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!

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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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Across the river

Almost two years have passed since my arrival to Porto, and I am turning less and less visitor and more and more inhabitant of the “invincible city”.

After the dreamy, rainy and uneventful post-Christmas epoch, the time has come for the new urban experiences. The decision was simple, to cross the river and get to know the heritage of Vila Nova de Gaia. Despite being named “the new town”, Gaia has a long history, reaching back to Celtic times. And by area and number of inhabitants, it turns out to be a much bigger city than Porto today! So far, I knew the river bank, the mount Pilar, the terraces of Arrabida Shopping and the Yeatman hotel, but the reason to visit them was primarily to enjoy amazing views to the historical center of Porto! Other sites I have visited in Gaia are few: the inevitable wine cellars, several beautiful but isolated beaches, the genuine fishermen’s neighbourhood of Afurada (on the most important day for the community, the St. Peter’s day), and the Teixeira Lopes Museum.

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An injustice that has to be corrected … but hey, if one wants to prepare, it is difficult, for the latest monograph on Gaia’s heritage was published in 1908! Finally, in 2016, the conditions have been fulfilled to address the problem. And I found out the key facts a few days ago, at the Solar Condes de Resende, an ancient country villa now converted to the Municipal House of Culture. Heritage people are often very passionate about what they do, and J. A. Gonçalves Guimarães is no excuse. The director of the Solar Condes de Resende is a proud “gaiense” (born and raised in Gaia), with the background in history and archaeology. He personally presented to the public the ambitious project of the future monograph (or better, a series thereof), giving an insight into the scope of work that follows and even sharing unresolved questions still to be discussed by the editorial team. And no, it won’t take long: in a little more than a year, the first book will be ready. Meanwhile, more lectures will be organized once a month in the Solar, with the aim to present the Gaia’s heritage to a broader audience. I look forward to finding out more, both from the future books and live, from the true “gaienses” that probably best transmit the very spirit of the place.

“Happiness today is a kind of industry”

The amazing Forum of the Future has just ended here in Porto. Great events tend to unfold simultaneously here, and coincide with mountains of work and deadlines, so I managed to attend just a few of several dozen talks. The common thread of them all was happiness.

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Something to wish and strive for, isn’t it? But there was one session very critical of happiness today, the one with Mirko Zardini, the one I was lucky to attend.

Zardini is an architect, a director of the CCA – the Canadian Center for Architecture, an international research center based in Montreal. He is the one behind many state-of-the-art exhibitions putting architecture in the wider context of social, political and cultural concerns (the latest was about the Portuguese SAAL housing program from the 1970s). The one safeguarding the world renowned authors’ archive (by the way, Siza’s archives are to be kept there, too!).

“Happiness today is a kind of industry”, explains Mirko Zardini. Being aware of social problems and global issues related to migration, cultural differences, energy crisis, sustainability, there is actually little room for happiness. But there are certainly potentials and possibilities to involve architecture in this larger discussion. That’s the CCA’s mission and they do it by putting architecture in the center of attention of the public. Their exhibitions and publications are so very successful that CCA, despite being against happiness, “can be partly happy” with what has been done, Zardini concludes wittily.

I found a special convergence between their architectural thinking and my own work: the “Sense of the City”, exhibition and publication from about a decade ago, searching for an alternative view to the city of today and its critical understanding through multisensory experience.

Zardini doesn’t hesitate to question his own attitudes and perception and insists on involving architectural into a larger social discourse. The main message of all was that of architecture & participation, emphasized by bringing in the famous words of Giancarlo de Carlo: “In reality, architecture has become too important to be left to architects.”

The Light of Lisbon

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There is something special about the light of Lisbon, something magical and inexplicable that has always enchanted artists, writers, poets, ordinary Lisboetas … as well as the rest of us who have been visiting the city. But how to explore, grasp and understand that magic (without killing the charm), how to explain and present such a complex, subtle, intangible feature in a museum?

An excellent (and still ongoing) exhibition, “The Light of Lisbon”, was created this summer, based on love for Lisbon and an combined artistic and scientific approach to the phenomenon of light. As such an unusual exhibition theme requires unusual collaborators, one of the curators was a physics professor, while another came from the area of film and cinema. The space: western tower of Terreiro de Paço, recently acquired from the military authorities and converted for cultural purposes, overlooking the Tagus river and the main city square.

