Portugal’s Cliff’s Live On
by Nádia Schilling
“Requalificação das Arribas” is the first project in Portugal’s Foz do Arelho dedicated entirely to the rehabilitation of the cliffs and dunes of the coast, as well as the transformation of the degraded areas – once used as unsafe parking spaces for decades, with no regard for it's character and ecological aspects – that will create new spaces to allow different forms of connections for visitors to the natural landscape, whilst preserving it's intrinsic values and dramatic nature.
It's well known that cliffs and dunes have an enormous ecological sensitivity and are subjected to natural erosion caused by the weather. However, over the years it’s become evident along the coastline that erosion was largely accelerated by the misuse of these areas. The access to vehicles, the devastation of its vegetation, the large amounts of water coming from the new built surroundings without any control, among other factors, led to its gradual destruction and created dangerous conditions that put visitors at risk.
It was clear that this part of the coastline was in dire need of repair. There was no drainage; natural vegetation needed to be reestablished to promote erosion control and practical structures had to be put in place to make the landscape more tourist friendly.
Before advancing with sketches, a study was conducted by the University of Lisbon, commissioned by the Municipality of Caldas da Rainha, which defined the cliffs risk range. It was only based on that information, along with a survey of all the constraints, that the main plan was developed.
The plan was based on the idea that the problems occurred mostly around the lookouts so with a raised wooden walkway that would define paths for people to walk along safely, while also acting as a barrier to the more sensitive areas, visitors could easily access the area.
As a result, cars would be prohibited from entering the area, with the exception of a few on severely cold winter days-some locations would allow a small number of cars still go to secure areas near the main road so they could enjoy the view- and a controlled drainage system would be installed to aid the recovery of it's biophysical dynamics, as the first step in restoring the native vegetation.
When planning the raised wooden walkway, it was crucial to merge the artificial structure with the natural elements. (All materials and construction techniques were chosen considering the ecological aspects, safety and the structure’s durability.) The walkway should adapt to the existing topography and be almost invisible from the surroundings. This way, and although the recent vegetation will still grow and turn the structure more discrete, the design was developed with simple patterns in mind, so distinctive of the natural cliff and dune systems: the fractals.
Cliffs are particularly looked as contemplative and reflection spaces. This way, the organic path was built so it could hold different areas of contemplation with different levels, allowing visitors to get to higher vantage points and merge with the landscape in more discrete spots. The wide lookouts now divided into small high platforms, allow each individual to have its own space, some privacy, and will include a swivel chair, so that the user can choose where to look.
This project was an important step in the rebirth of degraded areas, and created conditions for its recovery, which included the replanting of native vegetation. Unfortunately, there's still a lot to do, especially when it comes to controlling invasive species but only time will tell if the project will stand the test of time!