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Volume 20 No. 46
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Populous’ World Cup stadium in Brazil ready for action

The race to finish construction of World Cup venues in Brazil over the next month does not extend to one Populous-designed facility.

Estadio das Dunas — Stadium of the Dunes — has been open since January in the beachfront region of Natal, a city of about 1 million people in Brazil’s northeastern corner.

A master plan for commercial development tied to the new stadium, similar to those in other Brazilian cities playing host to the 2014 World Cup, has seen its share of criticism. Five years ago, when Natal was announced as a host city, local officials promised $1.3 billion in development. About half of those projects, including an airport, never started or are half-finished, according to a recent Reuters

Estadio das Dunas is inspired by an enormous sand dune by the city of Natal.
Photo by: POPULOUS (2)


But the $135 million stadium itself is done. It was the last World Cup venue to start construction and the first one to be completed, the function of a fairly straightforward design, said Christopher Lee, a senior principal with Populous in its London office and the project’s lead designer.

The stadium encompasses a portion of the site where the old Machadão stadium once stood. It served as the home of soccer teams ABC, Alecrim and America, which have all languished in the second division of Brazil’s soccer leagues for several years. During construction, the clubs have been playing in a smaller facility elsewhere in Natal, but two of the teams, ABC and America, will move into the new stadium after the World Cup is completed, Lee said.

At first glance, the stadium’s mushroom-like exterior walls call to mind University of Phoenix Stadium, the Arizona Cardinals’ facility and another Populous design. But that resemblance to the NFL stadium is purely coincidental. In Brazil, the stadium’s curvaceous form is inspired by the dominant feature in town: an enormous sand dune between the city and the beach that runs about a mile long and 300 feet to 400 feet high.

To take advantage of the constant ocean breezes, Populous designed the stadium’s west side two levels higher than the east side to capture those winds and help cool the seating bowl in a tropical climate.

“We did quite a lot of wind studies to make sure we get the right amount of wind movement,” Lee said. “There is a very fine balance between how much air we let in to cool the spectators before it starts impacting the flight of the ball and play on the field.”

The west side contains all of the stadium’s premium seating: 35 suites and 4,000 club seats. There are four restaurants on the club level, one floor below the suites, as well as other buffets and bars, Lee said.

For World Cup, the stadium will seat 45,000 fans, including 10,000 temporary seats installed in the upper deck on the facility’s north and south sides. After the event concludes, those stands will be removed for the local teams, which typically draw smaller crowds, Lee said.

The stadium will also play a key role for Carnatal, the city’s version of Rio de Janeiro’s famous Carnival. A parade tied to the city’s event will be rerouted to arrive at the facility, with floats raised up on platforms inside the building, he said.

Another U.S. sports architect, HKS, also worked on a World Cup project. Four to five years ago, the company did initial designs for Estádio do Maracanã in Rio, the host venue for the championship and closing ceremonies, said Bryan Trubey, an HKS principal.

A different firm took over the project after HKS’s early input, Trubey said.