Metro do Porto is a project of significant scale and complexity: 68 km of new track and 60 new stations were designed and constructed in 10 years. The scope of such an undertaking within a UNESCO site and the incredibly high standard of design are breathtaking.
Cities do not change of their own free will or by political decree, but with the emergence of systems that they need to survive. […] It will be thus in the 21st Century by which time the surface light rail system must be integrated into a planned system (enough of improvisation) creating a new urban landscape that cannot be postponed.
—Excerpt from A Arquitectura do Metro by Eduardo Souto do Moura
Juror and professor of landscape architecture Gary Hildebrand described the historic center of the city, "Like the phenomena we see in some American cities, there's a kind of hollowed out core. It's historic and it's beautiful, but until this metro project came about, not so vital. The jobs are not in the downtown, and over the last generation people had moved to the boarder reaches." According to Hildebrand, the introduction of the Metro system was "like reviving the circulation in a human. The center could thrive again."
Metro do Porto has been a strategically decisive project for shaping the intense demographic change and socio-economic restructuring occurring in the metropolitan area and provides a future template for cohesive and resilient regional change. While mobility plays an important role in achieving these outcomes, the decision to engage the exemplary urban design skills of Eduardo Souto de Moura (Pritzker Prize winner and former GSD visiting professor) underlines the ambitious holistic aims of the project.
Metro do Porto not only connects residents on the periphery with amenities and services in the historic city, it also forges a collective identity through its negotiation of the region's unique geography and the composition of individual stations in relation to that geography. New stations become opportunities to connect previously segregated neighborhoods within public space rehabilitated to the highest standard. Because of their spatial and material quality, the experience of the stations—as objects within a culturally rich urban landscape and as interior architectures imbued with civic virtues—is exceptional. Metro do Porto exhibits a generosity towards the public realm that is unusual for a contemporary infrastructure project.
Jurors discuss the Metro do Porto
A naturally artificial work
The process to produce the surface light rail network connecting the nine municipalities of Oporto Metropolitan Area began in 1991. At the time the municipalities of Oporto, Gaia, and Matosinhos commissioned a first study from Ensitrans. Between October 1992 and January 1993, a decree of the Portuguese Council of Ministers incorporated the public entreprise "Metro do Porto" to carry out the work. Finally, in 1995 an international rehabilitation tender was launched for the design, construction, supply, and maintenance of the surface light rail system, asking for technical solutions and cost estimates. Three of the four consortia involved in the tender brought in three Oporto architects: Metro Portucalense—Álvaro Siza; Metropor—Alcino Soutinho; and Normetro—Eduardo Souto de Moura. In 1997 Metropor and Normetro were invited to submit the preliminary study with a budget estimate. Normetro was awarded the tender, the agreement was signed in December 1998, and execution began in January 1999. The project comprises four lines: two urban lines on a West-East (Matosinhos–Maia) and North-South (São João–Vila Nova de Gaia) direction, that intersect at Trindade Station, and two suburban lines, Matosinhos–Póvoa and Matosinhos–Trofa. There are almost 70 kilometers of underground and surface track (recovering the existing rail network between Matosinhos and Oporto), equipped with over sixty stations, some of them underground.
It is difficult to picture the complexity of the metro construction process, which was conceptually developed on many levels, ranging from infrastructures to interior architecture and including, at both extremes, the scales of land use and detailed drawings. As a result of the cooperation of many people, including the architect, who at first sight appeared to have only a marginal role, this operation was achieved. The Normetro consortium, responsible for the operation, is an association of companies with people who have different skills: either general, such as designing and executing the construction work (coordinated by another join venture called Transmetro), or specific, such as relating to track layout and the technical layout of the underground stations. On this occasion, Eduardo Souto de Moura worked "embedded" in the Transmetro technical team, constantly in touch with the engineering company responsible for the underground station concepts concerning modalities and systems of access, security, ventilation, arrangement of spaces, etc. "In this case, there is no point still in discussing that old project/construction versus construction/design dichotomy," said Souto de Moura about this work. He added that above all he found himself working in a very retricted situation: something that is unusual for most architects, when "materials and techniques today allow us maximum leeway of rules," but which was fine with him, a "system" in which the idiom is very close to the constructive solution and where "imagination" is above all geared to solving difficulties.
