segunda-feira, 14 de maio de 2018

The shadows of the Gaia "Entreposto"

    Before we start this journey through the recent major urban changes that invade the Gaia historical center, specifically the urban set that constitutes the Gaia Entreposto (*), it is worth remembering the words of the Vila Nova de Gaia city council responsible, at the 1st international conference "Cities of River and Wine" (promoted by Gaiurb, E.M. in partnership with the Gaia city council), in March 2015: " its river mouth, in our common river mouth to Porto, the river Douro is the mirror of a rich heritage, that we must know how to preserve for all Humanity... it is evident that our collective responsability for the preservation of this heritage is enormous...", and continued "...the strict defense of this unique heritage is a challenge that demands permanent attention, study and reflection.".

    Much as changed since that year. On hearing these words, perhaps we could rely on a firm and uncompromising commitment to the protection and respect for this historical area. An error. In fact, this rhetorical exercise, over the years, proved to be empty and meaningless, totally divergent and surpassed by the reality and the "dynamic" of the facts.

    First of all, let's take a look at Gaia's historic center, one of the most beautiful urban landscapes linked to wine, the hillside historic landscape that someone has already called the world's largest wine cellar, its historical heritage and memory are the buildings and the structures of the warehouses dedicated to the storage, commerce and shipping of Port wine since the 17th century, but especially from the 18th century onwards, located on the left bank slope of the river, which descends to the Douro. This centuries old heritage is the historical reference, the character and the identity of this whole place, which translates a direct connection with the past and is unique and does not exist anywhere else in the world, which has stood the test of time but does not resist man.

    Today we are witnessing an accelerated series of monstrous architectyral attacks and cruelties on the Gaia's historical Port wine warehouses, with the "dynamics" and "increments", supposedly grandiose accomplishments, in a furious wave of new and modern brutal irreparable and irreversible defiguration of these values of the past. It is worth remembering the words of Carlos de Passos, in the "New Porto Monography" (in 1938), which apply perfectly to this case: "... I do not think there is any land in the country where the architectural values of the past have been so insane and rapidly demolished." "It was only the foolish modernizing endeavor that competes, par le bon motif, for such great destruction now enlarged, also for equal cause by the restorer, by the grotesque repositions...".

Shadow 1: rua do Choupelo, next to the hotel "The Yeatman".

    The Gaia historical center is the place where at present everything is possible.

    Under construction is a kind of a modern wine theme park called "World of Wine" or "WoW" (which, very appropriately, the architect Mariana Abrunhosa Pereira called a wine "Disneyland"), responsability of the Fladgate Partnership (holder of the Port wine brands Taylor's, Fonseca Guimaraens, Croft and Wiese & Krohn, and also in the growing tourism sector, in which they are engaged, the owner of the "Yeatman" Hotel in Gaia), on the slope of the hotel "The Yeatman" (which in another case of a recent and debatable construction in this landscape), and the object of a very fast license from the local authority (I read somewhere that the construction began - the laying of the first stone - without the necesary license). I also have nothing to oppose to a wine theme park, to atract and fascinate tourists, but certainly elsewhere, because, in fact, it is a project that, as someone else already written, can be built anywhere else, but not here, because here is a decisive contribution to the historical warehouse disappearance and to the decharacterization of this site.

WoW (1)
WoW (2)

    It is a gigantic project that imposes itself and stands out in the landscape and does not respect the place that will be hopelessly disfigured, 
referred to by the Fladgate Partnership Director General, Adrian Bridge, in these terms: "Who does not like the project (the WoW), does not like what's there now either...". Without comments, is impressive the arrogance and the lightness of this attitude, forgetting that one of the reasons for its existence, disappears with this project, in the name of tourism developments, the impressive numbers, 100 million invested, 30 thousand hectares, 12 restaurants, 5 museums, in an admirable world certainly with a lot of interactivity, many undifferentiated stores, for whom the heritage of centuries is an obstacle, or at least it has been so far.

Rua do Choupelo, the old Croft warehouses, with the inner structures destroyed, at this stage only some of the walls remain.

    From Adrian Bridge's speech, the strategy followed by the Fladgate Partnership is clear with the acquisition of other Port wine houses, not only to widen the Port wine brands portfolio and increase the specialized Port wine categories stock, but also to gain and increase the space that it holds in this special area of Gaia, not to keep the warehouses alive, but for this type of enterprise, presenting the very convenient argument that it is the only way to keep them alive. There are other examples that prove that it is not true.

Shadow 2: rua Serpa Pinto, n.º 149, the old Wiese & Krohn warehouses.

    Now, let's take a look at the recent Wiese & Krohn case, acquired by the Fladgate Partnership in June 2013. W&K was a family owned Port wine house, founded in 1865 by two norwegian businessmen, with a high reputation for its aged in cask Port wines, mainly the "colheita" tawny style and for its precious stocks. It was located in rua de Serpa Pinto, n.º 149 (see photos), with the main door topped with the characteristic house designation "art deco" letters, in the Gaia historic center, where was located its distinctive warehouse where the wine aged since the 19th century, unlike any other and where one could read at the main entrance: "...cheers to the traditional atmosphere of a historic wine cellar.". 

