"Discreetly situated at a lower level than promenade along the coast, the building is relatively small in size. It is located in a rectangle with three hundred square meters. It is also modest in terms of architecture, strongly influenced by styles of previous centuries, and its organization and the classification of inner spaces were not as one would expect in such a project. The new project and new technologies already available at the time did not tally with the modern architecture needed, and already unfolding in the 1920s in Portugal." [Marine Zoology Station "Dr. Augusto Nobre": Faculdade de Ciências. In "Os Edifícios da Universidade do Porto: Projectos". Porto: Universidade, 1987, p. 40-41].
The Marine Zoology Station was created in 1914 by Professor Augusto Nobre, and as soon as its location was decided, construction works began almost immediately near Castelo do Queijo.
At the beginning of its activities, the facilities were small, in Avenida de Montevideu, Foz do Douro, housing, in the meantime, several offices, facilities for researchers, and also an area to exhibit the marine life. The fact that it was situated near the coast facilitated compliance with its purposes.
In 1927, the scope of the Station’s activities increased, and so did its facilities. During that year, a Public Aquarium was built, consisting of thirty six tanks to exhibit freshwater, brackish water and saltwater animals. Visitors could access the tank via the main body of the building, which also had a large Aquarium, for bigger animals. Around it were other smaller tanks, for freshwater animals and terrariums for amphibians.
By mid-century, the number of visitors of the Marine Zoology Station increased compared to previous years, but the building began to show significant signs of wear and needed repairs:
"It is urgent (…) to intervene in the Station’s building, and, in particular, the tanks opened to the public, because, despite the major works done in 1945 by the Directorate of National Buildings and Monuments of the North, the whole building needs major repairs again, for which the budget allocated from the Institute [of Marine Zoology], aimed at preserving the building, is not enough. This amount (…) is not enough to maintain it in proper conditions, because it is poorly located, in a place exposed to the harmful actions of storms and sea wear. Some of the tanks have been hit hard, and threaten to collapse, so we need to repair them, to avoid severe collapsing." [Yearbook – University of Porto. Porto. 6 (1951-1952)].
The repair and conservation works were completed in July 1953, and the tanks received the animals again [cf. Yearbook – University of Porto. Porto. 7 (1952-1953)]. Other intervention works took place later, in early 1960s, in the Institute of Marine Zoology and in the Zoology Station, although there were still complaints about the lack of space. In 1961, they came to the conclusion that research work could be done at the Station.
In 10 January 1962, the Director of the Institute presented the project to build new premises, larger and with different features. The plans considered four joint sections - one for teaching, one for research, one for popular culture, and another for administrative services. The first one would have a laboratory to be used in practical classes, sitting 50 students, an amphitheatre for theory classes and conferences, a living room, cloakroom and toilets. The second one would have twelve individual offices, a library, a collection room, a room for small temporary observation tanks, several offices – for photography, taxidermy, for a preparer, analyst, naturalist –, a series of laboratories – histology, bacteriology and parasitology, biochemistry, oceanography, physiology –, in addition to other spaces, such as a room for material, another for board meetings, ten rooms to accommodate researchers, a kitchen, a dining-room and toilet facilities. The popular culture department would be formed by large sized tanks – for exhibits – and small tanks for tropical fauna, in addition to a large tank for the adaptation period and storage of specimens collected. At first, the administrative department would consist of a management office, a front desk, a house for the guard, and a garage and boat house.
The new location for the new building was to the north of Leça da Palmeira, since it had the many sheltered coastal inlets perfect for landings, and no urban constructions. If this area was not feasible, then the building would have to be built in the same place where it was - Avenida de Montevideu -, preferably near a wharf.
In the meantime, in 1965, the Aquarium was closed to the public because of a storm at sea that aggravated the already very poor conditions of its facilities. Damages were so severe that it was necessary to shore the tank area. In view of this new situation, they considered the construction of a new building from scratch. The choice location was still the City Park, which was still in draft form.
On 22 July that year, the Minister of Public Works created a commission to decide whether to revamp and recover the existing facilities, or build new ones, in the same place or in a different one. The choice was limited by the funds available, and could not be more than 1,500 contos, which was exactly the amount that would be donated by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. The members of the Commission were: the Director of National Buildings of the North, civil engineer Mário Soares Lopes, who chaired it, the Director of the Institute of Zoology, Dr. Augusto Nobre, Professor Amílcar Magalhães Mateus, and the Director of the Marine Biology Station of the Ministry of Navy, Dr. Herculano Vilela.
The démarches started by characterizing the existing building, which consisted of two floors (ground floor and an "attic area"), the outdoor tanks linked to the building, although at a lower level inferior, and seawater storage tanks. There were several offices and laboratories for teaching and research, a central room with a tank, and some small tanks for exhibitions, compartments to store fishing tools, and the guard’s house. The caveat, however, was that it was built on irregular grounds, the area was small and it was located on a plane lower than Avenida de Montevideu. This meant that it could not be expanded to the east side, or in height.
