Summary 

  • São Paulo's Cidade Matarazzo is one of Brazil's largest urban regeneration projects ever. 
  • French investor and entrepreneur, Alexandre Allard, believes it can set a blueprint for the country to follow. 
  • "Our project is a message to the people of Brazil that the time is ripe for the country to become a green superpower."

Can one urban renovation project transform the sustainability credentials of a whole country? French entrepreneur Alexandre Allard believes Cidade Matarazzo, a major redevelopment in the heart of Brazil’s business capital São Paulo, is poised to do so. 

“Brazil is the most difficult country to be an entrepreneur. But our project is a message to the people of Brazil that the time is ripe for the country to become a green superpower.” 

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Brazil is the most difficult country to be an entrepreneur. But our project is a message to the people of Brazil that the time is ripe for the country to become a green superpower.

Alexandre Allard, CEO, Allard group

Spreading over 30,000 square metres next to one of the city's main transport arteries, Avenida Paulista, Cidade Matarazzo rises from the ashes of the abandoned Matarazzo Hospital. Mr Allard acquired the plot of land in 2008 to “create the largest green community in the world”, he says. 

Resurrected

Fourteen years into his ambitious endeavour, a luxury hotel managed by US company Rosewood brought back to life the hospital’s abandoned maternity yard, a series of residential towers, designed by French Jean Nouvel as a “vertical forest” and also run by Rosewood, stretches for 93 metres next to the hotel, while an innovation hub, called Aya from ayahuasca, a natural psychedelic used by indigenous communities to connect with nature, is set to open doors by year-end and become an incubator for sustainable technologies and practices. A set of natural parks is set to open next, enveloping the whole space, which also includes shops and restaurants, in nature. 

Mr Allard’s great ambitions have been met with equally great challenges. Amid hiccups and delays, the project’s investment budget doubled from 1.7bn reais ($323.1m) to 3.5bn reais. However, Mr Allard argues that Cidade Matarazzo will be transformative for the whole country. 

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He argues that Brazil has traditionally been defined by extraction of resources – the very name of Brazil refers to the brazilwood the early Portuguese colonists used to harvest along the coast and ship to Europe.

“That mentality of extraction has translated into a short-term vision where everyone favours cash over anything else. [...] By redeveloping abandoned buildings to create one of the country’s most valuable real estate assets we showed there is a path to prosperity in preservation,” says Mr Allard. 

We showed there is a path to prosperity in preservation. 

Alexandre Allard, CEO, Allard group

Natural asset

Considering the country’s natural resources, he believes this paradigm shift will be as transformative as to make or break the future of the country’s most valuable natural asset, the Amazon basin, and, eventually, its role as a green superpower. 

“People here consider the Amazon basin as a big problem with 29 million people, amongst the poorest in the country, living there. But if they take a preservation view, it suddenly becomes one of the wealthiest places in the world.”

Mr Allard takes pride in the fact that the Rosewood hotel is “the most expensive hotel in Latin America” and that its success is already changing people’s minds by becoming a space for the local elite to gather and dive into a finely crafted experience that elevates the values of nature and long-term sustainability.

However, it will only be when the Aya hub launches and the surrounding parks open that Mr Allard’s vision will be put to the test of a wider public. Until then, it risks remaining a white – or rather green – elephant for the elite to flirt with the idea of a more sustainable world over a glass of barrel-aged cachaca or imported whiskey. 

This article first appeared in the October/November 2022 print edition of fDi Intelligence. View a digital edition of the magazine here.