I was pretty sure I won’t like the Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology (MAAT) by Amanda Levete Architects, but am trying to be open minded. A big conceptual gesture often doesn’t have a human-scale experience, doesn’t offer up more as you approach, return or wander through. There is a lack of generosity in the experience.
The big concept, or object, often has a tenuous line of connection to the site. Doesn’t consider layers of time, culture and typography. The urban conditions become abstracted and the antidotes to a site’s pitfalls are put aside for the pureness of the gesture while the good to be embraced isn’t leverage.
How do you occupy a big idea? How does it keep chatting to you beyond the punch line.
Yesterday, João Luís Carrilho da Graça spoke to us about the city of Lisbon as a cinematic experience of seduction and possibilities resulting in a climax as a counterpoint to the American city where buildings stand as a divisive moment of seduction. His preference is the latter. He likes to create a moment of fascination when you encounter his work, to love or hate it. MAAT has had a divisive moment on me. It is possible Carrilho da Graça was trying to be divisive in the conversation itself, as the two projects of his we visited, S.Jorge Castle Interpretation Centre and Knowledge of the Seas Pavilion, are both rich in experience and hard to grapple with all at once. You need to think, wander, look, touch and listen. They use architectural devices of scale, volume and material to generous effect and didn’t contain a moment of love or hate. Perhaps his work holds alarm and generosity at once so he has been forgiven.
In the pursuit of open-mindedness, I asked my fellow tour participants for their thoughts.
Bradley Kerr, who noted he understands the purpose of buildings like this, buildings that create a sense of wonder, in a moment. He considers varied the demographics who experience the place. Children would move through the space with joy, their minds expanded on what a building could be. Other people like to be awed by architecture. He noted, these are buildings that architects hate but people like. An astute observation by our astute observer.
Tiffany Liew, in the voice of a man yelling underwater exclaimed “I AM BUILDING.” When we calmed our laughter, she noted a preference for quiet architecture that is a backdrop to life. That life is chaotic enough, our buildings don’t need to add to it. Its interfering with the, very interesting, exhibitions as artists struggle to bend their work around the curved walls. Our tour guide explained that the building is curvy as it’s by a river, representing the movement of water. This isn’t enough for Tiffany either.
Our Tour guide, Renato, likes the building for the effect on the city, a “mini Bilbao effect.” MAAT had 900,000 visitors a year pre-pandemic, 50/50 tourists and locals. Renato explained most galleries in Portugal have far smaller visitation numbers and a ratio of 30/70 tourists and locals. The building shouts for attention and brings it from afar. From the perspective of the gallery operator, yes, this is a success.
Sarah Lebner enjoyed the circulation. You slip onto a ramp from the river’s promenade, into the building, and you are greeted by a large oval circulation route that effortlessly moves you around the spaces. Ellen enjoyed the roof plaza and the opportunities it holds for occupation by visitors and locals alike. This this said, she also note is it clearly by a foreign architect. It doesn’t consider the city or context with the grain of place that is evident elsewhere in Lisbon.
MAAT is a foreign object in a very textured city. It holds a divisive moment of fascination. It is a place for tourists and children to play. It attracts visitors to its exhibitions. It is not my cup of tea. Although, the garden on the walk away from the building is lovely.
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Dulux Study Tour participants are invited to share their experiences in blog and editorial content as part of the program. Opinions expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily the Australian Institute of Architects. The Institute encourages a space for conversation and continued dialogue so there can be meaningful change and progress across the built environment and our wider community.
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