Porto: Reinvention of old slaughterhouse as center of neighborhood social life, culture and innovation

Suzanne H. Crowhurst Lennard

The Matadouro, Porto’s nineteenth century slaughterhouse, abandoned for 40 years, lies between the inner ring road east of the city and one of the poorest neighborhoods, Campanhã. It is a very large site, comprising 29,000 square meters, and encompassing 15 interconnected industrial buildings in the classical style. The Matadouro has been designated a Property of Heritage Interest and is being reinvented as a social, cultural and business center to revitalize Campanhã.

Matadouro: Entrance. Kengo Kuma Architects

Develop neighborhoods most in need:

Mayor Moreira’s policy priority is to develop those areas of the city most in need. Campanhã developed in the 19thcentury as an industrial area. During the 20thcentury many of these industries closed, leaving the population without employment. Abandoned warehouses and ruined factories dot the neighborhood.

“…some of the city’s most deep-rooted social problems and highest unemployment are also found there. It is where public investment makes the most sense, in a Porto where the aim of social cohesion is still unfulfilled.  In a Porto that is still unbalanced1.”

During the 20thcentury the city failed to replace opportunities for employment, but used abandoned land to build large areas of high-rise social housing blocks, many of which were filled by the poorest residents from the historic city center.

“Campanhã is one of the biggest victims of local population loss fostered by the state itself, through the construction of social housing based on vertical models today known to be unsuitable, which have not favored social development. But it is also one of the main victims of the deindustrialization of cities2.”

The Matadouro project is the first phase of an Urban Recovery Area, a comprehensive vision to restore opportunities for employment, and to reconstruct a mixed-use urban fabric with affordable and social housing. The goal is to achieve this in such a way as to reduce social problems and strengthen social cohesion.

The vision:

The original idea to transform Matadouro was the vision of Porto’s Cultural Councilor Paulo Cunha e Silva, who died in 2015. His compelling vision was to use culture as a primary unifier, generator of social cohesion, and employment opportunity. The Expanding Culture program promoted by the city “brings together local and non-local artists and residents of marginal areas plagued by unemployment and social exclusion3.” As the program asserts, “culture has that ability to quickly foster cohesion that would be much more difficult to achieve using more formal methods. Furthermore, it promotes entrepreneurship4.” 

The aim of the Expanding Culture program is to:

“bring classical music to a low-income neighborhood, promote the creation of a group of young rappers in one of the most distant municipal housing complexes, to organize street spectacles,  unbiased and unafraid to address divisive topics, facing reality head-on, to seek in the garage the culture that has long existed there though it went unrecognized, and bring it to the stage of Porto’s Municipal Theater…5” And some of these events have already been produced in the Matadouro even before any renovations took place.

This vision to transform Matadouro is being lovingly brought to fruition by Mayor Moreira and City Councillor Pedro Baghana. Matadouro will become a center to bring together the arts, neighborhood social life, and business innovation. The building facing the neighborhood’s main street will be under the control of the neighborhood, and house a café and events planned by the neighborhood. 

New building uses:

There will be a central strolling avenue running from front to back, like a spine linking all the buildings. East of the spine one building will be used by the city (which is providing the property for development) for storage of their art museum overflow and for private art collections. North of that will be a large area for Media and Audiovisual Studios available for lease and for educational purposes; and beyond that a creative center of gastronomy, the “Culinary Laboratory”, and a Traditional Arts and Crafts Center. 

West of the spine the ribs will be  in sequence: a) the neighborhood social and arts center under control of the neighborhood; b) a micro e-business incubation space divided into 2 floors with carrels; c) an Industrial Museum; d) a performance theater; and e) a Multipurpose Pavilion.

Between the ribs will be pleasant open-air gardens and sitting areas, covered only by a new flying roof structure. One separate building at the rear will be transformed into artists’ studios; another will become a Sports Pavilion. Additional existing buildings (including an “unofficial” dog pound that has been there for 15 years) will be under control of the development company that won the commission to undertake the transformation. The dog pound will be moved to a better location. Most of the buildings along the west side next to the freeway will be for lease to medium sized Creative and Technological Companies.

Architectural plans:

Based in Porto, Garcia & Albuquerque Arquitectos who won the competition to reinvent Matadouro, commissioned an award-winning Japanese architect, Kengo Kuma to design a fly-over wooden roof over the whole site to draw attention to the project. The roof also rises over elevators to a pedestrian flyover across the freeway that will connect to the stadium metro station and a more middle class neighborhood, Corujeira.

The architects will keep and renovate almost every existing structure, only removing one very dilapidated building to create a small wooded area on the east, and one to replace a building with a sports pavilion. They will add more trees to create a more welcoming atmosphere, and roof gardens and open-air green spaces to make the complex more hospitable.

