The Cultural Centre of Belem (Centro Cultural de Belem (CCB)) is located in Santa Maria de Belem, near the riverfront west of Lisbon, between the dual Avenida da India-Avenida de Brasilia motorway and Rua Bartolomeu Dias. It is the largest building with cultural facilities in Portugal. The Belem Cultural Centre has 140,000 m2 of construction area and was prepared in a very short period (1989-1992). The client of the project was the Portuguese State through the Secretaria de Estado da Cultura (State Agency for Culture). Completed in 1992, it occupies a total of 100,000 m2 and is the work of architects Vittorio Gregotti and Manuel Salgado; the interior was planned by Daciano Costa. The CCB was initially built to accommodate the European Presidency, but adapted to provide spaces for conferences, exhibitions and artistic venues (such as opera, ballet and symphony concerts), in addition to political and research congresses, high security meeting halls, and a 7,000 m2 exhibition area. It has already hosted important events like the summit meeting of the Heads of State of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).
The decision to construct the Cultural Centre of Belem occurred in January 1988, as part of the Portuguese government's need to accommodate Portugal's European Union Presidency in 1992. The facility would also serve as a core facility for cultural and leisure activities after its term, and serve as a venue for conferences and exhibitions. An international architectural competition was held and six proposals were invited to submit a preliminary project, out of the 57 submissions. The final proposal, submitted by the architectural consortium of Vittorio Gregotti (Italy) and Atelier Risco at the time led by Manuel Salgado (Portugal), was designed to include five modules: a Conference Centre, a Performing Arts Centre, an Exhibition Centre, Hotel and complementary equipment zone, but only the Conference Centre, the Performing Arts Centre and the Exhibition Centre were initially constructed.
Starting in July 1989, the buildings along the waterfront were demolished and many of the infrastructures were reestablished. By January 1992, modules 1, 2 and 3 were completed and ready to accommodate the institutions, administration, communication centre and security of the European Union Presidency. A year later the Conference Centre and small auditorium and the Exhibition Centre were opened to the public. By fall of the same year the main auditorium was inaugurated.
Its designed, aligned with the Jeronimos' Monastery, intentionally fronts the Imperio Square, and consists of structural blocks with courtyards and "patio-squares" that interconnect the three principal structures. Each centre is separated by transversal "streets", that link the building's interiors which are extensions of the city of Lisbon's historical urban structure. The centrality of the main building extends the urban fabric to the interior creating a public space. This architectural style can best be interpreted by Santana and Matos (2010) who refer to as the "patios-squares" versus the "narrow streets" a conflicting dynamic structure.
With highly sophisticated equipment and a wide variety of installed services, it has several areas with different roles:
- The Conference Centre provides a close link with the most varied business and professional sectors; conceived in order to support conferences and meetings, as well as the CCB operational services, stores, a restaurant, two bars, parking areas and the Jacques Delors European Information Centre;
- The Performing Arts Centre, the core of the site's cultural and artistic activities, it includes two auditoriums (the larger holding 1429 seats and smaller with 348 seats), rehearsal hall with 72 seats, in order to support film, opera, ballet, theatre and music events;
- The Exhibition Centre, which includes four galleries for exhibitions of modern art, architecture, design and photography, in addition to coffee and concessionary shops; it also, since June 2007, has been the venue for the Foundation of Modern and Contemporary Art (the Berardo Museum Collection);
- The Educational Area provides a close link between the Foundation and schools of various levels as well as other institutions;
- The Formation Area is a service of the Belem Cultural Centre Foundation; courses, seminars and Conferences are directed towards teaching and learning, as well as the acquisition of further knowledge, skills and specialisation in the different areas of the arts, and culture.
The Cultural Centre of Belem won the International Stone Architecture Award at the Verona Fair in 1993.