CCB - Cultural Center of Belém, Lisbon

The often visited Cultural Center of Belém (CCB) is located in the municipality of Lisbon within the civil parish of Santa Maria de Belém. Owned and operated by the Fundação Centro Cultural de Belém, it is the largest cultural facility of its type in Portugal, with total interior spaces measuring 100,000 square meters. The entire site is 140,000 square meters in size. This large, sophisticated facility was designed for use as a formal meeting place for European Union officials. However, the original plans were revised to offer conference and art exhibition areas along with performance space for opera, ballet, symphonic music and film presentations. The Exhibition center also houses displays mounted by the Foundation for Modern and Contemporary Art. Numerous political forums and research meetings have also been held in the Conference Center. The exhibition area itself measures approximately 7,000 square meters.

Final plans to begin construction of the cultural center were made at the beginning of 1988, and the complex was intended to serve as elegant accommodations for government officials and dignitaries connected to the European Union Presidency in Portugal as of 1992. The chief architects for this immense structural project were the Atelier Risco group, which was headed by Manuel Salgado of Portugal, and Italy’s Vittorio Gregotti. These master structural designers were chosen from among 57 expert international architects, all of whom were in competition for the assignment of designing this expansive cultural center complex. They designed and supervised the construction of three major buildings, the conference center, the exhibition space and the performing arts arena. Initial plans for the center included two additional designated structural designs--a space for housing necessary equipment and a building for use as a hotel or grand lodging facility. Interiors of the buildings were designed by Daciano Costa. The older structures lining the water’s edge were essentially destroyed in preparation for the cultural center’s construction, although segments of their foundations were saved for use as the understructure of the CCB facility.

The Portuguese State became this large architectural project’s client through the State Agency for Culture (Secretaria de Estado da Cultura). Even considering the speed of completing structural building undertakings today, it is difficult to realize that this entire facility was completed between 1989 and 1992. The highly attractive and stately Cultural Center of Belém faces the Império Square and is also in alignment with the historic Jeronimos Monastery. The cultural complex is structured on a block design including squares (called patio-squares) and larger courtyard areas. These exterior areas serve as a network of connecting links for all areas of the vast complex’s interior spaces. Other prominent landmarks near the CCB are the Museum of Archaeology, the Tower of Belém, the Palace and the Monument to the Discoveries.

There are many appealing cafés and restaurants throughout the cultural center. The CCB Educational area greatly facilitates active connections among the facility’s Foundation, several schools and other cultural institutions. The Formation area within the complex, sponsored by the Belém Cultural Center Foundation, offers specialized seminars and instruction in many areas of fine arts and cultural studies. In 1993, the Cultural Center of Belém was awarded the International Stone Architecture prize during the Verona Fair. Among other noted events, this outstanding center of culture in Lisbon has hosted the famed summit conference of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which is attended by all major heads of state in the European Union today.