The Oslo experience

The Oslo experience

During the time spent in the Norwegian capital we were able to get in contact with the reality of this port city and to notice how it has been handling the transition process from a Port-city to a Fjord-City, as they themselves describe it.

Radhuset area with Aker Brygge and Tjuvholmen in the back

For the purpose of this research we got in contact with some of the stakeholders in the port-city relation and in the waterfront regeneration operation. More specifically we were able to meet with Mr. Stein Kolsto (SK), from the city urban planning department, who was in charge for the development of the Fjordcity plan. We also met with Landscape architect Ms. Anne trine Hoel and urban planner Mr. Vidar Aa. Fiskum from the Port Authority (PA), both of them work in the urban development department run by Ms. Kathrin Pedersen. The meetings gave us a balanced perspective over the struggles that have happened during the long process and complex negotiations that has implied the ongoing transformation in Oslo waterfront.

The stay in Oslo also allowed a photographic survey of the implied areas of the aforementioned process and the new port terminal in Sydhavna. The view behind the camera gave a new perspective and enhanced some details that we could have missed. Several moments have been captured where we can see the essence of the transition, the risks and the possibilities that lie ahead. This work shows the sensibility it has been developed towards the water and the transitional areas between port and city.

New Sydhavna terminal
New Sydhavna terminal

Following the same process like in Lisbon, we visited the cultural institutions that could contain information about the harbor, its history and the role that plays in city. The visited institutions were the Oslo Museum where the history of the city is explained, and the Maritime Museum where one can better understand the intense relation that this country holds with the sea.

The relation between the port and the city

Institutional level

When we spoke with the stakeholder they all agree that the relation between the port and the city in terms of the different planning agencies is relatively tense. They both comply that there is lack of understanding between them and that every change implies a very intense negotiation. The PA mentioned there is the misconception that the port has considerable financial resources due to the revenues of sold land in recent years. This common belief does not consider the large expenses that implies building the new terminal. On the other hand the urban planning agency regrets the lack of flexibility from the PA and absence of sensibility to some urban issues. This conflict is common in cases where different authorities with territorial management capabilities have to work together. It is always difficult to understand the problems of the other side, but is necessary to reach an agreement in order to proceed with the urban and port improvements.

The relation has evolved and went through different stages. It was explained by SK that between 1982 and 2008 were the most difficult years, since it was when the main negotiation regarding the Fjordcity plan and reorganization of the waterfront took place.

Bjørvika before the Fjordcity plan
Bjørvika before the Fjordcity plan Source:

In the particular context of Oslo we must understand what degree of independence and influence the PA has. As indicated by SK, until 1984 the PA was directly dependent from the central government, after this year they moved under the “municipal umbrella”, but with certain particularities. The PA is the owner of the land which occupies and the economic benefits from the port activities remain in the port economy, therefore the economic resources generated should be used for port development. Regarding its government, the port has a board where representatives from the different levels of power are present, including from the municipality. The issues there discussed would be later taken to the municipal parliament, although, as mentioned by SK, once the initiative is approved in the port board is usually approved by the parliament.

Emotional level

We could conclude that the inhabitants from Oslo do not feel the port as an important symbol for the urban identity. When in the year 2000 the parliament choose the Fjord-city strategy over the Port-city it was clear which element played a greater role in the citizens mindset. There are several explanation to this characteristic. The Norwegian people love the contact with the nature and the landscape, therefore is more or less logic that they would rather be related with natural concept like the Fjord, rather than with the human-made landscape that the port implies. Also, as pointed out by SK, during several decades the port community in Oslo was not so socially active as in other Norwegian cities, where they would voluntarily cooperate with the town in order to provide necessary facilities for the inhabitants. The PA also indicated that the people do not acknowledge the importance of the port in every-day life. The citizens ignore how the goods they consume get to the shops or their houses, so they do not see the meaning of the port or why the city needs one.

Legal frame aspects of the Fjordcity plan

In order to fully understand how the Fjordcity plan works we asked the interviewees about the contracts, with its conditions, and the companies that develop the process.

Daughter companies

The technicians from the PA explained us that the port had different strategies regarding the land selling and management process. This strategy depends of several factors: the dimensions of the area, how many landlords are there, the complexity of the zoning and the presence of port activities. For example in Bjørvika, they created a daughter company in order to manage the process and reduced the risk for the PA, in this case the company is name HAV Eiendom.  They operated in this mode because it was a large complex part of the waterfront, with several landlords and there would not be any more port activities.

