Orla do Guaíba – Redesign of the Waterfront

The largest metropolis in Southern Brazil, Porto Alegre, is located at the junction of five different rivers. This junction forms the Guaíba River, which is also referred to as Guaíba Lake by locals. An area historically loved by both city dwellers and tourists has been brought back to life by the recent redesign of the waterfront.

Porto Alegre
Photo Credits: Arthur Cordeiro

In the 1940s the city was hit by a devastating flood and a wall was built around most of the waterfront, obliterating the close connection with water and nature. Locals continued to visit and spontaneously use the remaining natural areas across from the water for gathering, resting and watching the sunset.

Based on the people’s instinctive behavior over the decades, the City Government of Porto Alegre started a conversion plan in 2011 to overcome the state of stagnation and decay of the site. The project was completely financed by the Development Bank of Latin America and the internationally famous Brazilian urban planner Jaime Lerner was commissioned for it.

Oscar Coelho, the local project coordinator, says: “The project crystallized the natural vocation of the site. And it defined a consistent and comfortable ambiance to watch the sunset, with decks extending over the water and linear ergonomic benches in front of it, floating walkways, concrete spectator stands that follow the silhouette of the park and delineate sitting areas but also negotiate the existing elevation changes.”

Diverse and dynamic

The site’s topography and grading were essential data elements and the kick-off for the creation of a variety of spaces extending along the waterfront.
The existing change in elevation between the street and the water levels is 4.7 meters. This difference facilitated a diverse and dynamic project: by generating a stepped waterfront and an upper esplanade, the site now offers a wide range of park experiences, different perspectives and river views. At 2.5 meters above water level (the official local flood stage), a sturdy platform was defined as the site’s main pathway, the backslopes were stabilized with gabions and indigenous riparian plants were sowed.

The landscape plan and planting list were thought out considering the diversity of levels and the strong necessity of a riparian habitat. In the upper esplanade, the incorporation of 100% native trees seeks to establish a green corridor, which can contribute to connecting the local fauna population.

Art as part of everyday life

The 2.5-meter level offers cafés, vendor stands and restrooms. Housed in a series of semi-buried constructions, these commercial spaces accentuate the linear park and follow the organic forms of decks, paths and over-water walkways.
Historical buildings and artistic installations were integrated into the renovated area, making art part of everyday life. A series of sports areas and fields round off the project. Once all three planned stages are completed, the waterfront will be an uninterrupted green strip in front of the city offering a wide range of public activities and areas.

A final touch of magic to the waterfront

The lighting plan extending along the first 300 meters of the upper esplanade provides a romantic and enchanting effect: when the sun sets over the horizon, thousands of tiny lights suddenly appear on the pavement. Referred to as “star-filled floor”, this segment has fiber optic lights integrated into the concrete, which turn on automatically when natural sunlight decreases. Adding a final touch of magic to the waterfront, these lights have become a new hallmark of the site and extend the range of possibilities by allowing locals to use the area at all hours.

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Location: Porto Alegre, Brazil
Date of completion: 2018
Project size: 5.70 hectares / Length of first stage: 1.3 kilometers/ Total length: 8 kilometers.
Designers: Jaime Lerner Arquitetos Associados (Curitiba, Brazil)
Project manager and Construction consultant: Fernando Canalli
Landscape and environment consultant: Carlos Oliveira Perna
Porto Alegre City Hall’s coordination / Construction management: Oscar Coelho
Design team: Architects Kawahara, Bechara, De Rossi, Daher, Guerra, Popp, Roorda.
Client: Porto Alegre City Hall (Prefeitura Municipal de Porto Alegre)
Construction works: Consórcio Orla Mais Alegre
Lighting: Luzurbana Engenharia