The people of Porto

An endearing project has recently ended here in Porto: for an entire year, between November 2014 and November 2015, a small team consisting of photojournalist Manuel Roberto and journalist Mariana Correia Pinto interviewed and photographed citizens and visitors of Porto. The short stories and captivating black and white portraits were as much about people and their lives as they were about the city, about the spirit of Porto – a kind of “human cartography”, as one of the authors defined it.

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The project’s name was Porto olhos nos olhos (“Porto eye to eye”), and the people portrayed did look straight into the reader’s eye, inviting them warmly to reveal the story behind them. Almost every Portan has already captured it on social networks (there is a Facebook page dedicated to it) or in the news. The idea came from Manuel Roberto, motivated by two decisive and coinciding moments of his personal life, the birth of his son and his approaching 50th birthday. Soon, Mariana Correia Pinto joined.

Every city has its unique “human cartography”, but Porto olhos nos olhos and many similar initiatives around the world actually have a precedent, done on a very large scale: the Humans of New York, created by photographer Brandon Stanton in late 2010. Stanton’s initial idea was to portray 10 000 inhabitants of New York and localize them on a city map, in order to create a extensive catalogue of Newyorkers. Soon, the photographer started including quotes and stories based on the conversations he had with the portrayed citizens and the project evolved. The idea spread rapidly through social networks. In October 2013, the very successful book based on the blog was published.

For me, Porto olhos nos olhos reflects the idea of importance of people for any cultural landscape (a theme I am currently interested in), it is an homage to that city and its everyday life, as well as a great source to learn about the sense of Porto, through the lived experiences of its citizens. Currently, the materials are all available through the Facebook page, but the idea of publishing a book has been seriously considered. Looking forward to it soon!

Image: Porto olhos nos olhos

See more:Porto olhos nos olhos

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Happy 100th anniversary!

A little belated, though, but I hope two days don’t mean that much of delay for a proud hundred-year old!

On February 1st, 1916, the works on the new city avenue, today known as Avenida dos Aliados, began in Porto. The importance of the work can be illustrated by the fact that the very president of Portugal of the time, Bernardino Machado, was present. On a second glance, it becomes clear that one of the most well-known public spaces of Porto is actually composed of three spaces: the Liberdade Square, the Humberto Delgado Square, and the Aliados avenue. The idea to create a grand public space dates back to the beginning of 18th century: the role model was the main square of Madrid, Plaza Mayor. But the full conditions to conduct the works and create the Aliados avenue as it is known today were reached only in the first decades of the 20th century.

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Its construction began with a demolition: the space had been intersected with several streets and contained built structures … and orange orchards! So, on February 1st, 1916, the ancient city hall building, that was situated in the southern part of today’s Aliados, defining one of the façades of the Liberdade Square, began to disappear.

Each square meter of the avenue, the squares and the surrounding buildings tells a story of Porto’s architectural and artistic trends, social life and economy over the last century. Among many important names that contributed to it, I would like to point out three: Barry Parker, Henrique Moreira and Álvaro Siza. Parker was the author of the green gardens of Aliados many Portans still remember, suffer for and idealize a little bit. Siza, together with Souto Moura, changed the square to what it is today: maybe it could be less grey, but the city needed a paved space for huge public gatherings, and the eclectic architecture of its “façades” finally came under the spotlight.

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The third gentlemen, Henrique Moreira, has given much of a soul to Aliados: he is the author of two sculptures situated there, the Youth (known also as The Girl of Aliados) and the Abundance (or The Boys).

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“Porto Desconhecido”

What’s heritage without the actual people it is meaningful to? What’s tradition if it isn’t a living thing reinforcing one’s sense of identity and belonging?

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These were the questions that came to me naturally after the “Porto Desconhecido” exhibition and conversation some weeks ago in the Soares dos Reis museum. “The unknown Porto” made public some local stories, memories and customs thanks to a number of caring stakeholders – common people, young and old, who worked together in representing their traditions (celebration of the day of Saint Rita in São Nicolau neighbourhood in Porto) in an animated film, as much as the people from cultural institutions who came up with the idea, gathered the stories at various points in Porto and organized the logistics.

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The conversation was meant to contextualize the activities done and inform on the work, gathering museum experts and other participants at the stage: acknowledging that both parties were equally important for the success of the project! After the short film projection, it was endearing to see the exhibition, with pieces of scenography created with love and care for the city and its traditions by São Nicolau social center users.

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Bonding the people between each other and with their city, as well as unpretentiously reminding us, the observers, of what living heritage values are, that was the message of “Porto Desconhecido”.

Phonambient

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Some months ago, I wrote about a project named “PortoSonoro” here on the blog. That great idea, mapping contemporary acoustic urban heritage and making the data available to researchers and to general public, has now expanded: the “Phonambient” has been born.

I found out more about it some time ago in Casa da Música in Porto, during an eventful week in February dedicated to the project presentation. The musicians and researchers behind “Phonambient” are linked to the cultural association “Sonoscopia”. They value intuition, creativity and research equally: the project contains a combination of scientific and artistic components, and offers a fresh view onto the city life of today.

Besides the presentation, a talk I had with Gustavo Costa, one of the main people behind “Sonoscopia” and a PhD researcher, was valuable to understand the project relevance and its current scope. “Phonambient” is, briefly, and extension of sound mapping ideas of “PortoSonoro” to other cities in Portugal and abroad, as well as exploration of possible (artistic) uses of the sound archives created.

