Huge, toxic, defunct 50-year-old oil refinery to become a green waterfront community with a public park and university campus

On the coast of Matosinhos, Portugal, Galp Energia’s former oil refinery will soon turn into a green and innovative district with housing, a university campus, a large park, and various facilities.

Luísa Salgueiro, Mayor of Matosinhos says “The ambition is that Matosinhos can have the most environmentally and technologically advanced area of economic activity in the Euroregion, which will strengthen the relationship between academia and industry 4.0 and 5.0, continuing to contribute for the creation of wealth and even more for the attraction and retention of employment.

The part-Portuguese and part-international team comprising MVRDV, OODA LOLA, Thornton Tomasetti, A400 and LiveWork will develop the large-scale urban renewal project.

The starting points for the master plan are far-reaching greening, connection with the surroundings, and sustainability.

Part of the industrial heritage will be given a new purpose, thus creating a bridge between the past and the future.

The location of the area is beautiful, close to the ocean and Porto airport. I see the transformation of Matosinhos as a catalyst for a greener future,” says Winy Maas, founding partner of MVRDV.

We are striving for a city area that is not only eco-smart and attractive to live and study in, but also where greenery grows over and dunes cover sand, while the industrial remains. It enlarges the coastal beauty of Portugal with an extension of the dunes and the introduction of the Ocean’s Lagoon, in which the remnants of the past will be embedded. As a consortium, we want to build a bridge between the historical qualities and the green future. We want to make room for the future, but without erasing the past,” he added.

The Portuguese energy company, Galp Energia, has ambitions for a more sustainable future. Besides oil and gas, it is extracting more and more energy from sustainable sources.

It is now one of the largest Iberian producers of solar energy. The refinery in Matosinhos near Porto, established in 1970 and important for the local economy, was decommissioned mid-2021.

The intention now is to turn the site into an innovation district, making better use of its natural location, and preserving part of its industrial heritage.

Galp launched an international design competition for this large-scale transformation. The jury was advised by experts from Harvard University and the University of Porto.

The winning design team, consisting of MVRDV, OODA and LOLA, will collaborate with renowned engineering firms Thornton Tomasetti, A400 and program advisor LiveWork.

Around 25 urbanists, landscape architects and engineers from these six firms will develop the vision into a more detailed masterplan in the upcoming 12 months.

Inserting green infrastructure and restoring the relationship with the surrounding dune landscape are important principles of the master plan. Before construction can begin, the refinery needs to be dismantled and the soil remediated.

The Portuguese environmental agency APA expects this will take about four years. The new city will be developed in phases in close cooperation with the municipality of Matosinhos, the Commission for Coordination and Regional Development of the North (CCDR-N), and the University of Porto.

All images are by Walter Branco.

See MVRDV website.

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