About the Event
The International Conference ‘Grand Projects - Urban Legacies of the late 20th Century’ aims to debate the transformations that have taken place in urban territories over the last two decades by considering the impacts of late 20th century policies and conjunctures.
The consolidation of European Union unity was monumentalized in the 1980s in several interventions that were carried out in the core of Paris. These interventions, which were based on the visions of then French President François Mitterrand, were part of a process that became known as ´Les Grands Travaux´ (Grand Projects). Driving these, was the anticipation of an optimistic feeling that would feature at the end of the millennium.
The case of Paris would become a reference for a post-modern period that was also marked by the end of the cold war after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991. This shift, which was described by Francis Fukuyama in his 1992 book titled “The End of History and The Last Man”, corresponded to the optimistic feeling that existed at the time about the social models of the world´s occidental democracies.
In the 1990s, the impacts of new technologies and the widespread use of the internet created a sense of globalization, which introduced new challenges to the world economy. The majority of local manufacturing industries in the EU became obsolete, as they were unable to compete on a big scale dominated by trade rules and controlled by multinational companies. The existence of a vast cheap work force ready to be hired in under developed countries, created the idea of a post-industrial era in the West. The tertiary sector of economy achieved greater importance through the general increase in purchasing power and the growth of tourism.
Many industrial areas became disactivated, creating a transitory urban scenario. These were considered by Ignasi Sola Morales as ´terrain vagues´, as these areas were waiting for change and new investments. This process was particularly visible in the proximity of harbour areas, which constituted the main opportunity territories of the late 20th Century. The change of sea routes, the evolution of logistic technologies, and competition coming from aerial and road mobility forced a process of renovation upon harbours and their activities so that they could maintain their competitiveness in the context of the new networks of people and the transportation of goods. These impacts were felt in the harbour cities of London, Barcelona, Genoa, Amsterdam, and Hamburg in Europe; Tokyo, Yokohama and Singapore in Asia; and in Buenos Aires in Latin America. In the majority of cases, the harbour areas located close to city centres reduced their activities, freeing up areas and old warehouses for real estate investments as well as idleness and cultural programs.
The speculation of vacant areas was also increased by international events, as a strategy to concentrate and canalize capital in new urban operations of change. In the short period of eight years four international events were organized - the 1992 Expo in Sevilla and the Olympic Games in Barcelona, the 1998 Expo in Lisbon, and the 2000 Expo in Hannover. Urban areas associated to each event were labs of architecture and urban design rehearsal, inspiring and seducing people’s imaginary for new century landscapes.
The role of architects was decisive in this period, which was defined by exploring new shapes and typologies and a renovated sense of monumentality, both of which contaminated the public sphere. Bilbao´s Guggenheim should be mentioned as a particular case, due to the huge impact that was generated by the Frank O. Gehry building in the context of the city´s renovation.
The terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001 in New York City, USA, can be seen as a first cooling off of this optimistic period. The collapse of the Word Trade Centre towers was a hard blow, as an architectural symbol of The United States of America was destroyed. The towers were designed by Minoru Yamasaki, the same architect who designed the Pruitt-Igoe neighborhood, which when demolished in the 1970s was qualified by Charles Jenks as marking the end of the modern movement. Another moment of inversion was the subprime crisis of 2008, and the market bubble that resulted from the devaluation of housing-related securities.
Almost twenty years has passed from the “golden era” of the 1990s. The West is now committed to new challenges such as the need to respond to climate change, refugee crises and to new democratic demands. Nevertheless, the model pursued at the end the previous millennium is still seen as being a viable alternative to boost the urban economy, as exemplified by Expo 2008 in Zaragoza Spain, the 2014 FIFA World Cup of Football in Brazil, the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Brazil, Expo 2015 in Milan, and the recent Expo 2020 that is currently in progress in Dubai. In this sense, the conference “Grand Projects”, intends to confront and analyze the impacts this late 20th Century legacy has had on urban territories and policies over the last two decades.
This conference is organized in the context of the research project “Grand Projects – Architectural and Urbanistic Operations after the 1998 Lisbon World Exposition” [PTDC/ARTDAQ/32561/2017], funded by the Foundation for Science and Technology. Since October 2018, the ongoing research developed at DINÂMIA’CET-Iscte, aims to identify, characterize, debate, and reflect the urban policies and architectural works produced in Portugal after EXPO’98.
DINÂMIA’CET – IUL, Centre for Socioeconomic and Territorial Studies is an ISCTE-IUL research unit which combines fundamental and applied research on economic, social and cultural topics. It carries out advanced international research systematically grounded on interdisciplinarity. With the aim of framing a new approach to sustainable development, our research seeks to contribute to the understanding of the contemporary world through the analysis of the contexts, the actors and the consequences of change, with a focus on institutional frameworks, and through extensive recourse to comparative approaches. Devoting special attention to the dynamics and changes of the Portuguese society, the researchers of DINÂMIA’CET-IUL are engaged in contributing to the design of the future, and, when considered appropriate (e.g. to promote environmental sustainability, social cohesion and democracy), do not hesitate to expressly endorse a normative approach.