    Soon after the acquidition, the warehouses were emptied and the wine stocks, casks and "balseiros" were removed. As had already happened with the "Fonseca" cellars, on the Gaia castle slope, known today as the "for sale" cellars. Since the Fladgate Partnership has not chosen to maintain and value this space, which as always been linked to Port wine ageing and trade, these cellars are closed and the building is for sale and also at the mercy of any other "dynamic momentum of intelligent development".

The Wiese & Krohn extict warehouse

    We proceed with yet another shocking and unbelievable example of the accelarated process of decharacterization and impoverishment of Gaia's historic center, the opening of a "cash & carry" supermarket, just in Avenida de Diogo Leite, in the building of the Real Companhia Velha 3 century old Port wine warehouses, right next to also historical Ferreira wines cellars. The building was adapted, or to be strict and more appropriatly, hopelessly destroyed inside, and now with unrecognizable exterior and interior areas, transformed into a supermarket, with the omnipresent tourist stores in the back. Of course, all this happens with Gaia city council approval, that reveals its distorted understanding of the planning for the "commitment to the strict protection of the heritage...", but with "intelligent interventions" it is understood, without obstacles and impediments to the business development impact, without any conditions that may limit wathsoever, so is the Gaia "modern" historic center.

Shadow 3: the present Real Companhia Velha building, a supermarket

    In turn, the "Douro Azul" head responsible, with rare and fine sensitivity to deal with all matters related to historic heritage informed... and disregarded those who heard him, that finally and after so many years, Real Companhia Velha woul again occupy this place... it shoul be remembered that it is just another wine shop for tourists in a completly modernized building.

The back perspective of the disappeared Real Companhia Velha warehouses

   It is strange, difficult to perceive and little rational, that companies that depend on tourism, as is the case of Fladgate Partnership and Douro Azul, among others, and that in turn tourism is attracted by what only exists here, which is the Port wine trade historical heritage that represents the first point of interest in those who visit us, is consciously destroyed and uncharacterized and repalced by modern projects and buildings of indistict architecture, like so many others in any part of the world. Finally, when there is too little left, an interactive museum will surely offer the unique "experience" of showing what was and is no longer, a virtual tour to the old cellars: to explain the evolutions of the buildind techniques, with special attention to the interiors, the arches, the wooden frames on the roofs, why certain materials were used in the interior construction and not others, ramps, pavements, how the wine casks were moved, the ventilation conditions, the luminosity and the temperature throughout the seasons, and even will be possible to perfectly simulate the distinctive aroma felt inside the wine cellars...
Shadow 4: the modern interior of the old Mercado da Beira Rio

    The Gaia municipal market or the Beira Rio market, also on the Avenida de Diogo Leite, is now anothet place converted into a series of gourmet counters , which in no way differs from the interior of any shopping center, a rapid renovation project (as they almost all are nowadays) that in its interior followed the same stereotyped model with the usual cheap material use, for an undemanding tourism.

    Here, no trace of any "growing importance that is being attributed to the heritage issues", much less "the greater public opinion attention to the enhancement of identity and memory", only an underlined uncritical novelty reproduction. Apart very rare exceptions, considering the seriousness of these matters, between general newspapers and magazines and those dedicated to the wine world, critics, journalists and personalilities responsible in various sectors, there is a commited strange silence, an inability to indignation, or at least an opinion.

    For the time being, all the photos taken now (cut by the touristic cable car) will be historical in a very short time.

On rua Serpa Pinto, Vila Nova de Gaia


 (1) The Gaia Entreposto: was created in 1926, it was an exclusive area, which functioned as an extension of the Douro demarcated region, for the Port wine storage and ageing, where the warehouses of the companies that dedicated to the trade of this generous wine were located. All Port wine had to be exported through the Entreposto. This exclusive area ended in 1986, when it was allowed the direct export of bottled Port wine to the Douro based producers.


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3 comentários :

  1. Be careful what you wish for.

    The comments included in this blog post are interesting and make the assumption that the ‘old historic center’ was so worthy that it should have been preserved exactly as it was. This presumably includes the electricity pylons, the stainless steel tanks, the fibro cement roofs and all the ruins.

    The reality that is missed by the author is that the Port industry is changing. The consolidation that has happened in necessary for the survival of the industry. I presume that the author shops in supermarkets and wants to pay low prices for their products. This is a reality all over the world and this relentless cutting of product costs backs up to reduced margins for suppliers, which in turn has driven the consolidation.

    The idea that the Port companies are rich enough to maintain their real estate assets as historic monuments is fantasy. Port companies are private business, not State companies, so they need to make profits.

