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Planning lessons from Lisbon


Last week I went to Lisbon, courtesy of construction giant Kvaerner, and took in one of the last days of Expo, now mobbed by Portuguese who realise the extravaganza is about to finish. Stumbling into the sunshine from the three-dimensional advertisement that comprises the British pavilion, one encounters groups of people looking, strolling or sitting and eating in a way which makes the lack of architectural fireworks irrelevant.

Indeed, the rejection of the concept of national free-standing pavilions, instead slotting them into vast conference sheds, was probably the most sensible decision of all, creating a space that should have a specific role in the future, in contrast to the depression and shambles that followed the Seville Expo. With a magnificent riverside site, and buildings and landscape designed for specific purposes, this Expo lacks the whiff of white elephant that attends so many attempts at instant regeneration.

It is ironic, then, that a city which has behaved so sensibly over Expo, and which is employing Terry Farrell to sort out some of its past planning mistakes, is in the process of making a major bungle. The magnificent Vasco da Gama bridge, on which Kvaerner played a key role in both the financing and the construction, provides a link across the Tagus between the Expo site and the tiny village of Samouco. The financiers had the nous to see that development would follow once the links were in place, just as it did when the earlier suspension bridge was built from the city centre. But, as with that earlier bridge, this development is happening in an entirely unplanned way, with buildings just popping up as in a computer game. Nobody seems to have looked at the mess that resulted the first time round with the aim of preventing a repeat.

How easy it is while remedying the mistakes of the past to start creating the problems of the future - a concern that those involved with the Millennium Dome and the Greenwich peninsula should remember and, with Urban Design Week looming, a crucial topic for consideration.

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