Architecture Master’s thesis, presented in 2010, tutored by architects Inês Lobo, Carrilho da Graça and Pedro Oliveira. Renders by Francisco Lopes d’Oliveira
Lisbon was founded on the border between the river (Tejo) and the sea (of Palha) as a commercial outpost for the Phoenicians. Throughout time, it blossomed and grew, gaining land over the sea. In the twentieth century, this tendency was inverted and the city developed more unto itself, thus becoming a more modern capital. Following the urban development of Alvalade and Olivais, Chelas appears as the city’s last great urban project.
In the last decade, the city became more and more deserted in favor of the suburbs, growing frenetically wild along axes of communication. City Hall’s political instability and the lack of a clear idea for the capital left Lisbon, like the rest of the country, prey to the interests of the real-estate business. Suburban areas suffer from extreme underdevelopment and lack identity, while urban areas scrape by solely on the weight of History.
Looking back at the city, we’re struck by the ongoing urban fabric flanked by too valleys: Alcântara and Chelas. Beyond these barriers, the city changes and forms into dispersed clusters: it seem as though the city ends there. The orient part of the city was the target of various urban plans over the last decades; From the projects in Olivais to Expo’98, the result was the creation of a number of disconnected areas of the city that were isolated from the centre.
Chelas is, first and foremost, considered a negative word among Lisboans: a place where uncontrolled industry, pollution, degradation, marginalization and criminality fester. It’s rapid transformation from agricultural fields to industrial blocks and, later, to a social dormitory contributed greatly to the valley’s bad reputation, which is embodied in the film Zona J. These are the city’s true shortfalls, the result of successive errors and big ideas gone wrong, of great urban planners who forgot that the real point of building a city is to provide qualified urban spaces for the people.
Despite its negative notoriety, Chelas is a place rich in history, urbanity and full of possibility: this is the chance to turn the city into the cosmopolitan metropolis, Lisbon once was.