The “Phonambient” people are experts in recording sounds, and it is crucial even nowadays when sound recording devices are inexpensive and widely available. They are interested in various forms of artistic transformations of the acoustic archive they created, and that is what the Casa da Música event was partly about (imagine, one could find out what plants from around the city have to “say”!). However, the point of the project is also to make the urban sound archive available to other researchers and artists, to be used freely. This can be of great value for anyone who explores contemporary city: linguists, for example, among many others, as the archive contains a section devoted to local expressions and slang. And once in the future, thanks to this archive, it will be possible to reflect on the soundscapes of today.

“Phonambient” is an open, collaborative platform: the “Sonoscopia” teams work with local teams in each of the cities where the project has expanded (besides Porto, for now those are Braga, Tondela, Castelo Branco, Guarda and Fundão, plus one international partner city – Abu Dhabi). So, there is a possibility for the idea to grow and transform, independently of its initiators.

Right now, the project is expanding in geographical terms, as well in terms of abundance of data acquired. And that abundance is a big challenge: the huge amounts of data need to be filtered and organized, and it takes time and effort in terms of their categorization.

In a word, the value of “Phonambient” is that, being open to collaboration, these artists/scientists simultaneously keep creating and envisioning future research territories.

Find out more:

An example of happy marriage

Not being sure if it can be applied to people and their marriages, I claim that, as far as urban spaces are concerned, huge age difference is not an obstacle to living happily together. I believe the secrets are in mutual respect and in communication, the dialogue between the two. And here is the most creative example from my current city, Porto: the intervention of the architect Pedro Balonas at its Lisbon Square, completed in 2012.

For some decades, the Lisbon Square was a neglected and unsafe place, an eyesore in the very center of Porto. Around 2005, the city authorities decided to improve it. It took some time, about 6 million euros and a lot of architectural sensibility to get to the harmonious matrimony of the historical and the contemporary Porto at that very spot.

Only a person knowing and caring a lot about the place, and also knowing a lot about architecture, could moderate the dialogue between these two so successfully. Pedro Balonas is undoubtedly that kind of person. On the occasion of 250th anniversary of the Clerigos tower, a series of lectures was organized  in Porto during winter 2014/2015, and I was lucky enough to be at the opening session with Balonas as the main guest. Listening to the text he presented, “A máquina de olhar” (“The vision machine”), was as powerful and touching experience as passing through the newly built space itself.

The triangular shape of the plot, the differences in levels, the inherited subterranean garage, and, of course, mighty historical neighbours (the Clerigos tower, the Lello bookshop, the University of Porto Rectorate, the Lions’ Square, the CFP building) were all huge challenges, masterfully resolved by the author.

I have browsed through my photo-documentation and found some interesting material to share: the “before” and “after” of the Lisbon Square I captured in 2010 and in 2014/15. The photos I took these days tell more than words about the dialogue and understanding between the old and the new. Maybe adding just one thing to understanding the images: the hydroponic olive orchard on the roof is not merely an architectural fashion – it is charged with meaning, as next to the Clerigos there once was a city wall with the so called “Olival Gate” (Porta de Olival).

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Before: this old aerial photo of the Lisbon Square comes from: mjfs.spaceblog.com.br/120724/Praca-de-Lisboa-PORTO/

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Before: my photo from the 2010 visit.

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After: the same spot, 2014/2015.

Enjoy the rest of the photos!

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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!

How to create a monument to deindustrialization?

Two architects from Porto have recently challenged one of the axioms of heritage preservation theory: the one that says a monument may be dislocated only in exceptional circumstances. I know examples of dislocation being done when some public works (dams) of extreme importance were built, yet the values of monuments were also unique and worth preserving. But what happens if the monument has been put out of use and stops making sense in the contemporary city?

This is what happened to the Maria Pia bridge in Porto, designed and executed in the second half of 1870s by an Eiffel’s collaborator, a Belgian engineer named Théophile Seyrig (Seyrig has also designed the other bridge, that of Dom Luiz I, that is still in use and links Porto with Gaia).

The Maria Pia bridge is out of use since 1991. Not even pedestrians can cross it – I personally checked, but there is a locked gate that prevents access. It has no purpose but to be beautiful. Around it, in the central zone of Porto, there are five more bridges that took over the transportation functions.

So why not repurposing the former monument, dedicated to great achievements of the industrial revolution?

This is what the team of young architects, Pedro Bandeira and Pedro Nuno Ramalho, suggested in their entry for the competition that was held last summer in Porto: dismantling the bridge, and then reassembling it at a prominent position in the Porto city center, making it a major landmark, and thus contributing to local identity and economy by attracting visitors. They have even calculated the costs, and it turned out quite feasible (way more affordable then building another Casa da Música, for example)!

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However, I think their proposal is more valuable in a philosophical sense: we are living in the post-industrial age and some proper monument of the present state of things is to be proposed.

It is also a way to give a breath of life to the structure that has lost its sense in the contemporary epoch. Reversing the process!

This brings to mind Le Corbusier’s thought on historical monuments I remember from the Athens Charter: “Death, which spares no living creature, also overtakes the works of men. In dealing with material evidence of the past, one must know how to recognize and differentiate that which is still truly alive. The whole of the past is not, by definition, entitled to last forever; it is advisable to choose wisely that which must be respected”[1].

Photo credits: http://www.pedrobandeira.info/Relocalizacao-da-Ponte-D-Maria-2013

 

[1]Le Corbusier, The Athens Charter, New York 1973, p. 86 (The Athens Charter was first published in 1943).