In the spirit of the Olympic Games: the “Carioca Wave” Freeform of Rio de Janeiro


The Carioca Wave was completed in 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, not far from the 2016 Olympic Village site. We first discussed this structure in our interview with Knippers Helbig. In this post we observe architect Nir Sivan‘s design process for designing this elegant structure.

Creating the “Carioca Wave” project in Rio

When Nir Sivan got the opportunity to build a freeform steel/glass canopy roof as a welcoming entrance area to “CasaShopping,” South America’s biggest design center, he was thrilled and knew that whatever he designed, it had to be and behave as a part of the “marvelous city,” as Rio is often nicknamed.

Nir Sivan started working on the master plan in his office in Rome, but the actual shape of the project was only designed when he came to Rio. The inspiration came while he was sitting on one of the many famous beaches with a local cold drink. He remembers drawing in his sketchbook – 5 or 6 simple lines, but they captured it all:
 the calm; the movement; the sound, the “Carioca,” as locals from Rio area are called.

He created a shape of a single yet geometrically complex surface of the double curvature. The surface starts at the upper floor above a blue colored water pool, then rises up curving, growing forward, twisting to the other side, and finally dropping down to a lower floor, splashing into a white colored pool. Around it you will find water, sand, Portuguese paving, and other elements to merges the project with the local language.

Inspired by its context, the project was driven artistically and emotionally, and developed architecturally, adding both value and function to its surroundings.

“Sculpting architecture”

The design approach included sculpture and design methods that were further developed using automotive industry tools and advanced parametric instruments to ensure tight control of the very particular geometry. Nir Sivan developed this unique process involving automotive industry, believing it gave him complete freedom to create while maintaining coherence with concept, structure, and form.

Putting things together

Nir Sivan’s projects often require cutting-edge technologies as well as advanced fabrication and installation techniques. The Carioca Wave gridshell uses over 110 tons of carbon steel (fabricated in Czech republic), including 36mm-thick double-curved tubes, 765 different beams, and almost 300 different laser-cut shaped nodes, creating 503 varied triangles accommodated by glass panels that weigh 45 tons (fabricated in Japan) – all shipped to be installed in Brazil.

The partially-clad Carioca Wave gridshell is temporarily supported during construction.

As he often does in similar projects, Nir Sivan created a design-build group: he teamed up with engineers Knippers Helbig (Germany) as right-hand partners and construction company Seele (Austria HQ) for fabrication and installation. By doing so, he was involved in all aspects and processes of the development, assuring that his design intentions were maintained and that the final results corresponded to his expectations. The client was free from any responsibility of coordinating this international team.

Architecture precedent

The structural frame of the Carioca Wave canopy is a self-supporting gridshell, requiring neither columns nor lateral supports. Nir Sivan sought to combine this self-supporting system with wide cantilevers to push technology to its limits. As Nir Sivan was informed during its design, the Carioca Wave is the first freeform architecture in South American history.

Nir Sivan believes that people appreciate design and recognize the “added value” of implementing new techniques and technologies. He looks forward to sculpting more architecture worldwide.

Close-up of the gridshell support, lit at night

Image Courtesy Nir Sivan Architects

You can read more about Knippers Helbig Advanced Engineering in our previous post

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