The city of Rio de Janeiro is currently promoting a series of special initiatives, in line with federal law, to improve accessibility for people with special needs in public places and commercial structures, for example buildings and shopping centers. More than just modernization, this process has improved comfort and safety for these users, so preserving one the population’s most basic rights: to come and go freely.

We have observed a growing concern to professionalize the processes adopted, which involve viable investments in accessibility. This concept has been more widespread and is easier to apply in newer buildings, but currently the existing commercial real estate market has been promoting positive and significant changes in this regard,” said Jorge Azevedo, regional manager for the area of Property Management at JLL in Rio de Janeiro.

For Azevedo, the growing interest in accessibility coincides with the period of growth and investment in various sectors of the Rio de Janeiro economy. This change is also at least partly stimulated by holding the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games in the city. “This has meant that the situation in Rio de Janeiro has moved closer to the standards of accessibility adopted in major cities. All the sports facilities developed for such events, for example, now incorporate this improvement,” he observed.

One of the most recent projects in the segment of multiple-occupancy commercial buildings is the City Tower Condominium. Located in Rua da Assembly, in Rio de Janeiro’s historic central region, the building houses companies from various market sectors and is a commercial icon in the area. The increasing number of occupiers’ staff, users, visitors, service providers and others led the property to invest in a system to facilitate circulation and existing access infrastructure.

Edifício City Tower, localizado na Rua da Assembléia, nº 100, no Centro/RJ | Foto: Alexandre Brum/enQuadrar

With the support of JLL building management staff led by Christiane Durante, and with the strategic synergy and vision of the property’s owner, City Tower is undergoing a wide-ranging and continuous process of modernization. This started with the central air-conditioning system, which was then followed with modernization of elevators, escalators, and electronic security systems, among others. Almost all the projects were carried out with the building fully occupied, so contributing to comfort, greater efficiency in the consumption of utilities such as power and water, and safety of the facilities,” Azevedo said.

The goal of gaining LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification – an endorsement that guides and attests to a building’s adherence to the principles of sustainability as applied to the construction industry – has led, for example, to installing a green roof and adoption of other new technologies and services, for example green cleaning. These underscore the commitment of the building and its users to conserve natural resources. “The series of investments and upgrades also created a stimulating environment for the introduction of new ideas related to accessibility,” the manager said.

Modernizing the elevators involved a technology upgrade resulting in faster speeds, more space in the cabins, provision for wheelchair access and a voice/button system to assist people with impaired hearing or sight. Electronic security systems, the conciergerie, the reception and some of the internal bathrooms were also adapted. “The condominium used the consulting services of Regina Cohen, a wheelchair-bound architect, to make these changes and to assess the feasibility of others. She contributed to a different vision and wider understanding of the subject,” Azevedo explained. Cohen was also helped during this process by Samella Tavares de Brito of the Pro-Access Nucleus at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ).

It’s worth noting that this knowledge gives Cohen a precise vision of the changes that are still needed for Rio de Janeiro to become a metropolis of the future.

City Tower is just the beginning, because Rio still leaves much to be desired in the area of accessibility,” the consultant said. However, she explained that the demand for diagnostic services relating to both new and existing buildings had increased in recent months. “It’s interesting that Rio de Janeiro is now undergoing these structural changes. City authorities have made this commitment and, even though it’s still early days, I see changes occurring in cultural environments that make it possible for people with disabilities to enjoy greater mobility and access to places that we simply could not visit before.”