure is not prepared to handle hosting these two events.

Those who are critical of Rio’s ability as host city note the pressing need to restructure industry standards.  The high demand for new buildings, in the downtown area, has led to lax standards and often sub-standard construction.

“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,” said Gordon Lewis, a commercial developer in Brazil, to the Rio Times.

A call for more stringent monitoring has been spurred on by the recent tragic collapse.  Officials are in the process of enacting a mandatory periodic review of all buildings.  The review will need to be conducted by a professional who will assess and ensure the structural integrity of the building.

Historically, Brazil has struggled with maintaining a strong infrastructure in construction.  Not only are new buildings going up without the proper safety mechanisms but historic buildings are also structurally unsafe due to disrepair.

As well, the strict civil codes require such exacting compliance that it is impossible for any builder to meet them.  This has led to the general practice of those codes being disregarded and no enforcement of them by municipal authorities.


For more information, please see;

The Washington Post – Building Collapse, Rash of Freak Accidents Raise Questions About Rio’s World Cup Readiness – 1 February 2012

The Rio Times – Rio Responds to Building Collapses – 31 January 2012

BBC – Six Dead After Rio de Janeiro Building Collapses – 27 January 2012

CBS – Brazil: 3 Killed as Building Collapses in Rio – 26 January 2012

Author: Impunity Watch Archive