    The central attack on the World of Wine is that it is a ‘‘Disneyland’ of wine’ fails to understand what will be created on the site. The overall architecture will be preserved and the only visible difference, when it is built, will be a city square. The concrete tanks will go, the fibro cement roofs will be replaced by tiles, the cement roofs will become wooden structure once again. This is the result of over 4 years of careful review by planning authorities – a process that could never be described as ‘accelerated’.

    The author also appears to ignore that the hillside of Gaia has been in dynamic development for centuries and that only the relative crisis on the last 20 years in the Port industry produced a pause in that change. Now tourism is allowing new investment and recovery of the old buildings. This is also made possible by removing all of the bottling activities from the area which, in turn, has removed all the TIR lorries making daily deliveries of dry goods and transporting of bottled products to world markets. Indeed, the decision to force all Port to be bottled in the entrepost from 1996 onwards contributed greatly to the congestion.
    What the author has also not researched is ownership. By making a lazy connection that the purchased by The Fladgate Partnership of Wiese & Krohn has led to Fladgate selling off the lodges. A basic investigation would have shown that the lodges he questions were always owned by other people and merely rented by Wiese & Krohn. That rental contract what broken by the purchase of the company. Rightly we have preserved the logo of the company for use elsewhere.

    The photos offered are of construction sites which are necessarily messy things. Once the construction is complete a vibrant center will be produced. I live in the heart of the Gaia historic area and have done so for 25 years. Only now are we beginning to get the basic level of services that would be considered normal in a city – mains gas, links to sewers, cable connections etc.

    Finally, the tourists appear to like it. Having started in 2008 to promote the destination of Porto it is satisfying to see so many people coming to our town. This has spurred employment and investment; it has created locations that are restored and can once again be the pride of a city that was slipping away to ruins.

    Adrian Bridge
    The Fladgate Partnership

  2. Dear Adrian Bridge,
    First of all, thank you for your comments and informations.
    Obviously, we have opposing perspectives on this subject.

    As a starting point, it’s clear, it must be public entities to ensure the preservation and conservation of these special areas, which represent a higher interest, a common heritage and therefore a collective good. The many negative examples, especially the recent projects in the Gaia historical center, which are the responsibility of several private companies, driven by their own economic interests, lead us inexorably to this conclusion.

    This, however, should not exclude the private entities (i)responsibility.

    Yet, the extraordinary, inexplicable and unacceptable situation of the principal public entity responsible for this area is totally absent from its function and even at the expense of this heritage safeguard. The approval of the WoW project relied exclusively on the responsibility of the Municipal Council of Gaia, who was also directly responsible for the cancellation of the special protection zone, where this project is integrated. Certainly a very convenient coincidence.

    The author of this blog wants to assure you that he does not ignore the transformations, changes and urban dynamics that occur over different time phases, over the years and centuries, many of them dictated directly by the evolution of the Port wine trade. As is easily understood, the evolution of an historical landscape over many years is an entirely different situation that does not fit and cannot be an argument for the very recent accelerated wave of changes which occur in a very short space of time , in the long history of this place, that have never been so sudden and radical, without conservation concerns, so intense and so impressive and that have led to the disappearance, demolition and decharacterization of buildings connected to Port wine and consequently the loss of identity.

    Also does not ignore that the greatest threat today is not abandonment, ruin and decay, but the active warehouses destruction by the action of man.

    We are facing examples in which space is exploited only for a playful and exhaustive economic purpose, and without conservation concerns.
    The enthusiasm for this vibrant project is also contradicted by the opinions of experts (those not committed to the WoW project), from the various technical reports of the ICOMOS (the UNESCO consulting entity) to the various heritage and urban regeneration specialists.

    The most recent ICOMOS report notes the various attacks on the authenticity and integrity of historical heritage sites where WoW is presented as a bad example of what has been done: "It is incomprehensible that these projects which jeopardize the universal value of the asset, its authenticity and integrity have been approved. ".

  3. (cont.)
    In this matter, the whole is also important, the "excessive and misaligned volume, the intrusive presence and in collision with the surrounding buildings, destroying the structure of the cellars", not the poor argument of the details mentioned, the wooden ceilings frames (traditional system?) nor the tiles that cover reality, to mimic or to remind very vaguely distorted and uncharacteristically to the ignorant, what was destroyed. Incidentally it seems that these details were mentioned, not out of genuine concern but to justify the rest of the project.

    In the case of Wiese & Krohn, we appreciate the clarification, that confirms the Fladgate Partnership interest only in the brand and Port wine stocks and the cellars abandonment as an indirect consequence. In any case, the Gaia wine cellars heritage became poorer.

    The solution presented as the only alternative is also counteracted by the examples of old Port wine cellars recoveries for new functions that respect the spirit of the place, in which the main objective was the maintenance of all the elements that guarantee the identity of the whole, with a careful rehabilitation, with respect for the existing, measures and scales, construction systems and typologies, where traditional materials and construction techniques were used, not only in the building exterior but also in the interior. Of some of these examples, we plan to give an account in future publications.

    Yours faithfully,
    Hugo Sousa Machado
    This blog’s author