In Tjuvholmen we could see a different scenario. The land to sell was not that large, with relatively simple zoning, the PA as single landowner, and there would be no port activities in the future. In this case they sold the land directly to the developer, who granted the construction of the new area according to the municipality concept.

In the areas of Filipstad and Vippetangen is not yet clear which strategy will be followed. The main concern here is the fact there will be port activities in the future. We will know better once the plans are defined and approved by municipal council.

Types of contract

In the Fjordcity plan the municipal authorities have two different roles pending of what type of contract is made. If a “development contract” is made with future developers the municipality will appear as urban planning authority and is allowed by law to negotiate certain demands to allow the rezoning. The infrastructures are fully done by the developers and later transferred to the municipality. These demands increase the price per square meter and are decided based on the built surface in order to ensure a reasonable investment in the public facilities for the new areas, as are roads, schools, green areas, etc. This type of contract is used in the larger developments like Bjørvika.

Other possible option is the “sales contract”. This sort of contract is used in the smaller development. In it the municipality appears as land owner. Since it is a stronger position it allows them to make more demands in the negotiations. The infrastructures are built by the landowner and also managed after they are concluded. In this point it is crucial the negotiation for granting public access to open areas. We could see this type of contract in the Tjuvholmen development.

Tjuvhomen urban development
Tjuvhomen urban development

Fjordcity –  the Havnepromenade

One of the most remarkable features of the Fjordcity project is the Havnepromenade. The idea of considering the waterfront as one single entity comes all the way back from the Aker Brygge architectural competition. This concept has been translated to reality through the creation of a promenade along the entire waterfront, giving a certain unity to the path that extends almost 10 km, crossing areas with very different identities, from marinas, to silos and cranes, to the new Opera. The change in the way how citizens can now enjoy the waterfront is significant. The fact that several of the roads that used to form a barrier between the water and the city are now longer there meant an change. Nowadays we can find new activities in the Oslo fjord, like for example, the new urban beach areas.

Urban beach in Bjørvika
Urban beach in Bjørvika

The path along the waterfront is identifiable thanks to the intervention by the architects MMW, that developed an urban design strategy, with signs, benches and a set of 14 “infopoints”. In these special points we can find information about the place we are visiting and what part of port used to be there, what activities and how it evolved. The “infopoints” was a project developed jointly by the municipal and road authorities, with a collaboration of the PA for the location and the texts explaining the history of the port. An interesting characteristic is the illustrations from the comic book “Krüger & Krogh” from the authors Bjarte Agdestein, Ronald Kabicek og Endre Skandfer, a story that takes place in the port of Oslo in the 1960s. In the illustration we can see the different areas of the port when the shipyards were still working.

Havnepromenade infopoints
Havnepromenade infopoints

Fjordcity yet to come


The area of Filipstad is placed in western part of the waterfront, where we can still find today some industries and warehouses. This is the largest area in the Fjordcity plan and one of the latest to be developed. For this part the intention is to continue the development of Tjuvholmen and Aker Brygge, therefore a mixed-use program with commerce, offices and housing for 5000 persons. It will also include important infrastructure like the new ferry terminal, replacing the existing one.

Although the concept seems clear this area still has no approved masterplan. There have been several points discussed for a long period, like the creation of tunnel for the highway, similar to the one in Bjørvika, that would allow a more fluid relation with the water, but implies an important investment and so far, as pointed out by the PA, is not clear who should be responsible for it. Another conflict point could be the railway areas north of the highway, which are included in the general masterplan as one part to be included in this development. The discussion between all the concerned authorities has been going on since mid-2005, and as indicated by SK, the final version of the Masterplan might have been achieved but it must be approved by the municipal council. Just this weekend were the municipal elections, with a change in the government, therefore we will have to wait until the new government has studied the plan proposal and is able to give the definitive approval.

Filipstad nowadays
Filipstad nowadays


This part of the city is right in the center of the waterfront, between Bjørvika and Aker Brygge, in a very special location, in front of the Akerhus fortress, around which the city was rebuild. Nowadays we find in this area some of the remaining port atmosphere the waterfront once had. There is one functioning silo that could remain as landmark for the future, the Cruise terminal, the port Authority headquarters, the fish market and the Ferry terminal. As said before this is a central part of the waterfront, therefore also of the Fjordcity plan. For this reason it should suffer several changes in the near future, although the planning strategies are still open.

The intention of the municipality is to develop another public attraction, probably a cultural facility like an aquarium. As pointed out this is a very particular area, since is one of the few port working places where we can still see some port activity. For this reason the port is particularly concern about what could happen here.