Two new structures are planned: one will provide for support and storage. The other, much taller structure will rise along the northern edge of the site to create the pedestrian bridge over the ring road to the Metro station.

Phases Two and Three:

In a second phase of this project the plan is to tear down an abandoned warehouse opposite the entrance to the revitalized Matadouro, and create a park in its place. This would be the first thing you see coming under the freeway by road and will provide a welcoming introduction to the neighborhood. A row of buildings adjacent to the warehouse, currently owned and used by the bus company, will come into the possession of the city. The bus company may be moved, and the land used to create more mixed-use urban fabric immediately opposite the Matadouro.

A still later phase of the redevelopment will take place on the land north of Matadouro. This land is 20 feet higher than Matadouro and separated by a highway. It is currently the wholesale market, drawing deliveries by long haul produce trucks and trucks from the surrounding countryside, as well as city-wide vans and trucks picking up orders for all the restaurants and grocery stores in the city. 

The plan is to find a more appropriate site for the wholesale market. This enormous area would then be transformed into more mixed-use urban fabric with affordable and social housing.

The main body of Matadouro is now under redevelopment. Completion is planned for 2020.

As Mayor Moreira says of this project:

“The evocation of three pillars underpinning a programme for the city has been constant and deliberate. Social cohesion, the economy and culture converge along a path of sustainability, human development and wellbeing which is the basic policy goal.

In other words, the aim is to make the city more interesting and comfortable…

Campanhã was regarded by many as being off-limits, neglected, certainly a district to comfort with the consolation of renewal, though without enabling it to join the ranks of the interesting. That is not only unjust but also unjustified, as Campanhã can not only be more comfortable but also much more interesting, if we look carefully at whet is springing up in its garages and neighborhoods and the small streets that hide large art galleries….

The Matadouro project clearly integrates the three pillars of Portocracy, encompassing the quest for sustainability, with the economy supporting social cohesion and both being nourished by culture, which develops, opens horizons, attracts and innovates. For that very reason it is the major project of our administration…

Campanhã is a land of opportunities, or reindustrialization and dreams, and is an example. The Matadouro will be one of its great beacons.6

Key to axonometric diagram of new building uses:

1)    Creative and Technological Companies

Spaces devoted to companies operating in creative and technological areas. This project’s component is addressed to economic groups and national and international medium-sized companies as well as to promoters of new business ideas with high potential of scalability.

2)    Industry Museum

The mission of this museum project (with one core area and another axis spread in several spaces) hinges on the study, preservation, and revitalization of Porto’s industrial memory. It includes a permanent collection of hundreds of items, machines and documents from the most representative sectors of the industrial development of the city and region, highlighting textiles, matches, milling, casting, metalworking and electricity.

3)    Art and Community

A space devoted to projects coordinated by people with multidisciplinary experience in different scientific fields who look at practices in social and artistic areas and relate them to the social fabric of Campanhã.

4)    Contemporary Art Repository

This space is devoted to storage contemporary art collections, providing an exhibition space so they can be appreciated by the public. The aim is to meet the repository space needs of collectors as well as Porto-based artists.

5)    Multipurpose Pavilion

This space is meant to house different kinds of presentations, as it is equipped with retractable seating along with projection technology. The pavilion’s program can alternate between conferences, cinema/video screenings, performances, exhibitions, and social events.

6)    Culinary Laboratory

This project combines an exploratory look at our cuisine with leisure and consumption practices, starting from workshop experiences meant to attract public interest. The aim is to raise attention to the traditional Atlantic cuisine among the general public while providing a research and innovation space for new chefs.

7)    Media and Audiovisual Studios

Production and recoding studios for the fields of cinema, music, television and radio: this project combines spaces available for commercial lease and others geared to emerging and educational projects.

8)    Traditional Arts and Crafts

This project is meant to preserve and study traditional craftsmanship, combining laboratory experience with public presentation and dissemination. It includes the trades of bookbinding, upholstery, carpentry, among other crafts.

9)    Sports Pavilion

A covered sports venue comprising a multipurpose field and support facilities. The aim is to meet the needs of those involved in projects under way at the Matadouro. It is open to the public, to thereby ensure that the project contributes to the social dynamics of Campanhã.

10)Artist residences

Studios that include a residence area and a space for the public presentation of the artistic work, geared to visitors and participants in projects based at the Matadouro and also to Portuguese and international artists.



1. Porto before Porto. Porto City Hall, 2016. P. 33

2. ibid. P. 33

3. ibid. P. 35

4. ibid. P. 35

5. ibid. P. 35

6. ibib. P. 6-7