Some weeks ago, I had a privilege to peek into a noble space usually unavailable to the public: the cloister of the Sao Bento da Vitoria monastery in Porto, on the occasion of the Open House Porto day (see also: Open House Worldwide). The monastery is a palimpsest of different histories starting from the end of 16th century. The latest historical layers were added by architects Carlos Guimarães and Luís Soares Carneiro. They have been linked to this space since 1985, when the reconstruction works started, not without serious challenges. Carlos Guimarães faced those challenges and constraints in a unique way, presenting them through a set of anecdotes, “ArchiStories” (as I baptized them) about the Noble Cloister.
Probably the biggest challenge of all arose on the occasion of Porto 2001, when the cloister, by default a semi-open walkway enclosing a quadrangle or garth, was to be turned into a covered space and used by the National Orchestra of Porto. Some of the issues to be addressed were being respectful to one of the most important historical buildings of Porto and a National Monument, resolving strict requests regarding the acoustic properties and introducing contemporary layer into the palimpsest. An unusual task required the architects and their team to do a thorough research, causing them many sleepless nights during the design process.
And then, unexpectedly, inspiration was found: an image of a pallium in a random book on a working table was the key to resolve the problem. A light metal construction on four legs was created, carrying an acoustic canopy, resembling a giant version of a “roof” used in religious processions. Thus, the contemporary yet unimposing structure was built to enable unfolding the present function in this magnificent space. The intervention went into sophisticated details – heaviness of the historical tissue emphasized by lightness of unpretentious, transparent chairs is a contrast worth mentioning.
The mesmerizing archi-story of Carlos Guimarães not only transmitted relevant historical and technical data on the intervention in the Noble Cloister, but also brought to the audience dashes of team work atmosphere, of moments of despair and revelation in looking for solutions, of anxieties before the building’s inauguration, and revived a feeling of relief when everything at the grand opening ceremony went perfectly well.