One of the main discussions is the cruise terminal, as it happens in many other cities. The municipal planning and the heritage authorities are not satisfied with the current location of this infrastructure and would like to have it placed somewhere else. The visual impact of large ships next to the Akerhus fortress is obvious although their presence is temporary. On the other hand it is a very convenient location for the cruise companies since is placed near the main tourist attraction and issue we should not forget the economic impact this industry has for the city. The considered alternative for the cruise terminal would be placing it in Filipstad. The PA explained that in 2010 a survey was made to help the discussion regarding the best place for this facility. So far the decision has not been made yet, and probably with a new municipal government it could take more time than expected.

The ferry terminals are another “hot topic” for this area, as it is for the entire waterfront. It has been decided that there will be two different terminals, following the intentions of the port of having two terminals for the two main destinations (Germany and Denmark). On the other hand is not so clear the financing of the new facilities. The PA insists on finding a self-financing solution, following the general concept of the Fjordcity plan. This solution would imply that the company responsible for the construction and operation of the terminal should have another parallel business related with the terminal, for example a hotel. The municipality, as it was told by the PA, believes that the port has enough resources for developing the terminal by themselves, without tying the project with another private investment that could limit the public use of the area. This is a complex issue since through these infrastructures a significant percentage of the port cargo arrives to Oslo, therefore is not just a matter of passenger but also a logistic planning issue.

When we visited Vippetangen we could see that the feeling is very different from other parts of the waterfront. This particular area is crucial for the waterfront since it brings a certain diversity to the plan and allows a different kind of activities, like fishing. The PA has insisted in keeping this area with the original identity to show the people the port milieu. In order to reach these goals they have improved the urban design with especial attention to details.

This complex place is one of the most interesting areas in the future of Fjordcity and its solution will require further negotiation and a special sensibility towards the existing Genius Loci. Recently, an architectural competition for this area was made. As far as we know there is still no outcome, but it reveals that there is an ongoing debate about it. There are key decisions to be made that will determine the future of the area, like the cruise terminal and the ferry terminal. For all these reasons is worth paying attention to what could happen since it could be another good example of waterfront intervention.

Image of the port

The port in Oslo, as said before, is not seen as a key identity element for the city. Over the past years the PA has been developing a public relation strategy that could help the people to relate with the port. Once a year the port hosts an open doors day when the people can go to the port and get to know better how it works. This is one of the main strategies pointed out in the “ESPO code of Practice on societal Integration of Ports”. Is an event that we see in many other ports and helps to trigger the curiosity of the local inhabitants on how a port in the XXIst century works.

In the city we have seen other elements that also help to explain the port. The aforementioned MMV project explains the history of the port in a friendly way, particularly for youngsters. In other level, in the Maritime Museum we also find a part of the exhibition dedicated to explain the port with several interactive tools.

Another event that we could witness during the time spent in Oslo was the city´s marathon. For this sport venue the port was also participant and allowed the race to cross a small container area placed south from Bjørvika, where in the future the Fjordcity plan will conclude and the boarder with the port Area will be placed.

Oslo Marathon between containers
Oslo Marathon between containers

The PA has developed different studies and guidelines worth mentioning. Particularly important are the ones related with the port industrial heritage and the aesthetic guidelines. Regarding the heritage issue the port did an important study of the existing old cranes and their characteristics. Unfortunately this study did not persuaded the PA to keep the cranes and use them as identity elements that could potentiate the image of the port among the citizens.

The new aesthetic guidelines for the port terminals is an important initiative to ensure a better coexistence between the port and the city. It is very relevant since it could help to improve how the port terminals are seen from the outside, but also for the working environment for the staff. These guidelines should develop a cooperation with professionals from different fields that until now were not the usual collaborators from the PA´s. For example there could be cooperation with artists, in order to improve the image by using certain color combinations or lighting schemes. During the meeting with the PA it was mentioned that there was the intention to recover the aesthetic quality of industrial buildings and areas, as we could see in infrastructures from the XIXth and early XXth centuries. In order to reach this goal they had started to collaborate more often with architects instead of leaving the responsibility to industrial engineers who could lack the aesthetic sensibility to make the wanted improvements.

Finally, the PA is collaborating with the daughter companies and municipalities to develop the buffer areas that will constitute a transition between urban and port areas. This is probably one of the last points to be developed from the Fjordcity plan, but is crucial in order to allow coexistence. For this issue they have been working with different alternatives, modifying the initial masterplan building densities and programs to deal with acoustic pollution issues that might come once the project is finished.

