The 12 stadia currently seeing World Cup action are not created equal. The dozen venues for the games are a mix of something old, something new, something temporary that will be taken down after the last goal is kicked. And not all of them have turned out to deliver the hopes and dreams promised (a few aren't even finished).
Even as Brazil's faith in the World Cup is tested by exorbitant costs, construction delays, and yes, sadly even some few worker deaths, a few stadia are emerging as crown jewels based on their innovation, responsibility, and foresight. These stadia not only provide world-class sporting venues, they are making a solid investment in their communities that will last decades.
Arenas das Dunas | Natal
One of only three new permanent stadia built in Brazil, this stadium did it right. Not only was it one of the only stadia to be finished on time and under budget, with no worker deaths, the strategy behind the stadium takes into consideration how it will impact the region in the future. Designed by Populous as one piece of a larger mixed-use development that includes the stadium, an arena, and a performing arts complex, the stadium will become a cultural center for the city with programming at the space organised locally.
The design is also innovative. The large shells meant to evoke dunes also act as shading elements, and deep slices in the exterior ring allow for sunlight and breezes to reach spectators. The result is a stadium that's not walled off to the city around it, but rather an exciting new public space for the city of Natal. Plus, it looks badass.
Estádio Do Maracanã | Rio
Rio's beloved soccer stadium was first opened in 1950—interestingly enough, this was the last time Brazil hosted the World Cup and it almost wasn't ready in time for the first game to be played way back then! (This is also where a historic defeat by Uruguay occurred, which Brazilians believe cursed the team.) For this year's World Cup, it has been partially rebuilt by demolishing the concrete roof and replacing it with a Teflon-coated fibreglass membrane. This provides a shading structure that will cover 95 percent of the seats inside, which were also reconfigured to increase capacity.
While there's nothing particularly flashy about the design, this stadium is a winner because of its future plans: The city will use it for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2016 Olympics. Now that's the kind of thinking ahead that we like.
Arena Fonte Nova | Salvador
Replacing an aging stadium that was demolished, the Arena Fonte Nova—actually, Itaipava Arena Fonte Nova, based on a sponsorship deal with a local brewery—is located in the coastal city of Salvador. Like the Arenas das Dunas, this stadium is lovely because of its openness, not only allowing coastal breezes and light into the space, but the fact that it's designed to be more of a public amphitheater where people can trickle out onto the adjacent plazas. There's also a lovely lake out back with a restaurant overlooking the water.
German architects at Schulitz Architekten designed the roof with a similar membrane to that of the Maracanã; they claim it is one of the lightest stadium roofs on the planet (actually, a small part collapsed last year, but was repaired). There's also a rainwater recycling system and all the old concrete from the former stadium was recycled into this design. In the spirit of reuse, there's one other feature: This stadium will also be reused for the Olympics.