Expo 98: Lisbon dreams of turning wasteland into lasting beauty

Lisbon's Expo98, the last world's fair before the millennium, is set to transform the old maritime heart of the city when it opens in May. Elizabeth Nash tramped round the site and wonders if there are lessons for the Dome.

Months of torrential rain have wrought havoc with the building schedule, but the profile of Lisbon's Expo98, rising from the sludge and the clutter of heavy machinery, is now etched upon perhaps the finest river- front in Europe.

The landmarks of this 5km stretch of the Tagus estuary are not the pavilions that will house the efforts of 150 countries. These are, if anything, the least significant element, a slab of hangars supplied by the Portuguese hosts that will mostly be dismantled after the event.

Like Barcelona during the 1992 Olympics, and unlike Seville's Expo92, Lisbon recognised from the start that the international jamboree that opens on 22 May was a perfect excuse to resuscitate an ugly, stinking waste of space in the heart of the city. A slaughterhouse, a refuse tip and breaker's yard, an arms factory, a gasworks and an oil refinery were purged from the 840-acre site. Expo's authorities resolved that nearly all the new buildings would be permanent and would nourish a genuine urban community after exhibitors fold their tents.

This was a sideswipe at Seville's Expo, which for years after 1992 remained a forlorn wasteland pocked with weed-strewn concrete plots and abandoned pavilions. Only now, with a "magic island" adventure theme park and offices occupied by hi-tech multinationals, are the River Guadalquivir's reclaimed mudflats being used.

Lisbon, renowned for its sleepy charm, is being bounced into chaotic activity as the deadline looms. Torrential rains have caused huge delays, and prompted much official nailbiting. It is reckoned, however, that by working round the clock and taking a flexible view of the pounds 1.5bn budget, everything will open on time, except some carparks and a hotel.

Expo98's "Oceans" theme chimes with the 500th anniversary of Vasco da Gama's first sea passage to India and is, says Britain's Expo representative in Lisbon, Martyn Warr, more readily translatable into real exhibits than was Seville's abstract "Discoveries" theme. He promises the British pavilion will be a lively multimedia showcase for the latest marine technology, and insists Britain has learned from its dismal performance in Seville "where we spent far too much effort on the pavilion instead of what went inside it".

Europe's biggest oceanarium is being touted as the long-term symbol of Expo98. Designed by the American architect Peter Chermayeff who has been making aquariums since 1962, it is already stocked with fish and with birds and animals whose activities can be viewed both above water level and from the ocean floor.

"It is the centrepiece of the Expo, an institution for the study of nature that helps us understand the sea ... and it is a declaration about the fragility of the planet," Chermayeff said recently.

Most of the expected 10 million visitors will enter the Expo via the split level rail, metro and bus interchange designed by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, an airy stylised forest of steel, concrete and glass. His splendid Oriente Station offers the most convincing indication that normal life will pervade the site after October. Some 10,000 homes, schools, hospitals and shops are part of the post-Expo plan, which includes a business district, marina and riverside gardens.

Other landmarks include the egg-shaped "Utopia" building whose curved wooden ceiling suggests the upturned hull of a ship; and the Portuguese Pavilion by the Portuguese architect Alvaro Siza Vieira that incorporates a thin concrete canopy hung like a sheet of paper over a plaza that looks across the estuary. It will display a permanent celebration of Portugal's relationship with the sea.

You get a stunning panorama of all this from the elegant new 18km bridge that threads like a necklace across the estuary's pearly waters. The British- built bridge that will link Lisbon to Spain and the Algarve is well on target to open with the Expo, a spokesman says. Last week workmen wired up the lampstands that tilt inwards, offering drivers a sense of protection from the vast expanse of water.

A rare naff note is the Expo's silly mascot, Gil, a nerdy Essoman with a wave-shaped head. And a 15,000-seat video stadium seems to have been an afterthought to boost attendance by screening matches of the World Cup.

I tore myself away from one of the Pacific habitat's tumbling otters and the potbellied penguins from Antarctica, and spotted a camera crew. They were filming a pair of glossy young men against the backdrop of scaffolding and the glinting estuary. "They're shooting a TV soap opera," said my guide shamefacedly. He should be proud. If Portugal's most adored art form has embraced the Expo, success seems guaranteed.

Suggested Topics
News
Jennifer Lawrence was among the stars allegedly hacked
peopleActress and 100 others on 'master list' after massive hack
Sport
Radamel Falcao
footballManchester United agree loan deal for Monaco striker Falcao
Sport
Louis van Gaal, Radamel Falcao, Arturo Vidal, Mats Hummels and Javier Hernandez
footballFalcao, Hernandez, Welbeck and every deal live as it happens
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Voices
A man shoots at targets depicting a portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a shooting range in the center of the western Ukrainian city of Lviv
voicesIt's cowardice to pretend this is anything other than an invasion
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
Arts and Entertainment
booksNovelist takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

PPC Co-Ordinator – Permanent - West Sussex – £24-£30k

£24000 - £30000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Are you a Marketin...

Senior Asset Manager

£70000 - £75000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Katie Robinson +44 (...

IT Support Analyst (2nd Line Support) - City, London

£28000 - £30000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare: Ashdown Group: IT Support Ana...

KS1 Teacher

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: KS1 Teaching Specialist Leic...

Day In a Page

Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor