MB Feb | Always growing | Macau of Landfills

Macau has the most ambitious landfill plans underway, but this has been part of its story almost since the arrival of the Portuguese

“The history of Macau is intrinsically linked to the conquest of water” can be read in the conclusions of the Master’s thesis of Portuguese architect Ana Rodrigues, entirely dedicated to Territorial expansion through embankment in Macau (2014). 

“In general, the landfill arises from the need to create more space for human activity. Throughout the years it emerges as a solution to various situations such as construction or reconstruction of urban natural causes (typhoons, cyclones, earthquakes) or disease spread (plague, yellow fever) in Macau,” adds the researcher.  

Although several periods or cycles of investment in landfills can be distinguished (see text in these pages) the Portuguese never stopped expanding Macau until the time they delivered the territory to the Administration of China – in fact, this handover happened with COTAI already in progress. But in the first centuries of occupation this growth was primarily due to the occupation of several islands and islets or through the natural accumulation of sediment, particularly in the Inner Harbour area.  

“The Macau Peninsula was not always a Peninsula but was once an isolated island, which only gradually became connected to Mainland China as a tombolo or land-tied island (i.e.) an island attached to the Mainland by a narrow strip of land)” we can read in Urban Morphology and Urban Fragmentation in Macau, China: island city development in the Pearl River Delta megacity region (2017). 

However, it is important to note that “landfills normally involve large-scale urban plans to be approved, but in reality plans rely primarily on political and economic issues.” And in Macau it can be read in Rodrigues’s thesis that “there was always a lack of an Urbanisation Masterplan, although during the 70’s and 90’s the urban development of Macau was the target of several plans almost never published in the official diary. Failure to implement a plan gave them the freedom to make changes.” 

The first efforts appear facing the Inner Harbour. “Landfills in the port consolidate the margin and define the territory, facilitating the anchoring of ships, their operation and protection of the coast from natural accidents,” says Ms. Rodrigues.  

“In retrospect, Macau witnessed a number of landfills of large scale. However, as long as the current job is to resolve the problem of the shortage of terrestrial resources, in the period of the early nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the main purpose of landfills was port infrastructure, with the increase of available land playing a secondary role,” according to Macau-based scholars Kou Seng Man and Tong Sao Lai. 

The Portuguese continued to create landfills, even without a delimitation of territorial borders in conjunction with China. 

But Macau reached the 19th Century without relevant changes in the territory, by that time an elongated and thin peninsula, with Ilha Verde separated from the city. “The expansion of the city resumes in 1840,” with the policies of Governor Ferreira do Amaral. The century will not end without the construction of the isthmus of connection to Green Island, which begins its expansion from that moment. 

It is from this moment that begins the great transformations, with a clear bet on landfills. “It is from the 60’s of the twentieth century that there is a great development building various infrastructure, industries, equipment and housing,” adds Rodrigues. 

If the Portuguese never ever gave up expanding the territory they colonised or managed it lacked, at various points in history, a strategic vision. 

The way landfills were made until the mid-20th Century reflects a concern about ‘plugging holes,’ a view researcher Ana Rodrigues agrees with. The architect told Macau Business that “there was a lack of a strategic vision of the Portuguese authorities to grow Macau, but this is also due to the fact that the delimitation of territorial borders had never been well defined [amid] the political differences between the two countries.” 

The exception occurred at the beginning of the 20th Century with “the project of improvements of the new port of Macau” under the direction of Engineer Hugo de Lacerda – “where the current and future works of the port of Macau are projected and where the landfills that were to be carried out until 1990 were already outlined,” says Ana Rodrigues. 

From 3.83 to 30.5 sq.km. 

Evolution of the surface of the Macau Peninsula and islands throughout the 20th Century                                 

1900: 3.83 Km (exc. Coloane) 

1912: 11.6 Km2 

1936: 13.8 Km2 

1957: 15.1 Km2 

1986: 16.6 Km2 

1996: 21.3 Km2 

1999: 23.8 Km2 

2009: 29.5 Km2 

2017: 30.5 Km2 (exc. new landfills under construction) 

Is the future on the water? | Macau of Landfills