The Exhibition and Convention Centre in Sao Paulo is the largest private exhibition centre in Latin America. Bollinger + Grohmann were contacted and contracted directly by the architectural company Wilmotte & Associés to provide structural design services during the conception phases for the large-scale enlargement of the Centre.
The construction task
The existing exhibition area consisted of 40,000 m² and the original brief for the competition asked a private company to build and operate an extension of 59,000 m², in essence more than doubling the original surface. The new premises should provide more flexible space with a better acoustical performance adapt to accommodate a large variety of programmes such as concerts, a lot more regular office workspace and a better connection to local parking spots. The new design should ensure a better urban integration. In addition, it should also provide covered parking buildings for more than 4,500 cars.
After construction, the buildings provide over 80,000 m² of interior modular exhibition and event space, 10,000 m² of convention space and a covered courtyard of more than 8,000 m². To answer to the brief, large 110 m column free spans with an entire acoustically treated roof and attaches for heavy loads provide an optimal flexible usage, an eye-catching all round 30 m cantilevering roof forming the entrance and plaza and another eye-catching 60 m free spanning footbridge connecting an optimized parking building to the new centre. The extension of the exhibition center provides also as a buffer between outside and inside four levels of administration and offices that service the building, convention rooms and smaller meeting rooms.
Whereas the competition took place in 2013 between private bidders, the architecturally appealing building should be finished three years later. A real challenge in a competitive environment. After winning the bid, GL events – one of the world leaders in event management – together with the team worked in a very fast pace to deliver building permit which received rapidly consent from the authorities. The team and construction company successfully then realized the works in about two years. The works were carried out in several phases and instalments to allow the event hosting activity to continue. The project was inaugurated in April 2016.
In the considerations by GL Events, several elements played a role to answer to this engineering challenge. Firstly, the site is strategic; it is located within an agglomeration of more than 22 million inhabitants, which consists of 75% of the Brazilian event market. Size does matter and Brazil has a large population with a big middle class. Secondly, the Brazilian market has many private investment possibilities and is for better or worse extremely dynamic sometimes volatile while the convention centres in Western Europe are often built by public investment. This allows for big opportunities even for foreign companies to realise major projects without major red tape issues.
In the end, GL Events took entirely advantage of this and won a 30-year concession contract.
Organizing the project team between France and Brazil
Brazil is world known for many things, amongst which also figure design and architecture. There is a general openness to interesting and challenging architecture also for foreign architects and this project proved no exception. The design of the project was entrusted to a major French architecture office Wilmotte & Associés, who have extensive experience abroad and already supported GL events with various projects. Faced with a challenging calendar and foreign design standards they immediately formed a trusted international and multidisciplinary team. Drawing on their foreign experience, they understood very well that a mixed team composed of French engineering offices -amongst which the French branch of Bollinger + Grohmann- and Brazilian architecture engineering firms. The former to go very fast on the design side, the latter securing local regulations, tendering and site supervision. Both ingredients are essential; setting up a local company would take time and the market for architectural firms is large but very competitive, volatile in the private sector and unsecure in the public sector.
Further smoothing things in order to go faster, Wilmotte & Associés integrated Franco-Brazilian architects in the office. This helps understanding local procurement, negotiation and debating culture but also helps overcome the language barrier (Brazil is the only Portuguese speaking Latin American country) as Portuguese is the standard language of business.
The local authorities and companies of course favour mostly more local teams in general, but largely appreciate and support the notion of inviting renowned, experienced experts.
Experience is the key to success in Brazil
For Bollinger + Grohmann Engineering company, working abroad in challenging conditions with renowned architects has been part of the companies culture for a long time now. The direct working relation that was established with Wilmotte & Associés on previous projects proved a very strong basis in this context. Other elements that proved decisive to be able and to consider working in a challenging environment as Brazil are definitively that B+G Ingenieure has extensive knowledge in managing very complex and very large projects in all parts of the world and even in Brazil (Fonte Nova stadium). These two successful projects for Bollinger + Grohmann showed to be possible because of their complexity but do not allow us to set foot in Brazil more generally due to local volatility in the construction market and very low fees.
Profiting from Brazilian regulations
The exchange between local and foreign teams proved finally not so complicated since local design criteria are not entirely different from European ones and are rather straightforward if different at all. This counts also for the structural design criteria. Usually the Brazilian regulations are less stringent which is thus less of a burden but sometimes becomes a problem such as the quality of materials; to find the right steel quality and sections, find the right specific treatment such as galvanization…
For this project, the exchange remained relatively limited in that almost all architectural and structural design (conception phase until tendering) was followed up directly in Paris. Only minor interventions –in English – happened after comments by local teams. The project transfer happens for the tendering and is almost 100 per cent in hands of the local teams. An in depth review and exchange secured that this happened without any problems. A clear division of work packages proves a real advantage for this kind of projects and context.
To conclude, this collaborative experience has shown us that in Brazil we can build fast and in relatively good conditions – partially due to the French client – for an ambitious and architecturally interesting project. Even on the engineering side, no objections were ever raised towards the very large free spans, the large cantilevers and the expressive design of the footbridge. In comparison to the European market, the sheer size of the project, the specific design, the cost and the rapidity to deliver near a major city would and could prove more complicated. The execution of the project in Brazil falls also within expectations, which is not lower than any standard in Europe.
More generally, the project has also shown the dynamism and volatility of the market and the less stringent regulatory systems. It all shows that Brazil can present many opportunities for ambitious projects without necessarily needing a full local presence.
Text by Bollinger + Grohmann