The Douro valley experiences

The Douro valley on a warm, golden autumn day is a great place to be. There are people who travel half the world to get to see it, and I am so privileged to live nearby! Last weekend, the time has come to pay a visit to the region, passing through Mesão Frio, Peso da Régua, Pinhão and Quinta do Seixo, where I spent most of the afternoon.

The Alto Douro region has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2001 and it is one of the world’s oldest recognized and protected wine production regions. And its contemporary life is flourishing amazingly!

An average Portuguese is probably as much as a wine expert as a professional enologist in countries with less wine culture. Wine is a part of their everyday and a major pillar of the national economy. Never forgetting the traditional modes of wine production (which can be known from azulejo panels or learned about in museums), they however opted for the use of latest technologies in this industry nowadays. So there are robots, computerization and wine institutes with highest precision instruments involved to get the best of what nature has to offer.

Actually, Portuguese wine producers don’t hesitate to take the best of both worlds, and that can be seen in Quinta do Seixo: in 2007, the old structures there were recuperated and a modern winery constructed, upon a design by Cristiano Moreira & Associados. Cristiano Moreira (1931-2012) was a professor at the University of Porto, with significant experience in industrial facilities, and, in my opinion, refined approach towards the beautiful Douro landscapes, both cultural and natural.

Voilà, here I am at the Quinta do Seixo: at first glance, it seems to be an immense complex of vineyards, with a well-maintained old building, perfectly integrated into the landscape. During the tour, I discover lots of contemporary elements invisible from the outside. And later, with some a posteriori research, I realized the scope of construction works done!

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The quinta (the wine production estate) is situated near the village of Pinhão. The view to the wavy hills in all shades of green and earthy autumn colours is breathtaking. And there I come to the recuperated building itself. There is nothing in it that is not in harmony with the landscape. The technology is only visible from the inside: the robot-presses for the grapes instead of human labour and steel barrels for the wine to be preserved up to highest standards, the video-projectors everywhere and the latest-generation illumination. Maybe even a little too contemporary presentation, if you ask me!

Update: the interior design is a project of another architect, Paulo Lobo, who is responsible for many interesting contemporary interiors in Porto (thx Marta Costa!)

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But then, after the theoretical part, I get to taste the port wines, and that is an experience involving all senses. From the dark and elegant exposition and interpretation spaces, one gets to the bright, sunny tasting area, opening towards the landscape. Oh, how cleverly were the mirrors used to reflect the western sun and create shades and reflections! The division towards the outer space was nothing more but the thin glass surface that stretched throughout the entire length of the room. However, I was blessed with the best possible weather, so I spent most of my time outside at the terrace. The view stretched from Pinhão in the distance to the green terraced landscapes all around. The building and the terrace were just……nature rearranged: the layered stone façade with rich texture, the earthen esplanade with touches of grass and moss, and the shiny spotless glass surface reflecting once again the landscape.

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Silence is broken by glasses tinkling in a toast. And then, a sip of vintage ruby port crowns this magic experience.

Photos: all mine except the first one, which comes from http://www.afaconsult.com/portfolio/29911/92/adega-da-quinta-do-seixo.

Close your eyes and walk through the city

One of the ways of seeing things differently is actually…not seeing them at all! In urban spaces, diverting attention from overwhelming visual information to other sensory experiences can be particularly immersive and revealing. Nowadays, with technological solutions widely available and affordable, artists, scientists and creatives that deal with sound and urban space can explore this realm in most amazing ways.

And luckily, Porto is among those places where innovative and creative research in this domain is done, too. The acoustic heritage of this city has already been recognized through a project named PortoSonoro. Voices, identities, characteristics, celebrations, resonances and particularities of Porto have been registered, mapped and made available for the general public. Ahead of heritage institutions, the PortoSonoro team has already been working on documentation, classification, dissemination and artistic interpretation of the sound heritage of Porto, and the people behind the project are professionals in music and acoustics.

