By Joao Araujo Sousa & Joana Correia Silva (JJs Arquitectura)
Maria Pia Bridge is the most significant abandoned landmark in the city of Porto. It was the first major project implemented by French engineer Gustave Eiffel and a definite breakthrough to its Company. The bridge is the result of an international competition held by the Portuguese railroad authority to complete the rail corridor between the two major Portuguese cities – Lisbon and Porto. Eiffel´s winning structure over the Douro River was completed in 1877 and held, at the time of inauguration, the record for the largest arch in the world (spanning 160m). It served continuously for 114 years up until 1991, when it was decommissioned after the completion of the neighboring St. John Bridge.
Though a bridge might appear to be an extreme place to live, there are several urban sites across Europe that testify this kind of spatial occupation. The Maria Pia Bridge is an ideal place for testing new longer-term concepts of international living and working, trying to bind the local and the global communities.
The proposed addition is positioned atop and along the bridge´s platform and oriented toward distant river views. The complex has been designed as a long and continuous body embracing the full scale of the bridge. Conceptually, it aims at creating the impression of an ethereal moving mass across the river, remnant of a steam engine cloud.
A combination of shifting, box-like units breaks up the otherwise plain surface and creates terraces and balconies while diverting stronger winds. The facades’ design is all about transparency, letting the vista be an integral part of the interior and framing views of the extraordinary river setting.
There are 54 housing units of different sizes and structures, varying from studio flats to 3-bedroom apartments. Other typologies may be possible to implement, as there are few structural elements inside the apartments, thus providing extra flexibility of uses.
Making use of both setbacks and voids, each house comes with at least one private balcony, partly connected with the interior, shady and naturally ventilated. The lower levels of each dwelling are reserved for the living/social areas. The top floor is typically reserved for the master suites and rooftop patios. Access to the units is guaranteed through a public gallery on the lower level. This allowed us to define a collective space with secure access that gives space to the social network and generates favorable conditions for maintenance and care.
The entire complex is made primarily in wood to reduce the global weight. A factory-built module is repeated and associated almost endlessly, being at the same time functionally mutable and capable of providing urban conditions through associative forms of its base element. The prefabricated nature of the design allows for a streamlined construction process, resulting in a reduction of building costs and wastage of materials. The lightweight Kerto structures will be easy to dismantle, ensuring the complex has a reversible impact on the existing bridge. It is also intended that the modular design can be easily adapted to other sites.