The exhibition cannot be put neither in a scientific nor in an artistic box: actually, the secret might be in the fact that the rational, emotional and the experiential side to the exhibition worked so well together. All my senses were captivated! Pieces of art from the Museum of Lisbon collection (some of them have never been displayed before), poetry that could be listened to, the museum space with windows wide open, letting the view gaze towards the cityscape at times and the very light in question pour in, all that acted in a synergy. Light is a dynamic and changing phenomenon – wonderful timelapses from the very museum roof and the films displayed capture that very well.

And so, it is proven: the materials Lisbon is built of, the colours of its façades, frequent winds that clear out the air, the number of sunny hours, topography, reflections from the water surface, and the interplay of so many other factors have their role in enabling the particular Lisbon light. There are many complex but measurable features to it! Still, for science there always remains an inexplicable bit. As “The Light of Lisbon” shows, its magic and its sense can only be grasped and transmitted completely by bringing art, intuition and experience into play.

Photo credit: Nuno Cera, 2008

Rua José Falcão 199

The José Falcão street is often on my way: the office is situated almost around the corner and the number 199 can’t remain unnoticed: the neo-arab building with a fascinating façade in the middle of Porto stands out, even if it is clad with azulejos like so many other historical houses there. Azulejos are exactly the keyword to understanding the existence of such an edifice: the house number 199 was once the ceramics warehouse of the important Devesas factory, situated in Vila Nova de Gaia.

I entered there once or twice before, thanks to the friends’ recommendation – a very good restaurant occupies a part of the ground floor. But a few days ago, I had an opportunity to learn more about it. On the occasion of the European Heritage Days (this year’s theme was industrial and technical heritage), a guided tour was organized by the municipal Culture department about artifacts of ceramics industry in Porto. The starting point – José Falcão street, 199.

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The representative façades of this building, dating from the beginning of the 20th century, were meant to demonstrate the vast array of ceramic elements that could be produced in the Devesas factory. The façade design has been attributed to José Joaquim Teixeira Lopes (1837-1918), sculptor, dedicated mainly to ceramics, and the co-founder of the factory. Teixeira Lopes was, on the one hand, inspired by the Moroccan architecture and on the other, by classical mythology: that can be seen at the other façade, towards the Conceição street. Even if not very consistent in terms of architectural styles, the building does show the whole range of available approaches to ceramics production (I admit, it didn’t occur to me until the guided visit that those façades were part of the same building).

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I was enchanted to see the inner courtyard, hidden from the eyes of passers-by and isolated from the street noise: another characteristic of traditional Moroccan residential architecture, now belonging to an exclusive restaurant whose spaces unfold behind the iron gate painted in an unlucky combination of red and silver.

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And the two interiors towards the José Falcão street, belonging to the Comme Ça restaurant and an abandoned moto – disco – bar, are both creative and inspiring in their own, particular way. So representative of diversities and differences coexisting happily in Porto!

Singeverga

Autumn weekends in Portugal can be unstable in terms of weather: this one was just like that, with wonderful, sunny Saturday and grey, rainy Sunday. Saturday just called for being outdoors all day: the plan was visiting seemingly ordinary places near Porto where tourists and foreigners don’t usually head – peeking into the “real Portugal”, Portugal beyond the two principal cities and the coast. The itinerary included: passing through Roriz (the one near Santo Tirso), where a very important romanesque church of St. Piter is situated, seeing the Singeverga Benedictine monastery nearby,  stopping at São Mamede de Negrelos, popping to Pombeiro de Ribavizela to visit its monastery church dedicated to St. Mary of Pombeiro, passing through the tiny Vizela and Tagilde, ending at the mount and sanctuary of St. Quiteria overlooking Felgueiras, before the well-deserved dinner.

These places are unfamiliar to a majority of Portuguese, not to mention foreigners, however, the strangest one, Singeverga, might ring the bell for many. Not because its monastery has a huge butterfly collection or the painting attributed to Tintoretto in its posession. It is rather beacuse Singeverga is where the famous Portuguese liquor of the same name is produced. Of course, nobody but a few monks know exactly how it is made.

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One would think the tradition goes centuries back – in reality, it is thanks to a friend of monastery, who happened also to be a chemical engineer, that the production was made possible – back in 1945. The 6000 yearly bottles, manually filled, are one of the main sources of income for the monastery, lead by the Benedictine principle of ora et labora.

I had an opportunity to taste some beautiful, warm caramel coloured Singeverga: very sweet and flavorful, containing, besides alcohol, a range of spices, caramel, black tea, and probably some secret ingredients. But don’t be tricked with the sweetness – it is also very, very strong!

Photo: http://www.garrafeiraspedro.pt