Architectural and urbanistic operations after the 1998 Lisbon World Exposition

Technical Description

The urban process concerning the Lisbon Riverfront regeneration has to be understood in the context of a widespread reconversion activity, both for harbor areas and urban waterfronts. These issues have been broadly addressed from a scientific point of view. The cases of Baltimore and Boston in the 1950s triggered a series of operations that later on, from the 1980s onwards, were extended to several continents. A few examples are cities such as London, Barcelona, Genoa, Roterdam, or Hamburg, in Europe; Tokyo, Yokohama, and Singapore, in Asia; Buenos Aires, in Latin America (Bo01; Sa97). This process was motivated by a number of factors that have been widely debated, namely because of some trade routes alterations, new management and logistics mechanisms for harbor activities, and, finally, the development of alternative transportation networks (e.g. air routes and highways). Beyond the changes on the harbor sector, a sensibility about the importance of public space renovation as a development model, started to be considered.

The experience of Barcelona was seen as an example to be followed. The Olympic Games in 1992 was the main argument for a new harbor location and for a wide plan spread throughout the city territory focused on public space renovation (Pe11).

The process of pondering on the reconversion of the Harbor of Lisbon started in 1988, during the Ideas Contest for the Lisbon Riverfront Zone launched by the Portuguese Architects Association. The conclusions of this initiative would be used to clarify the guidelines of the 1990 Lisbon Strategic Plan (PEL), an instrument that would define the so called ‘Riverfront Arch’ as fundamental planning and structuring urban area of Lisbon. During this period, a central strategy emerged for breaking down the infrastructural barriers that obstructed the connections between the city and the Tagus River (Co89). The 1994 Municipal Master Plan (PDM) incorporated the issues mentioned above, providing a set of Urbanization Plans and Priority Projects. These aimed at launching new urban management mechanisms, in order to trigger a regeneration process for the Harbor of Lisbon adjoining areas. A further priority instrument for the Harbor of Lisbon conversion process was the ‘Riverfront Zone Plan’ (POZOR).

Launched in 1995 by the Harbor of Lisbon Authority, it defined the purposes of areas under the authority’s jurisdiction. This opened space for the demarcation of two types of areas, i.e., those meant for exclusive harbor activity, on the one hand, and those, which could accommodate urban uses, on the other hand.

In this context, the ‘Expo98 Intervention Zone Urbanization Plan’ (1993-1998) was carried out under the coordination of Parque Expo and Expo Urbe enterprises created for the conversion of 330ha of areas surrounding the World Exhibition site.

As a reference on this subject, two works of multidisciplinary nature should be mentioned: The ‘Mediterranean’ journal issue 10/11 (Sa97) and the book ‘The City of Expo98. A Reconversion on the Riverfront of Lisbon?’ (Fe99).

The ‘Mediterranean’ journal from Nova University, anticipating the great event, presented still in 1997, an issue entitled ‘Cities, Harbors, and Waterfronts’. It compiled a series of articles on the subject, developed by a wide range of researchers, framing the urban, social, and economic integration of the waterfront regeneration projects; Also, Vítor Matias Ferreira and Francesco Indovina, following the great exhibition, organized ‘The City of Expo ’98’, in 1999. The publication organized and categorized all information from the Seminar ‘Expo’98, the Waterfronts and the Lisbon Urban Project’ (ISCTE, 1998). This data was interwoven with the results from the Observatory ‘Expo 98 in Lisbon: observing while being carried out’, a research project developed alongside the Expo98 follow-up procedures in order to offer a first critical reading concerning its urban project. At this level, the authors questioned whether the Expo98 operation could be presented as a social and urban operation capable of surpassing the strict boundaries of the intervention area, extending beyond Lisbon metropolitan eastern districts.

After the Lisbon World Exposition, there was an intense acceleration of public policies concerning issues of social cohesion, and also an opening of opportunities to keep active the whole productive machine designed for (and by) Expo98 (Po98). It was in this context that, at the end of the 1990s, several development and valorization plans were carried out in numerous cities in the Lisbon metropolitan area. Some of these plans were eventually settled into the Polis Program, created in 2001 by the Ministry of Environment and Spatial Planning, and developed by the Parque Expo public enterprise with equivalent goals corresponding to the launch of integrated urban redevelopment operations, aimed at improving quality of life in twenty-two Portuguese cities. (Ba08; Mi00; Pe09) 

The ‘Lisbon Riverfront General Plan of Interventions’ has translated into a large scale and visibility all the strategic orientation implemented since 1998. The process of elaboration of this urban planning instrument was associated with the 1st Lisbon Architecture Triennial, held in 2007, a year prior to the launch of the Plan. This initiative, entitled ‘Urban Voids’, brought to debate the vulnerability of so-called ‘places on hold’ in the face of global economy real estate speculation, such as those labeled by Ignasi de Solà-Morales as ‘terrains vagues’ (Mo95).

The ‘Grand Projects’ After Expo98′ project seeks to understand this commitment, which once again has been recently approached by Manuel Graça Dias (Pi15), regarding the revisiting of ‘Manhattan of Cacilhas’ – a speculative project authored by himself for the reconversion of Margueira Lisnave’s former shipyards, by stating that ‘the disorderly growth of Lisbon metropolitan area could be halted by the restructuring of areas surrounding the Tagus Estuary’.