The "stepped" law

Something very characteristic about João Pessoa's coastline is the absence of skyscrapers. That's due to a law that forbids the construction of buildings with more than 3 stories right on the beach.

the skyline of João Pessoa's coast showing how the "stepped" law works. Photo: Rafael Ferreira Pimentel
the skyline of João Pessoa's coast showing how the "stepped" law works. Photo: Rafael Ferreira Pimentel

This law is very important because it assures that the wind coming from the Atlantic circulates through the city without problems, avoiding the overheating in the central areas. On top of that, according to a research 89% of tourists that visit João Pessoa prefer the beaches without skyscrapers. Unfortunately every once in a while this law is questioned by real estate speculators, construction companies and big hotel chains that dream of filling the beaches with their sky high buildings for obvious financial reasons.

The principle is very simple, as explained in detail in an essay by Ernani Sartori*. The lower buildings allow the wind to flow towards the higher buildings right behind them.

The wind that gets blocked by the higher building is deflected downwards, which ends up escaping through lower heights, ventilating not only the back side of the lower buildings but also the areas around it.

illustrations by Ernani Sartori
illustrations by Ernani Sartori

This effect can't be achieved if the buildings are all build in the same height, as it obviously doesn't work if the front buildings are higher than the ones behind them.

There are two neighborhoods in João Pessoa that were categorized as "heat islands", it is not a coincidence that these neighborhoods are also the ones where skyscrapers are more concentrated.

The "stepped" law is very important not only for environmental reasons, as the uncontrolled urbanization process affects the life quality of the local inhabitants, it also plays an important role in the local tourism. The Brazilian coast is only on the East side, therefore the skyscrapers always cast a shade on the beach in the afternoon, what fortunately doesn't happen in João Pessoa. I am convinced tourists are more interested in visiting beautiful places with pleasant temperatures than being caged in a 50 stories hotel with a/c, be it at the coast or not.