Moreover, any renovation works, even if limited to the area available, would always imply demolishing virtually all the existing structure in order to have a building better suited to the intended purpose. Again, they realized that the building needed extensive work. The roof of the tanks, formed by concrete slabs, was in ruins, and showed irregularities and gaps that extended to the supporting walls due to the proximity of the sea. Similarly, the roofs of the storage tanks were also much deteriorated, and one of them was already in ruins.
Given these factors, the Commission decided that the solution would be to build a structure from scratch in the area of the future City Park, since this was the ideal solution.
The Ministry of Public Works, however, did not authorize the proposal delivered by the Commission in 1967. The report received the following reply:
"As we are well above the threshold [of cash] (…) indicated, the suggestion to build new facilities seems, a priori, doomed, and the institute may not be better off than right now. I cannot, however, exclude the suggestion made, because I have not visited the existing facility, since its precarious state and the inconvenience of the location may not recommend spending large amounts of money in recovering it. In this case, I believe the solution would be to use the money available in a programme suited to the project of the new facilities, and provide the minimum support to the current facilities, which will undergo the minimum renovation work needed until they can be dispensed with, and then the Institute can be totally transferred to its new facilities. (…). The DGEMN [General Directorate for Buildings and National Monuments] will make the necessary arrangement for this purpose, and set the guidelines for the two possibilities: a) Refurbishment and recovery of the current facilities; b) construction of new facilities, in the same place or another location. In both cases, the spending limit must be observed (…) due to the current difficulties of the Treasury in our current context. We set this limit at 2,000 contos." [Order of the Minister of Public Works signed on 27 July 1965 in the Report of the Commission appointed to examine the Facility problems of the Marine Zoology Station of the Institute of Zoology Dr. Augusto Nobre, of the University of Porto].
On 16 January 1966, the Director of the Institute of Marine Zoology Dr. Augusto Nobre, Professor Amílcar Mateus, informed the Rector of the University of Porto that the State of the building had deteriorated even more: "One of the cracks in the main water reservoirs, providing water to the tanks, opened, and one of corners finally fell." Also serious was the fact that the Institute did not have the money needed to repair it, about 15,000$00.
Because of the bad weather felt on several occasions in the subsequent winters, surveillance and the pace of the recovery works could not slow down. The dawn of 26 February 1978 was particularly disastrous:
"The sea spilled over the fragile defence walls of the Institute, and the dyke for the protection of the water intakes to the tanks was put out of order; it knocked down almost the entire length of the wall protecting the guard’s house and barbed-wire fence that prevents intruders from entering at the south side, and damaged almost the entire roof of tanks nearer the beach." [Construction work documents of the repair of damages caused by the storm of 25 to 26 February 1978: Project Brief. In Projectos de Obras, file 494 – Archive of the Rectory of the U.Porto].
Exactly one year after the calamity, a storm again hit the facilities and further damaged the already deteriorated building. A survey of the works indicated that the building had to be restored before being used, albeit in precarious conditions: repairing of plaster walls and ceilings; painting of walls with vitrifying paint; construction of brick walls in the tank area; glazing to repair the broken one; repair of window frames, locks and metal hardware; repair of the breakwater and adjacent walls.
In 1981, the Parish Council of Nevogilde condemned the abandonment of the "Public Aquarium Dr. Augusto Nobre":
"In Avenida de Montevideu, in this Porto parish, the Marine Zoology Station Dr. Augusto Nobre was built in the 1920s. The Professor-Scientist of the Faculty of Sciences of Porto, a few years later, made it possibile for the Porto population and people in the north of the country to enjoy a Public Aquarium, which operated until 1963 under the management and direction of the Marine Zoology Station (Faculty of Sciences of Porto), to which it has always reported. This Facility (…) has provided relevant services to the northern community, whether cultural, recreational, tourist, etc. or supporting the students of the University of Porto. It should be noted that in its last year of operation (1963) the "Aquarium" was visited by 30,000 people (…). One day, it "closed for repairs " (…)! The fact is that 18 years have elapsed and the "Aquarium" has never reopened, inevitably becoming deteriorated (…). This authority (…) is committed to reopening this case, and at the end of one and a half years of "struggle" has managed to make the Faculty of Sciences realize the urgent need to recover the "Aquarium"; through the Institute of Marine Zoology Dr. Augusto Nobre we have been successful in getting the General Directorate for School Buildings to repair the central body of the building and the grounds adjacent to the station." [Public Aquarium of Foz: Porto. In "Projectos de Obras, file 1.110 – Archive of the Rectory of the U.Porto. Text by Rogério Ferreira da Silva, Chairman of the Parish Council of Nevogilde, dated 25 September 1981].
In November of that year, the reconstruction works were already underway, done by the General Directorate of School Buildings. In any case, after the Aquarium closed to the public in 1965, only the central building of the Marine Zoology Station continued to operate, because the repair works performed later on the building were suited only to its daily needs.
It should be noted that, despite all these setbacks, the initial project was never changed, and practical Biology projects and experimental work by future Masters and PhDs of the U.Porto are still conducted at the Zoology Station.