Personal opinion

The time spent in Oslo was very useful to get in contact with the Scandinavian reality. In southern countries we have very often an idealized vision from northern cities and as we have seen the port-city relation is always complex, independently from the context. What we could observe is that in the case of Oslo the authorities were able to go beyond the particular interests of each institution and, through an intense negotiation, they were able to find a win-win solution. The Fjordcity plan implies a complex urban transformation with several powerful stakeholders. The process allowed them to improve the urban quality, giving a waterfront for the city and at the same time improve the port facilities and make them more efficient. One of the most remarkable features of the whole process was that the port and the city were able to do it using a self-financing scheme without major public investment, except from the initial expenditure in the Bjørvika highway tunnel paid by the central authorities.

This case is a good example in terms of efficient application of the private investment to get a general benefit for the city. Although it is a slow process due to its complexity, and that for some politicians it should have been done already, we could see that it was possible to get very positive results.

When we see the whole process is obvious that since is fully market led there might be a risk of a real estate bubble. Also is very exposed to the evolution of the private investment flow, which is also connected to the national and international economy. This fact can be determinant if we consider that Norway is relatively exposed to the evolution of the oil prices. In case the oil prices diminishes it could lead to a decrease in the private investment, hence slowing down the waterfront regeneration process. It is important to notice that the plan has a certain flexibility since the port areas to regenerate also have working industries, with contracts that will end in the next years and/or with new short-term contract that could also be extended if necessary. This flexibility ensures a constant activity in the waterfront and prevents the creation of urban voids without value for the city or the port, that later could degrade, damaging the image of the city and the port.

Sørenga  urban development with the Barcode project in the back
Sørenga urban development with the Barcode project in the back

In the argument regarding the ferry terminals, we would think that for the city could be a major advantage to have one infrastructure since, as mention by SK in the interview, the impact in the traffic and the environment could be reduced and better managed in one single facility. We understand that in terms of maritime management it might be easier if we can divide the traffic in two terminals, especially if we already have the majority of the infrastructure built. Since the discussion was already settled, the city will have to find the better solution for coping with this issue.

The cruise ship industry is one of the main challenges for port cities worldwide. It is very difficult to manage the arrival of thousands of passengers to the city in a very short time and also the visual impact of the cruise ships. However, the economic gains that this industry brings to the city is important and the location of the terminal is crucial for the success as cruise destination. Also if Oslo is a maritime city the presence of ships is inevitable. The visual impact they produce is difficult to palliate, in best case scenario, an agreement regarding the ship berth calendar could be achieved as so an specific monument impact tax could be developed to make the industry itself responsible for the maintenance of the monument that they might be affecting.

In general terms, as we have seen, is a very positive intervention. We could find few aspects to criticize, but for example, the fact that from almost 50 cranes we only see 3 nowadays it could be interpreted as a missed opportunity for a better identification between the citizens and its port. The remaining cranes could have been kept as port industrial heritage elements in order to establish them as a memory of the port in the waterfront. This could later on be developed as a “port heritage enhancing plan” in order to provide the right context for these cultural elements, including specific landscape architecture and urban design interventions.

The three remaining cranes in Filipstad
The three remaining cranes in Filipstad

The social integration of the project could perhaps be also criticized, if we consider that one of the main triggering factors was a study where it was explained that the people with the worst living conditions lived in the center of Oslo. If we analyze this issue in detail one could say that the living conditions for these people, since the study was made in the 1980´s, have improved significantly. However the general feeling when walk around Oslo’s new waterfront is that is strongly gentrified. On the other hand, when we see the process as a whole, we understand that this is a “necessary evil”. Building in the waterfront in general terms is expensive when compared with solid ground. Besides this issue, we must not forget that the sold land and built neighborhoods carry in the price the investment made in the new port terminals and public facilities. When we look at the overall process we could say that the main social gain is the fact that now all the city´s inhabitants can access the waterfront and get a better contact and view with the Fjord.

We could learn many things from the Fjordcity plan and the Oslo experience, among them the constant negotiation process with positive outcomes, the ability to balance the public and private interests, the urban strategies from the port, or the fact that the stakeholders and architecture offices were able to give the waterfront a certain unity and coherence allowing at the same time a diversity that enriches the whole waterfront promenade experience.

Oslo is an important case for the investigation and a positive example for Lisbon. The participant stakeholders were able to answer to the challenges posed by the process and improve the port and the city. Oslo does not have the same intensity in the port-city relation, since most of the heavy port activities are outside the main urban core, but they have accomplished a positive transition process and are in the way for a balanced coexistence model.

