NoVOID: Ruínas e terrenos vagos nas cidades portuguesas: explorando a vida obscura dos espaços urbanos abandonados e propostas de planeamento alternativo para a cidade perfurada

The experience of contemporary urbanity is inescapably marked by the presence of abandonment, ruination and emptiness. Ruins, abandoned buildings and vacant lands are ubiquitous presences in contemporary cities. In Portugal, the model of urban development in the past decades, driven by real estate speculation, led to discontinuous city growth, leaving many vacant lots. On the other hand, new forms of modern ruins have been added to the historic ruins becoming a part of the cityscape: abandoned manufacturing plants, closed cinemas, derelict barracks, dead malls, unfinished real estate projects, etc.
These elements are usually seen in a negative way. The ruined city is one of the strongest dystopias of late modernity, with great expression in visual culture (photography, sci-fi movies, comics, electronic games, etc.). Ruins and vacant lands are equated with emptiness, death and disorder. Urban planning has followed this hegemonic sensitivity that demonizes ruins and vacant lands: revitalization of historic centres, regeneration of old industrial areas and urban re-densification strategies in order to rehabilitate the compact city, all have become priorities for the urban policies in the past few decades; an intense desire for erasing ruins and occupying vacant lands is present in all of them. Since the focus has been put in reversing urban ruins and derelicts, little attention has been devoted to the analysis and understanding of the ruination processes and to the study of the morphology and abilities of those spaces, namely in Portugal. The Project NoVOID aims to fill this gap. Inspired by the Solà-Morales’ concept ofterrain vague, we intend to think of the qualities of the abandoned and ruined spaces in the city and to discuss positively their value and potentialities. The approach we propose understands the city as a socio-techno-natural system and sees the abandoned and ruined spaces as privileged sites of socio-natural hybridizations, where the technological and the biological, the human and the non-human, interpenetrate. The biophilic dimension of these spaces will therefore be duly considered.

The Project NoVOID is organized in three stages. Since it is not known with accuracy which relevance ruins and vacant lands have in cities (how many they are, where they are, how much area they occupy), determining their number, size and localization, typifying their various forms, and understanding their dynamics of production and evolution are the goals of Stage 1. In Stage 2 we identify the human and non-human actors who appropriate those spaces, the socio-cultural meanings of urban derelicts, and how they are materially and symbolically transformed through the various performativities that occur in them. The last Stage of the project aims to investigate, discuss and propose planning solutions. Our goal is to debate and test innovative urbanistic and architectural solutions driven by low-cost, flexibility, ephemerality and sustainability criteria.

To meet these purposes, a multi-method approach is adopted in NoVOID: it combines quantitative methods (statistical analysis of census data, remote sensing and vertical aerial photography interpretation, fauna and flora inventories, modern archeology methods), with archival work and ethnographical qualitative methods (observation and interviews). Fieldwork is very important. As such, NoVOID cannot cover the entire universe of Portuguese cities. A sample of four shrinking cities were chosen to be studied in detail by the NoVOID team: Barreiro, Guimarães, Lisbon and Vizela.

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Date: May 2016 – May 2019

Coordination: Cristina Cavaco (FAUL/CIAUD); Principal Investigator: Eduardo Brito-Henriques (IGOT/CEG)


FAUL/CIAUD: Cristina Cavaco; João Rafael Santos; José Aguiar; Pedro Rodrigues
IGOT/CEG: Eduardo Brito-Henriques; Carlos Neto; Daniel Paiva; Estêvão Portela-Pereira; Mário Vale; Paulo Morgado; Teresa Barata Salgueiro
ISA/CEABN: Ana Luísa Soares; Sónia Talhé Azambuja
U.Minho/Lab2PT: Ivo Pereira Oliveira; João Sarmento; Maria Manuel Oliveira; Marta Labastida
Consultants: Matthew Gandy (University College London)
Research assistants (Grant holders): Pablo Costa; Rui Pereira; David Cruz; Ana Baptista; Anita Bozek

Funding: Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (PTDC/ATP-EUR/1180/2014)

Partners: Centro de Estudos Geográficos/Instituto de Geografia e Ordenamento do Território (CEG/IGOT); Centro de Ecologia Aplicada Prof. Baeta Neves/Instituto Superior de Agronomia (CEABN/ISA); Laboratório de Paisagens, Património e Território/Escola de Arquitetura da Universidade do Minho (Lab2PT/U. Minho)