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
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvDownton Abbey review: It's six months since we last caught up with the Crawley clan
Sport
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
people
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
Sport
Greg Dyke insists he will not resign as Football Association chairman after receiving a watch worth more than £16,000 but has called for an end to the culture of gifts being given to football officials
football
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Sport
premier league
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Sport
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
News
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
News
i100
News
i100
Sport
Plenty to ponder: Amir Khan has had repeated problems with US immigration because of his Muslim faith and now American television may shun him
boxing
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

Primary Teacher

£90 - £145 per day + travel expenses: Randstad Education Newcastle: Primary Su...

Service Delivery Manager - Software Company

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Service Delivery Manager Kingston Up...

Year 3 Teacher

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Year 3 Primary Teacher in HullA f...

Drama Teacher - Hull and Grimsby

Negotiable: Randstad Education Hull: The JobRandstad are currently in need of ...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments