Oriente Station
Avenida Berlín and Avenida Recíproca

Santiago Calatrava 1993-1998

The Oriente station by Santiago Calatrava was commissioned by the city of Lisbon in 1993, after an invited competition. Its immediate goal was to serve the great number of visitors expected for the World Expo in 1998. 

In the future the station is set to become the main train terminal of the city, since the main growth of Lisbon is planned towards that side of the Tagus River. Moreover, the building that used to host the Portuguese Pavilion (by Alvaro Siza) is expected to house the city government, which together with other permanent buildings remaining from the Expo form part of what is nowadays known as Parque das Naçoes, a new city park. All of these initiatives are aimed at contributing to the creation of a new city center.

The Oriente station is an inter-modal terminal: Its facilities serve and interconnect several forms of transport. Passengers can change between metropolitan, long- and medium-haul regional and international trains. There are connections into the underground system, national and metropolitan buses or taxis. There is also an airport link and check-in facilities. 

The station is made out of three self-contained parts and is divided into two levels. The raised level holds the platforms for the national train network; the lower level connects to the underground and emerges at the surface to serve as an entrance to the Expo grounds and also to connect with the third element of the project, a major bus terminal for the city.

The four platforms of the train station are reached through ramps or cylindrical glass lifts. These platforms serve eight lines of tracks. The platforms are roofed by a metal structure 25 meters high. This elegant solution consists of a series of slender pillars that split on the top and connect with each other to create a continuous folding structure. Consistent with the rest of Calatrava's work the analogies from the natural world jump into people's minds: The group of pillars resemble palm trees or lilies, and in a geometric sense it is not far from the also floral fan vaults of the British perpendicular gothic. The structural elements are painted white and the nerves of these so-called palms spread out to hold a folding glass roof where geometry and organic shapes find a synthesis in abstraction. The sky of Lisbon is bright and the heat of the sun implacable; however the metal and glass palms forms a sort of floating oasis with a view to the river, where perhaps the only technical failing is its lack of protection from cross winds.  



If the raised level stands like an oasis, the ground level is a cave; a huge manmade cavern that shelters the movements of the people from one form of transport to the other. And if the train platforms lie some where within the vegetal kingdom, the ticket hall below is more animal. The concrete arches that define the spatial structure of this space resemble the rib structure of some extinct creature, yet their proportion and arc give an impression of stability and lightness. 


Transiting through the space there is almost no awareness of the load of trains that the columns support. The movement of the columns as they describe their arches makes an arresting setting together with the hanging bridges, connecting tunnels, lifts and elevators. The main material is concrete, the bridge parapets are made of glass, and the pavement is the typical stonework used in the streets of Lisbon. Metal appears again as the connection to the bus station and as the colossal cantilevered roof that signals the gate to the Expo grounds. The span of this roof is simply mind-blowing, even after experiencing the rest of the structural feats that make up the project.  



The Bus station is rather straightforward in the structural sense, but no less expressive. Perhaps the distinction of the project elements through the use of material and structure gives to the station a strange sense of fragmentation but each of the pieces is masterfully synthetic in themselves.  


This project does, however, spark a question about the relation between architecture and society. Although Calatrava's design is aware of Lisbon's landscape, the station fails to address Lisbon's idiosyncrasy. The station has been criticized as inefficient, because the ticketing booths exist as scattered elements all over the place instead organized in a central office. In this respect Calatrava's vision was perhaps an ideal more fitted to the Swiss context, where the architect is based.

Ludwig Abache 2001

How to visit

Almost any form of transport in Lisbon will get you there. If traveling on the underground take the red (Oriente) line.

Further information can be found on the Park of Nations (former Expo site) web site: www.parquedasnacoes.pt 


Books and other web sites

Click the book title to view and to order direct from


3822878839_m.gif (13082 bytes) Santiago Calatrava
Philip Jodidio

Good illustrations, but a limited selection of projects

3764356278_m.gif (7764 bytes) Calatrava: Public Buildings

Santiago Calatrava, Stanislaus Von Moos (Editor)

Comprehensive and well illustrated, and priced to match (though well discounted at amazon)


Calatrava's own web site describes the building at www.calatrava.com.

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