Lisbon: European Atlantic Capital

LISBON: EUROPEAN ATLANTIC CAPITALIntroductionThis Urban Design studio is sponsored by the Fundacao Luso-Americana (Luso-American Foundation) of Lisbon, and it has been kindly procured by Mr. Bernardo Vaz Pinto (GSD March II, 1995) and Mr. Levi Dacosta Virott (GSD March II, 2001), of the Lisbon Design Studio (LDS). The UPD Department and myself are very thankful to them all for their efforts and subsequent sponsorship.LisbonAt the beginning of the XXI Century the city of Lisbon finds itself in a unique position in the context of European capitals. Its Municipality (Camara Municipal de Lisboa, or CML) is faced with a severe demographic problem (loss of 14.9 % of its population between 1991 and 2001) while at the same time the city has become a highly desirable location for second homes, a touristic destination in its own right and an overall attractive, \”different\”, perhaps \”lesser known\” or \”under consumed\”, enjoyably \”tranquil\” place. This specific urban character may very well be Lisbon\’s advantage, thus worth maintaining.This may be due to the special politics of mid-twenty century Portugal (the Salazar dictatorship, between 1932 to 1968), with its resulting isolation from the rest of Europe, which led to a vacuum of development, to a certain enforced preservation of both, places and ways of life. Lisbon\’s historical areas were for years left adrift without coherent development strategies and currently stand at an important turning point of their existence: if the city is in fact to become the European Atlantic Capital envisioned by the Municipality in its \”Visao Estrategica 2012\” document (Strategic Vision for Lisbon in 2012), it will need the aid of planners and urban designers to re-think, re-imagine or re-invent its underdeveloped and amazing land assets, most notably its waterfront, the site of this studio.In addition, both the Municipality and the Lisbon Port Authority (the APL, locally) are interested in developing valuable sites on the Tagus River, East and West of the \”Praca do Comercio\”, the XVIII century magisterial center of town, built after the 1755 earthquake which destroyed the old town.Although there have been several proposals in the past, most of them have resulted in partial interventions at the architectural scale, throughout the vast waterfront without any attention to remedy infrastructural problems, to structure urban sequencing and pedestrian continuities or develop public spaces.Could we compare with (with all due respects to differences of all kinds) and think of Barcelona as it was in the 1980\’s?SiteThe center of the site is the Southern edge of the Baixa area (low area), the 1755 rebuilt indisputable town center. Today, with its grid of repetitive rational urban blocks and its acceptance of the river as a generating force, still holds as a unique example of an urbanity representing the coming to power of the mercantile economy as well as the consolidation of the Portuguese Empire. From this center, the site extends laterally to conform a long and narrow area about 7 km long, which resulted from various river front infill projects.As in many other coastal cities in Europe and elsewhere, with the changes in sea commerce, the new global economy and the lack of modernization of the existent infrastructure, Lisbon\’s waterfront has lots its past urban importance appearing now as a separate reality, disconnected from the city and impeding its relation to the water.ProgramDuring the research period prior to the site visit, and more importantly while we are in Lisbon, we may become aware of programmatic components, which could lead to the production of a vibrant local urbanity. In the meanwhile, the program includes, in any order:1: An international crui