Heading north: Oslo

Heading north: Oslo

The city of Oslo

Oslo is the capital of Norway, also the biggest urban agglomeration and the biggest port. Internationally is well known for its life quality and for being one of the most expensive cities in the world. Although is not one of the main international finance or commerce centers it plays a leading role in the Norwegian economy and for the regional development.

The city has a population of around 600 000 inhabitants and the metropolitan area of near one million. In the last decades is has experienced a constant population grow, becoming one of the most attractive cities for the emigrants, particularly since 2008 when the international finance crisis began.

Oslo Bjørvika
Oslo waterfront

Oslo was established around 1000 years ago, by the king Harald III. Three hundred years later was pronounced capital city, but shortly after would lose this status because of the union with Denmark, when the capital was Copenhagen.

In 1624 a great fire took place, destroying a reasonable part of the urban tissue that was mostly built out of wood. The King Christian IV would refound the city near the Akershus fortress to the west of the old medieval core. The new city was built following a rational organization of the streets, and an orthogonal urban structure that we still see today. After the city was rebuilt it changed its name to Christiania, to honor the king; later on it would evolve to Kristiania. Only in 1814 would recover its Capital city status, when the union with Denmark ended and it was under the influence of the Swedish kingdom. In 1925 the city would recover its original name, Oslo, as we know it today.

The port of Oslo

The port has been an important element of the city since it started to play an relevant role in international commerce, especially for wood and ship building, in the XVIIIth century. The Norwegian economy is deeply connected with the sea, in this country we find several shipping companies that together control 7% of the global fleet. Also in the cruise market is a world player, not just as destination, but also because one of the leading companies, Royal Caribbean, was created in Norway.

Nowadays the Oslo port now longer hosts major shipyards and the main activity is the container handling and passengers transportation. Last year the port handled 5,7 mill tons and 6 mill travellers.

Since the 1970´s we have assisted to an evolution in the port territory, from being spread along the waterfront to been centralized in the Sydhavna new Terminal, a change that was part of the Fjord City plan.

The port is expected to play a key role in the future development of the country and the region since the central government, in the same direction that the UE, has established the intention of potentiating the sea transport over the road, in order to reduce the environmental impact.

Oslo's new cargo port Sydhavna Source:
Oslo’s new cargo port Sydhavna

Waterfront Evolution

Aker Brygge

The first waterfront regeneration project in Oslo took place in the Aker Brygge, an old shipyard near the city hall. The area used to be known for the Aker Mekaniske Verksted AS, a private shipyard founded in mid XIXth Century and for decades was one of the main industrial complexes in Oslo´s waterfront.

The naval industry was very strong in Norway, particularly in Oslo. During the first half of the XXth Century the industry evolved from cargo ships to oil platforms during the 1960´s, at the same time that Norway began to exploit its oil resources. During the 1970´s the crisis caused by international competition hit the sector and the Aker Company decided to shut down the shipyards in Aker Brygge.

In 1982 the industries officially were closed and an international urban planning competition was held for the waterfront revitalization project. This competition, won by Niels Torp, included a vision for the entire waterfront but into more detail the area to be developed most immediately. The project was built during the following decade, and in the mid 1990´s the city had won a new access to the waterfront. The program of the plan was mixed use, since it included office space, shopping areas, housing units and a recreational marina. This new part of the city has been totally integrated in the urban daily life and last year was visited by 12 million persons.

Akker Brygge
Aker Brygge

Fjord City project

After the Aker Brygge project we can see a time gap in which Oslo´s waterfront remain unaltered until 2008 when the Fjord City plan was approved by the municipal council. This new waterfront master plan was based in some of the concepts seen in the Aker Brygge competition, particularly the idea of understanding the waterfront as whole, and acknowledging its importance for the city. As it happens in other waterfront regeneration projects, the Fjord City plan had a triggering element for its initial motivation. In this case it was a national survey regarding the living condition in Norway. This research concluded that the people with the worst conditions were right in the center of the capital, where the city was first founded. After this shocking discovery the central government granted funds for restarting the regeneration plans for Bjørvika in the east part of the waterfront. Eventually the City was forced to make a strategic decision regarding its waterfront. In the year 2000 the city council reached the decision that the better option for the future of the city was to choose for “Fjord city alternative”, in opposition to the “Port City option”. This game changing decision did not meant that the port would be fully expelled far outside the city, but concentrated gradually in the Sydhavna peninsula, in the outskirts of the urban core.

One of the key decision was the creation of a tunnel for the burial of the E18 highway, which would allow a direct contact with the waterfront in the area where one of the landmark buildings has been developed, the Oslo Opera.

