Reflections on the great Arade project

Here is the challenge of a large project motivated by a holistic view of the Arade river

Theater performance at PORT park (Public Organized Recreation Territory), Chelsea, Massachusetts, on the banks of the Charles River – Project author and photo: Landing Studio

Sixteen years have passed since the first Granturismo seminar and we are once again gathered around the Arade basin, now as Grémio, to continue a discussion that interests us all: the Arade.

Today, in addition to the health crisis and the possibility of a new financial crisis, the green pact of the European Union (EU) is being discussed and the possibility of bringing together professionals and artists around a new spirit of renewal, which President Ursula von der Leyen dubbed it “New Bauhaus”.

At a crucial moment for the Algarve, and in anticipation of a new strategic investment in vital intervention areas for the future, Grémio created a work team, led by three architects, Ivone Gonçalves, Marisa Baptista and Ricardo Camacho, who count with the support of a wider group of professionals from the Algarve, to present a “concrete and viable proposal” for the future of the Arade River.

An action plan focused on combating the impoverishment of life in the cities, towns and villages of the region and on the efficient use of existing resources. This challenge generated the group's first public communication:

We start by thanking students, teachers and colleagues, from the Algarve, but also from different parts of the country and abroad, who were involved in the preparation of symposia, lectures and workshops held in different points of the Arade river basin since 2005.

We are also grateful for the efforts of local authorities and groups of citizens, who, in recent months, have placed the Arade River back on the agenda of municipalities and the region.

The Arade river comprises, along its length, from the Malhão mountain range to the Portimão bar, the diversity that characterizes the Algarve from the mountain to the sea, as well as all the themes central to its development, such as the management of water resources, the agricultural and forestry production, urbanization and tourism, and social mobility.

The importance of Arade as a fundamental resource of the Algarve's territory is expressed in the Government's Recovery and Resilience Pact (PRR), which gives priority to the Arade-Funcho reservoir system.

The recent contribution to public participation in the preparation of the PRR by the Algarve Intermunicipal Community calls for the creation of the “Cluster of the Sea of ​​the Algarve” Program based on a study by the University of Algarve that prioritizes, as a structure for the region, the cruise port of Portimão and the removal of sediment from the river to Silves.

Some of the citizens' movements, very active in social media, are opposed to these projects as they understand that their impact and motivations are contrary to the environmental agenda of the EU's green pact.

Marginal to this larger discussion, other themes have arisen, such as the rehabilitation of the old auction pavilion, in Portimão, and the decline of retail and restoration in the lower riverside, the urban development of Mata da Rocha, the redevelopment of Angrinha beach, in Ferragudo, the Palácio de Congressos do Arade, in Parchal, the electrification of the railroad and successive earthworks for new allotments in notable points on the left bank, from the Convent of Praxel to the Torre da Lapa.

The first initiative that this Grémio organized, at the time as Granturismo, came from the realization that Arade, which transported and staged all the developments of the modern world - industrialization, train, bridge construction, motor boats, tourism, sports tournaments, cinema and eventually trade - is today threatened by the phenomena that were once reasons for the success and development of riverside communities.

This was a first impression, without concrete facts, but at the time we collected some of the data compiled by Agência do Arade that proves it:

(a) the invasion of the automobile (20.000 cars a day at the peak) transformed the only pedestrian connection between banks in Foz do Arade, the “old bridge”, into a noisy and congested urban highway;

(b) tourist flows (80% of which from Europe), driven by low-cost air travel and the real estate sector, had an impact on the river banks that remains to be estimated and interrelated, and which caused irreversible changes. only in land ownership and use, but also in the expectations and agenda of larger and smaller decisions, such as the introduction of restaurants fast food on the margins;

(c) the impact of the digital revolution on cultural offer and the impact of large retail stores on the degradation of traditional commerce, which, in Portimão and downtown Silves, led to the closure of a large majority of stores.

However, our knowledge of these three phenomena today, as well as sixteen years ago, was not decisive in preventing the gradual decay of the banks of the Arade, as well as the original/natural charm that attracted the acclaimed millions of visitors for baths and sardines.

In recent years, a large number of attempts at a concrete response expose the initial diagnosis in a more obvious way: walkways and pedestrian walks or just meetings of residents, bike paths, free Wi-Fi, flea markets, producers' markets, the urban beautification of the “Ribeirinha”, the fountain of the train bridge, the three Parchal roundabouts and the warehouse trade, the desire to open new avenues, as the demolition of Bazar Miriamis suggests, to connect the Dyke to Jardim 1º de Dezembro, the return of the large motorized events and the sardine festival, the cruise ship terminal, the ambitious land-use restructuring projects launched by private funds, a growing number of stands that promote prestigious boat trips to Benagil, motorhomes and so on.

However, all these attempts and programming actually respond to an incomplete diagnosis. The effort of the last sixteen years to preserve the attractiveness river was not up to the challenges that were posed.

In a way, the intermittence and disparity of interventions did not reinforce territorial cohesion, on the contrary, it intensified its divisions, dividing it into sectors and creating borders instead of the fluidity of a river.

What is at stake is the refounding of new ways of life and the adaptation of a global agenda based on new values ​​and technologies, very different from those that have dominated the modernization of the last hundred years.

It is in this context that Arade and its margins today face the challenge of continuing a mission of leadership and a spirit of change, responding to the expectations of a century defined by the obligation to correct the excesses of the previous one.

A task that is enormously anticipated, but which is in keeping with the historical tradition of the Arade basin, as expressed throughout the last century: to precede, anticipate and lead the great changes in the way of life, in the cultural and leisure offer , and finally to revolutionize consumption patterns.

After a year in 2020 in which we discussed the Algarve's themes intensively, including the Arade, this Guild of architects has compiled a manifesto of intentions @info.m2020 which does not intend, for now, to offer a solution, but to present content that can do so. inform soon.

In 2020, we began a challenge to the participation and accountability of all the Algarve, which has been manifested in the agenda and contents disseminated by members on social networks and in the regional press.

With a larger agenda, which goes far beyond what we can do, it is at the heart of the Grémio initiative: a collaborative strategy in the approach to the Arade basin that escapes the conformism of legacy situations and that, together with associations and municipal authorities , can co-build an 'Arade' that everyone will be proud of and that arouse greater interest outside the region.

We all have our place in this endeavor and Grémio's is to inspire the decision.

The Arade basin is part of our common heritage and is a territorial landmark in the Algarve. A heritage of enormous relevance, in a time that is already believed to be one of change. Change, in the environmental and social agenda, but also political and economic, at a time that is understood to be the end of a cycle and the beginning of a new Europe, the green pact and the post-pandemic recovery plan.

The resilience, innovation, environmental awareness and social responsiveness announced by the PRR require new projects with the capacity to change, especially the regional scope of competences and decision-making power, which remains ambiguous and ambivalent.

The Algarve must assume greater territorial objectivity between the urban and natural landscape unit in order to strengthen its identity and competitiveness.


Author Grémio is a collective that organizes creative journeys in residency, as well as investigates the impact of building and demolition processes in the context of regional ecology.
With independent projects, residents look at the social and work dynamics of those who build, the supply chains and local production of materials and carbon emissions during and after construction.
With ongoing journeys in the Algarve, Grémio extended, earlier this year, the residency program to other regions of the country, with the curatorship of the architect Pedro Duarte Bento, focused on scattered buildings and forests.
The first, “journeys from the house”, will be presented in Leiria at the end of September and is the result of a partnership with the collective a9)))), by Célula & Membrana artistic and cultural association of Leiria, looking for answers to: Which house and typology? Where to build and how? What materials and construction techniques to use?