As regards Souto de Moura's design intervention, it is important to underline the fact that only one designer was foreseen for Porto, different from what happened on the lines of the Lisbon Metro, for instance, where each station was allocated from the start to a different architect. Even so, having been awarded the tender, Souto de Moura also saw his role as coordinator, and so to develop the projects for the stations and the arrangements of the surface layout he involved other Oporto architects: Rogerio Cavaca (Gaia Line), Fernando Távory and Jose Bernardo Távory (Matosinhos Line), Alcino Soutinho (Matosinhos Center), Humberto Vieira (renovating the train stations on the Póvoa a Trofa Lines), Álvaro Siza (São Bento Station, Oporto), João Alvaro Rocha (Maia Line except for the center which was designed by Souto de Moura), Bernardo Ferrao (renovating old train stations on the Trofa Line), Adalberto Dias (São João Hospital Area). When Humberto Vieira and Bernardo Ferrao died, Jose Gigante was invited to join the project of the stations on the Póvoa and Trofa Line. Some of these architects were also involved in projects for urban arrangements in areas through which the metro passed which, according to Souto de Moura, coincided crucially with the aim of harmonizing the different tasks and specifically all works related to the initiatives of Oporto European Culture Capital 2001. During the first discussion and confrontation phases with the Town Council, the Metro project appeared as the opportunity to transform and rehabilitate the areas covered by the stations, by designing new pedestrian routes, pavements, lightning, street furniture, etc. Accordingly, all interventions came under an autonomous project, which was nevertheless integrated in a system of rules studied and controlled by Souto de Moura. The system guaranteed an overall uniform image (while maintaining cost control and high quality standards).
This framework of rules was valid for the different types of stations, the surface ones divided into "urban" and "suburban" and the underground stations characterized by greater complexity due to the construction method chosen.
The many sketches, study models, and drawings produced by Souto de Moura and his coworkers on this project help us understand the meaning of many of the statements that appear in the interview, for instance, when the architect defines the Metro stations as "negative" projects, without façades, bodies "on plan and section,” or when he mentions studying a "rule" for the Metro stations. The pictures of the stations, showing the materials used, such as "Spi Alphão" granite for paving, roughcast tiles for the walls, the cartonado plaster of the finishings and false ceilings, the steel and glass for the lifts, doors, and other features, etc., reveal an extremeley high standard of quality for a public work of this type. We believe that allowing Souto de Moura to develop this project shows great vision for the future. In this regard, the intervention of the Porto Metro constitutes an exemplary urban project that shows how, once one has clearly assumed the complex problems, one can reach a "natural" resolution (as required by all representations).
The Metro and the City
by Eduardo Souto de Moura
The surface light rail system glides smoothly over ground on two steel rails, making hardly any sound.
The laying of the track is dictated by a closed circuit elevation value system complying with strict rules that have no subjective considerations. The steel rails must be full embedded in the street pavement so that, in the event of an emergency fire, service vehicles can pass from one side of the track to the other. The material used ranges from granite cubes to bituminous pavements or grass covering.
For acoustic reasons the rails are laid on a floating slab using steel components cushioned with rubber dampers.
The installation of the system meant that whole streets had to be destroyed and, as a result, their infrastructures also.
New sewage, rainwater, gas, electricity, telephone, cable TV, optic fibre cables and even oil pipe pipeline distribution networks have to coexist with the Metro light rail system being built—which is achieved with multi-transport pipelines with access points every 20 metres.
But the problem of the surface metro does not exist only on the surface.
There is also the sky to consider—the catenary and the lighting systems. These can be suspended from a central post or from two lateral posts.
When the street are too narrow the catenaries and lighting are suspended from cables that are stretched from one building front to the other. The problem is that such facades are either made of "NUAGE" glass or have a 7 cm-thick brick outer wall.
We work from the track outwards to the sides of the roads (the Metro track is always inflexible). Any space left over on the street is given over to other vehicles and parking where possible, and pedestrian pavement until the stoops are reached.
When difficulties arise we speak to Transmetro or to Normetro, which then speak to the Metro, the town council, the parish council, the residents, and the tradesmen.
After being approved, we being to see streets that intersect and widen into squares, plazas, roundabouts, superfluous recesses, small courts, tree-lined plazas, parking on roadsides, and even boulevards—Avenida da Republica: Gaia I Matosinhos.
Although this is not our vocation the Metro system builds places, nooks, joins cities, designs metropolises—Gaia, Porta, Matosinhos, Maia, Trofa, Vila do Conde, P6voa de Varzim and Gondomar.
Cities do not change of their own free will or by political decree but with the emergence of systems that they need to survive and develop.
lt was thus with the Romans when at the crossroads of two routes they designed the Cardus and the Decomanus with the Forum in the centre. lt was thus in the Middle Ages when the Forum was replaced by Cathedral Square, built with the stones of the demolished temple.
lt was thus in Baroque times with radiocentric axes connecting that Cathedral (now filled with gilt wood carvings) to the city gates.
lt was thus in neo-classical times when the gates were demolished or redesigned and the spaces where the roads ended became squares flanked by convents. lt was thus in the 19th century with the railroad, when some convents became stations (Sao Bento).
lt was thus in the 20th century with the surface light rail system (Matosinhos I Trindade).
lt will be thus in the 21st century by which time the surface light rail system must be integrated into a planned system (enough of improvisations).
Creating a new urban landscape that cannot be postponed.