Why Your World Cup Stadium Sucks: Estádio Nacional, Brasília

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Estádio Nacional has the grim glory of being the most expensive stadium in Brazil, costing some $900m in public funds. (Now with more pictures!)

The Basics

Capacity: 72,000

Date Completed: 1974; Rebuilt in 2013

Number of Workplace Deaths: None

Most Closely Resembles: An Oscar Niemeyer building, like everything else in Brasília.


How corrupt is it?

When I tell people I'm a city planner in New York, the reflexive joke is something along the lines of, "Well looks like your work is done here." Lame ribbings aside, those folks aren't entirely wrong. Like most cities, New York is the product of adding some artificial rules to a pile of organic growth and letting it sit out in the sun for a few hundred years. It isn't a singular vision any more than London or Istanbul or Almaty are products of an unimpeachable urban formula. All someone like I can do is get a grip on a small part of it and hope I don't fuck it up.


Weird things happen when you suck that air of unpredictability out of a city. Brasília is one of the world's first test tube cities, designed by Oscar Niemeyer, the celebrated Brazilian modernist architect, and planned by Lúcio Costa, Niemeyer's lifelong friend. (One wonders how Chandigarh would have turned out if Le Corbusier's had a real city planner advising him.) Niemeyer and Costa didn't host the same visionary megalomania as that monikered Swiss, but Brasília is an embodiment of a pair of converging visions. Most importantly, Brasília gave Niemeyer's modern aesthetic a chance to weave a landscape from whole cloth, an opportunity that seems downright impossible today.

Niemeyer didn't design Estádio Nacional but his fingerprints are all over the arena, including the 288 concrete pillars lining its perimeter. Unfortunately Nacional is also a product of contemporary graft: it was originally slated to cost about $300m but, according to the AP, an array of fraud from faulty billing to bald political graft ballooned that number to $900m. (The lead contractor on Nacional dropped $37.1m in 2012's municipal elections—a 50,000% increase from 2008—which came after the World Cup venues had been selected.) The Federal investigators who audited Estádio Nacional discovered that the construction firm had simply inflated prices and allegedly pocketed the difference, a contention that will reportedly take years to untangle.


The $900m price tag makes Estádio Nacional the second-most expensive soccer stadium in the world next to Wembley Stadium. There's no doubt that the corruption will cast a long pall over Brasília , you just wonder if it's going to start to cover up what Niemeyer was able to do in the Brazilian highlands.


Corruption Score: 5 out of 5 Blatters

What's the worst thing that happened during construction?

$600m budget overruns aren't exactly unknown stateside, but Estádio Nacional will be remembered as an icon of Brazilians corruption after the World Cup is done on Sunday.


Any post-World Cup uses?

That's one of the big problems: even though Brasília 's home to 2.5 million people, they don't have a top flight club team. Nacional is relegated to concert and cultural duty. It's a more attractive landing spot for artists coming through Brazil than, say, Manaus, but it's still a venue that won't be paying back its considerable bills anytime soon.


Should you go there?

As you might be able to tell from above, I've always been fascinated with Brasília . There's something eerie and alien about master planned cities, and even suburban enclaves like Irvine in California and The Woodlands outside of Houston hold this weird appeal for me. (No, not Celebration. Fuck that place.) Estádio Nacional is a strange, beautiful building in an even more peculiar place. I would say that Brasília is worth checking out if you take someone who finds those sorts of places interesting, and I would say we are an odd bunch.


Brazil Stadium Rank: 9 out of 12

The graft pisses me off more than the city and stadium make me happy.

Previously: Estádio Mineirão, Belo Horizonte |Estádio Beira-Rio, Porto Alegre |Arena Pernambuco, Recife | Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador | Arena Baixada, Curitiba | Arena Pantanal, Cuiabá | Arena Das Dunas, Natal | Arena Amazonia, Manaus


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Photo Credit: Brazil World Cup Portal; DOMUS