Gaia Cablecar

Machines in the Landscape

In this project, we have two consistent interests: context and construction. Design a cable car, an unusual commission for architects and a difficult one, not only because of exacting technical requirements but also because of the challenge of placing any kind of building in such heritage landscape.

We were interested in the challenge of intervening in the impressive scenario of the new Serra do Pilar-Cais de Gaia axis, at the same time harmonizing it with the technological complexity of a cable car.

Basically, it was also a question of creating a new – axial, functional and visual – urban axis characterized by the introduction of a very strong movement in the landscape. This typology was proposed for the city of Vila Nova de Gaia with a ludic and functional approach, with the aim of energizing the site and the tourist offer, connecting the Port wine lodges and the riverfront (with its many restaurants and bars) to the metro and Serra do Pilar on the higher level.

Upper Station – Cable House

The Upper Station was initially planned in Morro garden with the same guidelines as for the Lower Station; however, halfway along the process it was relocated on its current slope, leading to a total reformulation of all the concepts established.

The new construction, now with a larger area, increased the visibility of the project and led to a constant play of scales. This was a new challenge: to house the new infrastructure with minimal impact on the landscape and to respond to the complex technical and structural requirements needed when building the cable house.

The Upper Station blends into the existing buttress wall, aiming to be neutral and abstract, with no language, almost timeless. The project seeks to reconcile the orthogonality of the houses with the obliqueness of the cable axis, juxtaposing the monumental character of the construction on the steep with the domestic scale of the adjacent houses. Access to the higher level is achieved by ramps and stairs that lead to the roof-belvedere, which consolidates and completes the existing buttressed wall. As with a “battlement walk” the idea was to capitalize on enjoyment of the location and the view over Porto.

Lower Station – Cable Tensioning

The location of the Lower Station building on the Douro riverfront gives priority to the public’s use of the space and improves accessibility. This was further aided by the raised part made up of the boarding platform/cable-car station.

The architectural concept lies in a simple, pragmatic structure inspired on the framework of a boat: a steel skeleton with metal slats is suspended over a central concrete structure (the keel), forming two consoles.

The two retractable suspension staircases shuts down the building when the service is closed with no need to resort to fencing, thus guaranteeing the security of the site.

The architectural form appears as the demarcation of the specific axiality of this type of equipment in which the immaterial axis – the movement along the cable trail – coincides with the physical and structural axis of the building that incorporates the Station’s posts. The structural axis supporting the buildings is also infrastructural, concentrating various support equipments for the cable car (ticket offices, information booth, toilets, kiosks), whilst the boarding platform is raised. This is truly a play in two acts. The rhythmic form provided by the slats gives the object a mutating appearance with soft optical effects of transparency and opacity depending on the viewpoint and according to the changes in light throughout the day, introducing rhythm, cadence, timings, all that is seen and all that is hidden.

Underlying the formal concept of the building is the search for greater urban integration of the site, priority being given to the concerns of the use of public space. Following research into other buildings designed by our studio, the new building reflects an ephemeral nature rather along the lines of the equipment occupying the riverfront in Vila Nova de Gaia, between a consolidated urban front and the river, which are always connected to the nautical language of the boats on its waters.


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