Restricted. Vast. Harsh. The image of a port calls to mind many words, but pedestrian-friendly and aesthetically-pleasing are rarely among them. With their precarious stacks of shipping containers and large pieces of machinery, ports are places that people tend to want to avoid. Yet for logistic and historical reasons, ports are often located near the heart of cities, taking away valuable urban space and desirable waterfront land from residents. This does not need to be the case.
A new report released by The Worldwide Network of Port Cities titled “Plan the City with the Port: Guide of Good Practices” offers strategies for cities to optimize the effectiveness of their harbors while reclaiming as much of the land as possible for the people. The guide uses case studies from urban designs in various stages of completeness to illustrate different techniques available to improve the environment of a port within its city. Although these approaches are designed with a specific program in mind, many architectural and urbanistic ideals can be derived from them to be used in variety of circumstances. Read on for our summary of the report’s recommendations.
1. Save space within fixed boundaries by designing spaces high in density and complexity
Many ports, particularly those in areas where the shipping industry is growing, struggle with a lack of available space within which to grow. Rather than grow beyond the current limits of the shipping yard, cities should look to fill in any gaps and maximize use of the space the ports currently occupy. In Long Beach, California, the Middle Harbor Redevelopment Project aims to merge several piers into one, eliminating buffer zones between them and filling in unnecessary waterways with additional usable space to create 55 new acres of land without effecting any neighboring urban environment.
2. Share the use of the water and waterfront between urban and port functions
The report encourages cities to reclaim port areas by introducing new program types into existing port areas. This can be done in a variety of ways. In Paris’ Tolbiac Industrial Port, a new concrete plant was constructed in 2010. Half of the project’s area was dedicated to waterfront promenades, which were achieved by placing the plant on pilotis, creating walking space and views to the water below. The plant is also strategically illuminated at night to add to the beauty and safety of the area.
In other examples, shipping functions become a part of a mixed-use facility. In Amsterdam, a terminal designed by architect Larry Malcic in 2000 combines shops, a convention hall, a hotel, and a cultural space dedicated to music into a single structure. The spaces are connected horizontally, allowing for easy passage through the spaces. In another project, “Terrasses du Port” in Marseilles, program types are stacked vertically along the waterfront.This reduces the overall footprint of the project and allows the less public portions of the program to be hidden under a commercial shopping center. Terraces extend from the shopping center towards the water, providing shoppers with views and helping to further shield the shipping sections of the project.
3. Highlight transitional spaces between the port and city
Integrate the port areas back into the urban domain by focusing on the points where the two meet. This can be as simple as designing barriers specific to the site. In Le Havre, a metal screen was erected to give views into the shipyard while masking unsightly areas and meeting mandated safety requirements. In other areas of the city, old industrial yards on the outer edges of the shipping yard were converted into green park spaces, creating a barrier of physical distance to allow port and urban activities to coexist.
A similar system has been developed in Melbourne, where a proposed “waterline” trail system creates a buffer around the functions of the port. The trail uses topography to isolate trail users from port functions, and includes several lookout points to both the water and port areas.
4. Streamline transportation infrastructure to increase turnover rate
In cities where ports are located within heavily traveled areas, designing new traffic patterns in response to trucking routes can reduce the negative impact of the port of its surrounding urban environment. In Barcelona, a new corridor is being constructed to take trucks away from the downtown area neighboring the harbor, freeing up the remaining space for standard urban traffic. Similarly, Miami is constructing an underwater tunnel to bring trucks up directly onto the interstate, rather than snake the trucks through the city to the nearest onramp.
Environmentally-friendly human transportation to port areas can also be reconsidered when ports are located in city centers. In Tangiers, Morocco, project officials hope to tap into the tourist economy by constructing a cable car system to take visitors to several nodes of the city, including the harbor. Taking people out of their cars frees up traffic and increases efficiency of port areas.
5. Preserve architectural identity
Retaining the history of a site is an important part of redevelopment, and this stands true in the revitalization of ports. By clearly identifying the port’s heritage elements to be preserved, it is possible to establish a connection between the past and the future of both the city and the port, providing a map for future development plans. In Cape Town, this line of thinking inspired the challenge of turning a 100-year-old grain silo into a museum for contemporary African art. The solution, designed by Thomas Heatherwick, was to turn the silos into a large atrium space, where light could filter through to feature the structure of the old building.
Ports often bring to mind negative associations of unfriendly environments, and with many of them located within otherwise successful cities, they can often stick out like a sore thumb. But by implementing some the strategies presented above, the relationship between port and city may be radically improved, and people can start loving their waterfronts again.