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News & opinion

5 SEP 2018

Brazil must rebuild after the loss of its National Museum

The burning of the National Museum of Brazil, located in Rio de Janeiro is a tragedy that affects millions of Brazilians across generations. It was Brazil’s oldest and most important museum, a storehouse of its heritage including audio recordings of indigenous languages that are no longer spoken and photos of its golden era when visionaries like Albert Einstein, Santos Dumont and Marie Curie visited the palace.

The National Museum was not modern, trendy, interactive, digital or high-tech. But, as a child, it introduced me to history, culture and my place as a young Brazilian in the world. It was filled with priceless curiosities that told the stories of cultures, countries and peoples who no longer exist. The museum held memories of a time when Rio was a magnet for thinkers, visionaries and intellectuals from all over the world. With those touchstones of the past gone, we can see we’ve lost more than a palace filled with historical relics.

Decades of governments, despite political affiliations, opted to invest in other areas and allow this keeper of Brazilian and human history to disappear in flames. Rather than provide the museum with the funding to retrofit to international fire safety standards, corruption and lack of political will allowed the building to fall into disrepair.

How does a country that has lost so much rebuild trust in its decision-makers and those who work in the built environment? Decision-makers must earn back the public trust by following ethical practices and bringing in third party observers like RICS to regulate and ensure the decisions made and the contracts signed are in line with the public good.

This tragedy could have easily been prevented but years of budget cuts and delayed renovations left the structure vulnerable. Decision-makers must put their trust in qualified facility managers who perform preventative maintenance to ensure the buildings we rely on to house our treasures and the ones in which we live and work remain in the background rather than becoming a news story due to neglect.