I’ve just spent the last hour and three watery coffees drawing out mind map in an attempt to untangle the many threads of thought covered yesterday. We ping-ponged across Lisbon between six practices covering topics from the inhabitation of rocks, neo post-modernism, ecologies, competitions and kind but firm advice to get out of architecture now.
At this point we are shattered, not quite at saturation point but the feet and eyes are really struggling to keep up with the incredible pace of this itinerary. Each practice we visited has bent our minds down another brilliant path.
What was yesterday’s take away? I keep coming back to a piece of research by Embaxiada, which I felt summarised a pattern of what we were hearing. As we were getting ready to leave their practice yesterday, Nuno Bernardo Griff pulled up a series of slides with a research project their practice had been working on over the past few years to support their clients and contextualise the city before embarking on a new project. The series of maps, diagrams and images focused history of built environment in Lisbon.
Nuno flicked and talked through a series of highly detailed maps illustrating how the city has evolved. The detailed mapping started from the iron age, showing the old town, which was built on, and eventually over, an alluvial river. The town was named Alfama, Arabic for spring. The detailed mapping, included, photos, sun diagrams, a topography map that appeared like an organ, and an impressive series of maps that tracked the growth and spread of the city from the Iron Age to the present time.
Over this trip we have heard again and again about pin-point precise moments in time have shaped Lisbon’s history that has directly shaped the language of the city’s architecture. From the Iron Age, first settlements, changing topographies to the fall of the dictatorship, a rise in a “clumsy” modernism, a financial crisis, tsunamis and earthquakes, each have had a direct effect on the city’s built form and the way it is spoken about.
What I heard was:
We need to understand where we’ve been in order to understand where we are going.
We heard this contextual positioning from every practice we visited yesterday, each practice articulating how their architecture is placed in conversation with its place and history.
Aires Mateus’s office was lined with restored 18th century frescos, regal faces of the past watching over their busy model making space.
When explaining the concepts articulated in Dodged House, Bureau spoke about the eyes (windows) of remaining closed to the street, to record the inherited state of the building resulting from the financial crisis of the mid-2000s.
Luis Fernandes from Carrilho da Graça Arquitectos spoke of how the ending of the Estado Novo’s dictatorship in the 1970’s was integral in defining Portugal’s interpretation of modernism. He directly linked the regimes’s extensive nationalistic rebuilding of the cathedrals and historical buildings to Portugal’s robust and severe interpretation of modernism, which has shaped Portugal’s buildings since.
Extra Studio commented on the conversations taking place in Lisbon’s architecture scene today collage and “put a sun on it” iconography – João Caldeira Ferrão, owner of Extra Studio said, and then questioned us intently on how we positioned ourselves in contemporary theory, asking what specific “neo-ism” we fell into – neo post-modernsim, neo critical regionalism, or “neo-med” (Mediterranean).
Antonio Costa Lima talked about how his aim was for a rural residential project was to “belong to the context” in camouflaging his architecture into the rural landscape. And for an urban setting, how the Lisbon is borne from the activity of the river.
Often the language I heard being used by the practices was describing how the architecture is to not be placed on, but within this context. Sitting both as a part of a lineage, and a piece of the future.
Interesting thoughts for us Australians.
Mulling the idea over with Linda Cheng this morning, she eloquently noted the clear line in that can be drawn in a history for a colonising country like as opposed to a colonised country. How a linear path can be drawn through Portugal’s history from the Iron Age until now.
I keep thinking about what shape Australia’s line would take? What is our architecture drawing on? How can we generate a clear identity, or do we in fact need to? I’m not sure I have answers for these big questions right now. Another coffee will surely help.
– Ellen Buttrose, People Oriented Design
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