The plan should be developed until 2030, and includes several city areas, two mill. Square meters, 9000 housing units and 45 000 workplaces. The project is divided into three main sections and different several subsections. Each area has specific characteristic regarding construction heights, density and materiality, but is clear the focus putted in new cultural landmarks, and mixed use. Besides the new Opera other major facilities have been built, like the Astrup Fearnly Museum of Modern Art, or will be in the near future, like the Munch Museum, the National Gallery and the Deichman Library.

Fjord City is so far moving at good speed, and until the moment we can see significant evolution in all sections. The port is already functioning in Sydhavna, the Bar Code project in Bjørvika is almost concluded, other parts in this area are also under development, Tjuvholmen, the continuation of Aker Brygge, is also done and already part of the city activities, and finally the Sørenga Pier is well under way in its transformation into a new living area.

In the future we shall see the development of the Filipstad area, one of the major developments, where we still find different working industries and warehouses. Also during the next decades the final stages of the Bjørvika area will be built, including the Munch Museum and several housing buildings. Between Bjørvika  and Aker Brygge, in Vippetangen we will see also several changes. Finally furthermore we will assist to the conclusion of the plan towards the south, in the direction of the new terminal, a very important part, since is where the new urban development will contact the industrial port.

The Fjord City project will be analyzed into greater detail in the next post. We will be able to meet with Mr. Stein Kølsto who was in charge of the Fjord city plan in  the municipal planning authority and Ms. Kathrin Pedersen, from the Oslo Port Authority, who is leading the department of urban development. In the next post we shall see how is the relation between the port and the city, and the negotiation process developed in order to meet this compromise that turned out to be beneficiary for both, the port and the city.

Fjordcity project Source:
Fjordcity project

The Lisbon experience

The Lisbon experience

The visit

During the stay in Lisbon we got to know better the relation between the port and city and what both have been doing in order to improve it. We were able to meet with the responsible for this relation in the APL (Lisbon Port Authority), Arch. Rui Alexandre, who has been working in the organization since the early 1990´s. In order to get a more impartial vision we tried to meet, without success, with somebody from the Municipality. Since the final stop of the trip is also Lisbon we will try once again then.

Lisbon Waterfront
Lisbon Waterfront

Another interesting point was  the visit to the accessible parts of the waterfront and the photographical survey of these spaces, mainly the ones that have an unclear future or could be conflict points. A selection of these pictures is available in this gallery.

Finally we also visited the museums that could contain information about the port and its role in the city throughout time. Hence two mandatory visits were the City Museum and the Navy Museum.

In order to have an initial idea of the state of the port-city relation we consulted several APL documents besides the ones already pointed out in the previous post. The main ones were the sustainability reports from the years 2007 and 2008. These are the most recent documents that could be found, in them there is also a reference to the port plan for 2025. These reports contain relevant information regarding the main concerns and several important figures, such as the percentage of free accessible area for the citizens and the general public perception of the port.

Lessons learned

The port and the cities

One of the most important aspects that we have learned during the visit was that although called the “port of Lisbon” the port territories actually limits 11 municipalities (Alcochete, Almada, Barreiro, Benavente, Lisboa, Loures, Moita, Montijo, Oeiras, Seixal e Vila Franca de Xira) distributed across both sides of the river. Such complex distribution makes every decision remarkably difficult when compared with cases where the port is placed or belongs to one single city. This complexity hindered the decision making process for the new container terminal. The port is a national asset and it is directly under national government control. However in this territory there are several authorities with decision making capacities regarding territorial planning. Besides the APL and the 11 municipalities, we also find the AML (Metropolitan Area of Lisbon) and the CCDR (Regional governments). Besides these different authorities we find also the environmental protection agency which is concerned about the possible consequences of large infrastructural developments.

In the sustainability report of 2008 it was mentioned that 76% of the Tagus estuary waterfront (the area where the APL has jurisdiction) was accessible to the citizens, this value is the average from the 11 mentioned cities. In Lisbon only 41% of the riverfront was accessible in 2007, but in 2008 there was another important area released for the city in the east part of town, between the “Parque das Nações” and the Sta Apolonia Container Terminal. This area was supposed to be the new Oriental riverfront park, a new green area for the city. Although the APL released the territory in this year, the design competition for the park was only held in 2015. A national Landscape architecture office won the competition, but in July it was cancelled due to several irregularities in the process.

