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LNEC was created in 1946 from two different institutions: a Laboratory for Testing and Study of Materials, active since 1898, which had a solid experimental side, and a Centre for Studies in Civil Engineering, a scientific research unit created in 1942 under the name of Centre for Studies in Applied Mechanics, whose founder and leader was Eng.º Manuel Rocha, one of the greatest names of Portuguese engineering of the twentieth century, was also and one of LNEC’s first Directors.

Since its early days, LNEC has had in its genesis this double perspective - research and experimentation - that continues today, as one of its main characteristics and asset.
Until 1952, the year of the inauguration of LNEC’s campus at Av. do Brasil, the Laboratory (until then simply called "Laboratory for Civil Engineering") was spread over several buildings in Lisbon: the Customs Building (where the Laboratory for Testing and Study of Materials was installed), the Instituto Superior Técnico (where the Centre for Studies in Civil Engineering operated) and the Pavilion of the Hydraulics Division, at Av. do Brasil, which remains to the present day fully operational.


Built upon a culture of research and transfer of knowledge and technology, LNEC was, since the beginning, called out to assist on the pursuit of national objectives, such as the first public works programs, which began soon after World War II (dams, roads, fluvial and maritime hydraulics, large structures). About the same time, LNEC also began its activity around the world, supporting the development of the Portuguese Overseas provinces and carrying out studies and expert reports worldwide, some of them emblematic, as the study for the enlargement of Copacabana beach, activity that, even today, results in participation in dozens of international projects in association with other national and foreign institutions.