The goals are widely set: mapping the city sound marks, both historical and present-day, registering everyday life of the city, including emerging slang and themes people discuss over a cup of coffee, creating the acoustic experiences through imaginary sound walks.

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Here is the link to PortoSonoro’s acoustic map: http://www.portosonoro.pt/cartografia-sonora

What an amazing range of possibilities to research the city life from here!

Anselmo, thank you for the info!

O Porto é. Oporto is.

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“O Porto é. Oporto is.” is a beautiful and ever growing collection of poetic visual moments from the city of Porto, created by a photographer named Conceição Ferreira. She shares everyday life flashes from her city, mostly organized through thematic collages – sets of nine images.

The motifs are something we all pass by, but only some stop to enjoy and register. There are hundreds of collages on her blog and the Facebook page. There, an impressive list of awards that Conceição Ferreira won can be found, too.

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I find this collection magical and diverse, just like this city itself is!

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Photo credits and more info: http://cldesignarquitectura.blogspot.pt/

The dream of every architect

Besides designing their own house or at least a chair, every architect undoubtedly dreams about a journey: a long trip around the world that would reflect their architectural sensibility. That trip would include visits to places and buildings selected to resonate the traveler’s inner journey, that links their favourite creative themes and obsessions with the ones they share or recognize in works of their historical or contemporary colleagues. Knowing oneself and own cultural context better through exposing to and juxtaposing with different ones, through finding similar thread of sensibility and the continuity of ideas far away from home, that’s it.

I bring to mind some well-known trips from the history of architecture: the Le Corbusier’s trip to the East as a young person, that influenced strongly his entire career, is probably the most famous one. Many schools of architecture I have learned about have had the travel grants: the historical Ecole des Beaux-Arts used to award its best students with a year at French Academy in Rome, so that they could investigate Roman Antiquity in situ; Wagnerschule in Vienna also had a competition for travel grants to Rome and Italy, and there twist was made in 1896, when Josef Hoffmann went to see anonymous architecture of Capri instead of magnificent ruins of antique Rome.

To my pleasant surprise, I have just discovered there is a similar initiative here in Portugal: the Fernando Távora award. Since 2005, a travel grant is awarded by the Portuguese Order of Architects and some other stakeholders to make one architect’s dream come true. The amount of 6 000 EUR is enough to reach just about any spot on Earth that the selected traveler finds essential!

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In 1960, Fernando Távora himself went on a four-month long trip and noted down its memorable moments through texts and sketches in a travel diary. The facsimile of the diary (“diário de bordo”) was recently published in Portugal, under Álvaro Siza’s coordination. This spring I watched “1960”, a film by young Portuguese director named Rodrigo Areias, inspired directly by the Távora’s journey.

But what was the winning journey of 2013/2014 FT Award edition like?

The grantee, Susana Ventura, named it “An Expedition to the Intense Architecture”. Three keywords permeated the journey, as they permeate the research interests of the architect: intimacy, silence, contemplation. The journey lead her to Japan, Norway, Switzerland, Finland, Czech Republic, Austria, Sweden. The elements of the “travel diary” presented resembled a visual poem: very personal, very touching experience, as much about all the places visited as it was revealing the author’s own sensibility.

The award exists for a while, and a quick overview of previous winners reveals an interesting array of dream journeys: one was tracing the history of tower houses around the world, another was dealing with post-colonial topography in Angola, before that, one of the authors was exploring links of Frank Lloyd Wright and Japan, and before that, an homage to Le Corbusier’s  opus was paid …

Another great thing about the award: most of the winners are quite young authors!

The link to this wonderful competition, in Portuguese: http://www.oasrn.org/premio_atrib.php?inf=2013

Photo credit: http://www.viralagenda.com/pt/events/121480/premio-fernando-tavora-conferencia-da-vencedora-da-9-edicao-lancamento-da-10-edicao