The port and the waterfront of Lisbon

When we analyze the evolution of the port waterfront area we can see that there has been a clear change in the way it occupies the territory. From a more extensive territorial model that used a considerable part of the riverfront, to a port that works with several cores along the river, freeing up the area between them for the city. As it was mentioned in previous posts, in the early 1990s the POZOR plan brought the first change in the waterfront since the 1940s. After that, in order to host the EXPO, more territory in the east part of town was released.

Nowadays we see that the heavy port activities in the north side of the river are concentrated mainly between Sta. Apolonia and Poço do Bispo, and between Santos and Alcântara. We define as heavy activities the container terminals, the silos, mixed cargo, shipyards and the current cruise terminals, which allow a reduced access to the water. Along the Tagus river we can also find several marinas, but since they do not required a significant space and do not constitute visual barrier for the city these could be considered soft activities, without significant consequences for Lisbon.

Sta. Apolónia container terminal
Sta. Apolónia container terminal

The APL has the power to decide which are the areas that are going to be given to the city and to stablish the border line. It is also relevant to say that once one sector has been freed up it is relatively complicated to bring it back under port control. This could only happen if there was a central government decision and it involves a complex negotiation with the appropriate municipal authorities. For this reason the process of releasing waterfront areas is quite ponderous, since the port must be sure that in this territory there will be no more port activities and that it will not be needed for expansion or other uses. The dialogue with the municipality for the urban planning process is focused in the Masterplan level (PDM). For example for access to the port, and for joint applications for EU funds for the development of important infrastructure for both. For the nearer urban planning scale (Planos de Pormenor, Planos de Urbanização), once the port has released an area, the planning, management and maintenance is total responsibility of the municipality, the APL still remains with the jurisdiction of the water areas.

Regarding the areas that the port occupies we found out that there are some zones that have a mixed management between the APL and the municipality. More specifically three of them: the Docapesca in Algés/Pedroucos ,where the future “Marina do Tejo” should be built; the area in Santos, which the port has not released for the city yet because it must be decided if it would be necessary for future port activities -although it seems improvable-, and the future cruise terminal in Sta. Apolonia.

Docapesca in Algés
Docapesca in Algés

These joint managed areas have a common characteristic and it is the fact that for several years we have not assisted to any kind of changes, although some of them  might have pending projects. The area in Santos has several abandoned warehouses and urban voids that do not add any value to the city. This happens because they are not used for alternative activities as it happens to similar ones near Cais do Sodré, Sta Apolonia or Alcantara. In the Docapesca we have seen different events, like the Volvo Ocean Race, but when we visit it we encounter a fenced partly abandoned space with no porous relation between the river and the land.

As we have seen there are available spaces for urban projects in the riverfront but the stand-by status is clearly affecting the way the people see the port, since there is a more immediate mental connection of these areas with the port. Hence it creates a negative image and the perpetuation of the idea that the port is not allowing the access to the water.

The Cruise Terminal

In the previous paragraph we pointed out that the joint management areas are even more complex for the planning process, therefore creating delays in the implementation of the planned projects, this also happens in the new cruise terminal project. In this particular case the process is even more complex since it implies a concession to a conglomerate of 5 companies, that will be responsible for the construction of the building. As pointed by Arch. Rui Alexandre, the construction of the terminal should start in short time, and the conclusion of the works is expected for the end of 2016. The main reason for the delay was the negotiation for the concession of the terminal operation that was very complex. The APL had the commitment to guarantee a quality service not just for the customers but also for the citizens. We can observe that in one of the main features of the terminal, the elevated public space that will allow a new view point over Lisbon, the river and the port. He also explained that the APL already made an initial investment, around 30 mill. €, in order to fulfill its obligations as landlord port, to give the concessionaries the base infrastructure for the construction of the terminal.

Site for the future cruise terminal
Site for the future cruise terminal

Image of the port

The port of Lisbon still holds a slightly negative image among the citizens of the city. Although, as we have seen, there is a reasonable free area to get in contact with the water, the port is not seen as a friendly element in the waterfront. We have seen very few specific actions focused on improving this relation, despite what was explained in the consulted documents.

We expect to meet with the responsible for public relations of the APL during the next stop in Lisbon, but from the authors point of view it would perhaps make sense that the person in charge for the port-city relation could also have the duty of coordinating the physical and non-physical interaction. For this matter we have seen many initiatives, even in other Portuguese ports, that could be taken into action. As pointed out by several researchers the soft values are crucial for a healthy relation with the city, particularly in the ones with an active industrial port in the urban tissue.

