The recovery of harbour fronts in the Digital Age

Published by  5 September, 2018 8:00 am Leave your thoughts

A text signed by Flavio TEJADA, Europe Cities Task Force Leader and Associate Director at ARUP, also Director Master in Real Estate Development at IE School of Architecture and Design in Madrid and also, Rapporteur of the Quebec Conference from June 11th to 14th, 2018.

Harbour fronts have always been natural border areas. Spaces that lie between land and sea, between cities and ports, between local and global areas. This border identity has made them attractive for economic activity, as by nature, these areas are vibrant spaces for the exchange of goods, the transit of people, as well as the flow of capital and ideas.

The pioneers

The first major interventions to reconvert port fronts were based on the demands of the cities to move from port activities to locations outside the city. By doing so, the urban banks were recovered as purely urban spaces. The land freed from logistic activity made room for the creation of space or “PlaceMaking“. These first harbour fronts enabled the construction of unexplored city environments.

In 1992, during the Barcelona Olympics, the city became “attractive” under the guidance of Oriol Bohigas who took over the city over the harbour. New promenades were introduced, urban mobility was reconverted (with underground coastal port access highways) and new mixed tertiary activities based on leisure, hotels, commerce, the presence of institutions, etc were introduced.

Major international events such as world exhibitions, as in the case of Genoa were held. With the help of Renzo Piano, the area in contact with the sea was recovered, generating large urban facilities such as a large aquarium that turned the waterfront into an attraction for public life.

Subsequently, this model was replicated in future interventions and at various scales. Urban planning of waterfronts was becoming a global trend. In this way, models at multiple scales emerge, such as Viana do Castello, in which Portuguese architecture is showcased, thanks to Soto de Moura and Alvaro Siza, among others.

The real estate value of harbour land: a change of course

The global reference of the next level in this evolution is Puerto Madero, in Buenos Aires. Designed by the architect Cesar Pelli, it proposes a new model: an intervention that, in addition to including the ingredients of mixed port activities such as marinas, also includes an social infrastructure buildings such as the University, and tertiary uses (leisure, restaurants, commerce, offices), as well housing.

It is no longer a space that provides the city with land for tertiary and cultural activities, but rather a new district. This is a radical change of course. As a result of this new vision, the real estate value of harbour land has emerged, and the major players in the territory (public and private) see the possibility of “reconverting” degraded land into districts where the city is regenerated.

By not consuming peripheral land and recognising the value of urban spaces, the benefit is real. The recovery of the Bilbao Riverfront exemplifies how, from the point of view of port-industrial land. This space has become a model for many other cities. The area that for more than 100 years was home to polluting industrial activities and the old docks of the port, showed the vivid image of a great social, environmental and economic crisis in the Bilbao community in the 80s of the 20th century. An agreement between all the public players reversed this process of deterioration. The introduction of the Guggenheim Museum generates a factor that is common to all these interventions: this model brings a new approach, “PrideMaking“, capable of generating a phenomenon of collective pride.

The 21st century: a new framework for the relationship between the port and the city

As we enter the 21st century, the redevelopment of waterfronts and their contact with the cities that host them is being reinterpreted. The disruption of digital cities, together with the new knowledge society, presents new challenges in the reconversion of harbour fronts. The city demands spaces with their own, local identity. In this sense, there is a need to provide spaces where industrial, technological, cultural and social activities converge. Furthermore, spaces open to innovation, specifically designed for the exchange of knowledge between advanced sectors, are essential.

In Moscow, the old industrial and river areas became vibrant spaces for art, architecture, technology and digital manufacturing. It is promoted as a meeting place where traditional experiences and values, such as the port landscape, become part of the assets of these developments. Spaces of experimentation in which creative classes find a new setting. Cities such as Santander and Nantes are also in the process of achieving this. Transformations are taking place, in which new intelligent urban systems are integrated with avant-garde culture, forming the basis of a territorial transformation towards the knowledge economy.

The future port city recovers the essence of the 19th century: hybrid spaces in which it is possible to live, create, collaborate, enjoy and travel. “FutureProofing” spaces are created, where port and city coexist, look ahead and adapt to the digital future.


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