Vila Nova de Gaia, Portugal
Vila Nova de Gaia City Hall


The territory defined between bridges Luís I and D. Maria, is, at present, an area peripheral to the city of Gaia. It has unique physical and morphological characteristics that didn’t change over the last years, alien to the urban growth of the city. Its steep hill and limited sun exposure, historically conditioned the integration of favorable alternatives, both to occupation and inner accessibility. The fact that the south end of the territory is occupied by a restricted military area, and the east and west ends are sectioned by two structural road axes of the metropolitan area, both caused and emphasized the abandon, if not the neglect, of this small fragment of the city. The abandon of the river traffic, the decay of some economic functions (ceramics manufacture and Port Wine trade), the increase of traffic, the building of illegal residential districts and the contingency of the territory's morphology determined, over a short period of time, the faith of the area between the two iron bridges, causing and aggravating the neglect of an area with a high physical, visual and architectonic value. The area is, however, a privileged site of the Oporto/Gaia urban area, specially in both the river-front and the hill (Serra do Pilar), with characteristics that require the use of specific intervention methodologies, considering the renovation and revitalization of the existent spatial structures. The theme - Cross-movement and Vicinity - has an increased importance when we analyze the conditions of a city such as Gaia. The pace of people and merchandise movement transformed, throughout the years, the concept of localization and centrality of human activities within urban an extra-urban areas. The infrastructures that followed the shift in ways of living, dwelling and working, sometimes determined, in few years, important changes in the built environment as a result of slow historical strata. The area of the intervention is a significant and exemplary illustration of the consequences of such factors: it was a central area before Luís I bridge was built, and became an increasingly neglected, physically and socially decaying area after the construction of the bridge. The challenge we faced up was critical reflection upon the existent city and its singular historic center, foreseeing the transformations caused by the future traffic infrastructures (a new bridge - Infante's bridge - and light metro). The perception of the territory leads us to believe that it would be interesting to create a large public area, with the attractiveness and dynamics intrinsic to a central area - which Gaia does not possess - benefiting of Douro’s panorama. Issues like accessibility and articulation of the different spaces, namely the traffic connections to Oporto and the pedestrian vertical articulation, were some of the problems we faced. Their importance in this proposition was a cause of concern and the structuring element of the proposition. GENERAL AIMS OF THE PROPOSITION The ambiguous character of the area, somewhere between what we can call "inside" and "outside", was understood as a transition area. Transition of the past to the future, from inside to outside, from static's to dynamics... from sleep to awareness. Considering the conditioning issues and the urban and infrastructure program, the aim to recover the central character of the area is achieved through: - Requalification of the present viability, redesigning the existing outline of the territory, proposing an elevator connecting to the lower level and new linking elements: a tunnel underwater, for vehicles, to eliminate traffic in the lower roadway of Luís I bridge, and a parking area in the hill's garden, with a square and a light metro station. - Recovery of boat accessibility, with three new piers: CDUP, Senhora do Além and Margina de Gaia. - Introduction of new functions in the existent derelict areas, advancing new dynamics in productive and leisure activities namely: a ceramics school/museum; students, researchers and artists facilities with ancillary buildings for offices and ateliers, hotel and restaurant; recovery of the existent buildings, expanding their areas in order to house more families; tourist center, cultural and commercial areas. - Redesign of public areas, with sloping courses, designed to improve vertical connection and recover interstitial abandoned areas for public fruition. Further to the partial architectonic solutions, the intervention is based on an idea that aims to establish a link between urban form, and natural and artificial realities. This concern is evident when we recover some spaces and, although following the urban planning program, develop some projects, designing forms and suggesting attitudes compatible with the central, historic and visual character of the area. The philosophy of the proposal aims at the preservation of forms which are part of the collective memory, the recovery of existent structures and the introduction of new functions that might establish new vital flows.