Also it could be said that there is a certain lack of self-criticism, especially regarding the negative externalities produced port territories that affect the life quality in nearby areas. The relation with the city should not only be managed by  releasing waterfront areas for the citizens to use, but also by acting in the social image of the port, otherwise there will be a constant pressure over the port authorities to free more waterfront territories.

New Barreiro Terminal

One of the main issues for the future of the port and the cities in the region is the new container terminal. When we asked Arch. Rui Alexandre whether this expansion project meant new free areas in the waterfront of Lisbon the answer was very clear, this new terminal is necessary for the expected growth of the port traffic in future decades, therefore the existing terminals in the north side of the river should remain under port control.

The new terminal indicates that the port will continue in the Tagus estuary, although it will not grow much more in Lisbon. The project has several advantages, as it was pointed out during the interview. It has the full support of all the concerned authorities, it will be built in an existing brownfield, therefore reducing the environmental impact of it, and the connections to the main railway network is easier than in the other considered alternative, Trafaria.

Good news from the port

From the port side there are two main news that could mean a significant improvement for the port-city relation. In the first place there is a project for the creation of a documentation center for the port that should be built in the Alcântara Maritime terminal. This building nowadays is undergoing a renovation program. The facility will gain much attention in the near future since it will be also the headquarters of the APL, making it the most representative place of the port.

The other relevant news is the approach for the new container terminal. As it was mentioned before, this new project is crucial for the future of the port and it will be used to implement a new way of planning this infrastructure. The APL is in contact with the Portuguese Architectural Association in order to prepare a competition for new urban concepts for the port and city areas. The main goal is to have a real multidisciplinary approach to the project, in order to improve not only the efficiency of this sort of facility, but also to plan in order to create a better image from the outside, from the neighbors and from the other side of the river.

The city and the port

During the visit we were able to realize that Lisbon might have a strong maritime identity, but it has not invested in its port identity. The visited museum did not present so much information about the port, its history or the present. This issue is very relevant since the efforts for the coexistence of both realities in the urban tissue must be done by both. We could understand that the city might be reticent to invest in the cultural diffusion of the image of the port since it is an independent organism pending only from the central government, but its role in the evolution of Lisbon is very clear. This problem might be solved by the new documentation center project, if its prepared to be accessible to the general public, not just for researchers.

Navy Museum: Very nice collection of ships, but very little information about the port
Navy Museum: Very nice collection of ships, but very little information about the port

In the last two decades we have seen an increasing interest of the city to reach the river. This interest has been translated in different waterfront regeneration projects that were relatively successful, from the EXPO to the most recent ones, the “Ribeira das Naus”. Besides these good examples there are others that did not really improved the relation with the river. We could observe that in other parts of the waterfronts there are areas controlled by the municipality that have not been transformed to the noble use of giving a quality public space by the river to its citizens. For example in the east part of town, in the limit of the Parque das Nações interventions, what we find nowadays is a car dealer and a mechanical workshop, with the cars parked directly by the riverside. There are other examples of deficient maintenance in waterfront public spaces controlled by the municipality, like the areas around Belém fluvial station, where we can see caravans parked, or nearby in the “parque das missas” where we can find damaged pavement. It is contradictory to insist in the importance of the waterfront for the city and then not taking proper care of it.

The fact that we find several public spaces like the mentioned before raises other relevant point for the waterfront masterplan: is it reasonable to leave the waterfront just for public space or is it better to allow the urban tissue to arrive near the river? We will try to discuss this important question and the vision of the city for the waterfront it in the next visit to the city.

Public space between Alcantara and Belém, created with the POZOR plan. It is very used by the citizen,but should the complete waterfront be only public space?
Public space between Alcantara and Belém, created with the POZOR plan. It is very used by the citizen,but should the complete waterfront be only public space?


For what we were able to see the port-city relation in Lisbon has improved along time. One of the main improvements is the fact that nowadays there is a multiplicity of locations where one can reach the river. What for many years constituted a major issue for the citizens. In this aspect we have observed progresses from the city and the port. On one side, the port has released several areas, while the municipality has develop them into public spaces of high quality.

The main existing issue could be considered to be the public image of the port and the strategy to communicate with the citizens. The port has to make an effort to be recognized by the inhabitants as the important identity element that is. The city and the port should work together to improve the regeneration process, since the opportunities are greater than the threats. If the public sees that the process takes too long the disbelieve will be installed in the general mindset therefore insisting in a negative image of the port.

During the research trip we will visit several cities that have innovative strategies for the issues here presented. We will find which ones could be implemented in Lisbon, and how the new projects could bring the relation to the balanced coexistence model required.