How Porto’s World of Wine adaptive-reuse project revamped a historic winemaking site

Take a look inside the World of Wine Porto adaptive reuse project, which transformed hundreds of 200-year-old port wine cellars into a vibrant arts and entertainment complex that attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists every year.

Image courtesy of Broadway Malyan.

an interior view of the World of Wine complex in Porto

Friederike Voigt

March 20, 2024

min read
  • 200-year-old port wine warehouses were restored to house the World of Wine, a new tourist hotspot.

  • Seven museums, 14 restaurants, bars, and cafésalong with a school of wine, galleries, and shopsnow breathe life into this historical site.

  • Portuguese-British architects Broadway Malyan use technology to communicate with stakeholders, test for collisions, and adhere to the building plans.

An old Portuguese law stipulated that port wine must be stored in Vila Nova de Gaia, a municipality located on the south side of the River Douro, opposite the city of Porto in Portugal. This waterway was traditionally used to transport wine barrels. When the law was repealed, the storage of port wine in other locations was permitted, and the long warehouses in Gaia stood empty and then fell into disrepair.

When Margarida Caldeira, practice principal at the British-Portuguese architecture firm Broadway Malyan, first visited the site in 2014, she had a vision for a sustainable project that would add only a few buildings. “The plan was to turn the area into a new tourist attraction without tearing down this historical architectural heritage,” she says. “I still remember standing on the terrace of a little old house with a fantastic view of Porto’s rooftops.”

Considering that Portugal was still deep in an economic crisis at the time, such a project constituted a major investment. Yet this same site soon became one of Europe’s largest tourism and urban development projects.

Culture meets education

A view from the patio at World of Wine offers sweeping views of Porto.
Visitors have a breathtaking view of Porto’s skyline from the square at the center of the World of Wine. Image courtesy of Broadway Malyan.

The terrace where Caldeira stood is now the centerpiece of the new World of Wine (WOW) complex. Measuring 37,000 square meters (398,000 square feet), the site houses establishments such as the Pink Palace, where you can learn about rosé wine; The Chocolate Story, which explains the history of cacao and port wine; and Planet Cork, a museum focused on one of Portugal’s most important agricultural exports. The complex also features more than 350 restaurants, bars, and cafés; a school of wine; galleries; and shops.

In an interview with German investment magazine Mein Geld, Adrian Bridge, founder and CEO of World of Wine and CEO of the Fladgate Partnership (the principal for the WOW project), explained that the aim of the 100-million-euro project was to position Porto as a cultural destination by telling the story of the city’s famous fortified wine—as well as the history of the city, its people, its buildings, and the adventures it has experienced over the centuries.

Digging deep and digital planning

A view of the World of Wine at night shows a dramatic lightshow on its facade.
The architects at Broadway Malyan and engineers at A400 used Autodesk AutoCAD and Revit to plan the new site. Image courtesy of Broadway Malyan.

Hundreds of warehouses, some of which are more than 200 years old, were restored to create the complex. Located on a steep slope, the warehouses are separated by narrow alleyways. Many of the existing buildings were completely renewed, including replacing original wooden beams and restoring the original granite brickwork. Where main structures were beyond repair, facades were preserved. The development features two new buildings that offer a more contemporary aesthetic yet are harmonious with their historic setting.

In addition to restoring numerous historic buildings, the team dug 18 meters (59 feet) into the earth to install reinforcing beams to support those restored structures, as well as to build a space to house modern technology, including air conditioning systems, supply routes, and parking. “It was a mammoth undertaking,” Caldeira says. “We always had an archaeological team with us—and that requires a lot of communication and coordination.” Caldeira communicated with architects regularly through digital tools.

Caldeira says the project would have been impossible to realize without technology. Her team used Autodesk AutoCAD and Revit to communicate with the archaeological team and run collision tests to ensure there were no unwelcome surprises on the construction site. This saved time and money because they could simulate construction in Autodesk software before starting to build, preventing errors on-site. “Preparation is key,” she says.

Laying the foundation for success

Rebar fills the foundation area of the World of Wine complex.
The modern technology is hidden deep within the warehouses, allowing the roofs to display their historical charm. Image courtesy of Broadway Malyan.

The site was completed just a month behind schedule in 2020—during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The project’s success was made possible using digitalized planning to simplify the process—and as a bonus, the 400 staff members enjoyed catering by a Michelin-starred chef, as neighboring restaurants had all closed during lockdown. “The head chef from The Yeatman, a nearby restaurant that was completed back in 2010, cooked for the entire team,” Caldeira says. “So, both meals and staff motivation were guaranteed.”

Since opening, the Word of Wine has hosted a range of cultural events, including 2024 Carnival festivities, and has won numerous awards, including the 2021 Portuguese Property Awards’ Best Overall Development and Best Public Amenity Building, the 2020 Institute of Douro Wine and Port’s 2020 Enotourism Award, and Construir Awards’ Best Private Project of 2020. “We’re putting the ‘wow’ in the destination,” Bridge says.

Friederike Voigt

About Friederike Voigt

Friederike Voigt is Content Manager for Autodesk being responsible for Design & Make with Autodesk in EMEA. She previously worked as a journalist with Callwey, a German leading publishing house specializing in architecture. While studying Media Management and History of Art she was awarded a national scholarship in journalism and worked for various newspapers and magazines including the German Press Agency (dpa) and Cicero Magazine.

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