Creative Cities

creative-cities-conference

“Cities are the places of opportunity, but also of challenge”: this is how Francesco Bandarin began his address at the international conference on Creative Cities, that I attended just a few days ago. Porto, that hosted the fifth edition of the conference, is itself one of the creative cities (with or without the UNESCO’s designation). The city has been marked by constant interplay of its historical and innovative side, and thus was a great choice for an international, transdisciplinary gathering exploring creativity and the city.

The event was complex and demanding in terms of organization: participants arrived from all continents and disciplinary backgrounds. Three conference days were needed to give space to them all. Yet, parallel presentation sessions and parallel round tables could not be avoided. All in all, there were 25 paper sessions and six round tables, but, with thorough preparation and insight into the program ahead of the event, I managed to attend most of the presentations from my “wish list”. For the others that I missed, it is great the organizers have already provided the book of abstracts and the draft version of proceedings (here I need to point out a slight obstacle for an international attendee: many contributions were in Spanish and Portuguese only).

I am still going through my notes and the materials made available by the organizers, but I can point out two great benefits this conference brought me: the first is that I learned a lot about the UNESCO’s Creative Cities network and sustainable urban future, thanks to the keynote speech of Francesco Bandarin; the second is that I learned so much about Porto, the city that is subject to my own research.

More about the Creative Cities conference: http://www.cidadescriativas2017.com/en/

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Genius Loci

Better belated than never, here I come with a glimpse into a recent conference on places and meanings: Genius Loci, held at FLUP in late April. As if the programme was tailor-made to correspond with my latest research interests! The presentations within seven major thematic sections were organized in parallel sessions. And there lied a little problem: I simply couldn’t be at all presentations I wished to attend!

FLUP’s Department of Heritage Studies organized the event on the occasion of its twentieth anniversary, together with its specialized body named CITCEM (standing for the Transdisciplinary Research Centre “Culture, Space and Memory”). The diverse areas covered ranged from sacred spaces, over heritage management issues to representations of vernacular and transitional worlds.

The atmosphere at FLUP was amazing: a river of curious people engaged in learning something new and passionate about knowledge exchange. I heard about creative geography of cinema, learned valuable facts about the spirit of Porto, about Portuguese architectural regionalist movements, got acquainted to theoretical approaches on walking as a mode of construction of place, on hybrid spaces and place-making. Some of that, actually, by serendipity, stumbling upon presentations: while waiting for the desired speeches, the others that were to attend in-between revealed themselves equally interesting!

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Last but not the least, the position and architecture of the FLUP’s building certainly contributed to the inspiring atmosphere of the event. The postmodern edifice is a work of Nuno Jennings Tasso de Sousa from the end of 1980s. It was designed for 4000 students, combining a myriad of open and covered spaces, carefully integrating the interplay of light and shade, and viewpoints leading the curious visitor to discover the surrounding cityscape and the architectural accents of the building itself.

The cultural landscape of Porto

Lately, the Saturday afternoons I spend in Porto are booked: they are dedicated to new discoveries related to the city’s cultural landscape. The discoveries touch Porto’s natural environment, the man-made structures and features, and the character and values of its people.

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Yes, this article is about the new, third edition of Um Objeto e Seus Discursos, that goes on from the beginning of March all the way to December here in Porto. The idea is simple: meeting weekly at a different place, with a different group of interesting speakers, whose starting point for a talk is an object significant for the city and its history, be that history distant or quite recent.

Thanks to this initiative, I have already had an opportunity to visit some spaces normally inaccessible to public and learn lesser known facts and episodes about Porto. And after two years, there is still so much to uncover about its cultural landscape. The 2016 discoveries started with food: the history of “tripas à moda do Porto” was addressed, but it wasn’t all – the typical dish of Portans could be tasted as well!

And there is so much to look forward to! I am especially curious about visiting the Palacio da Bolsa, where Gustave Eiffel’s desk is kept, finding out if one of the bodies buried in the Clerigos church really belongs to Nicolau Nasoni (there is archaeological research ongoing), or discovering lesser known details of Porto’s urban history through a visit to over a century-old public toilets.

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.”

My European Heritage Days in Portugal

One might think it’s a recent fashion, but European Heritage Days actually celebrate the whole 30 years this September!

The initiative dates back to 1985, when Council of Europe started it with the aim of raising awareness of European cultural diversity. Then, in 1999, it turned into a joint initiative of CoE and EU and nowadays it attracts the whole twenty million people across fifty countries. The idea is to make cultural monuments more open and accessible to anyone interested, thus the European Heritage Days are also known as Heritage Open Days. And yes, this also means free entrance to the museums and free visits to monuments in entire Portugal on September 27h!

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A vast array of events linked to heritage and museums have one common thread – they share the annual theme. In 2015, the European Heritage Days are about industrial heritage.

As I was working in a heritage protection institute for a decade, until the beginning of 2014, our Septembers were very much dedicated to Heritage Open Days events. I remember some enjoyable but quite long days and working weekends on the organization side, adding my little contribution to making heritage more visible and more present in our citizens’ everyday. And I am happy that tradition continues in a different way, in another cultural context.

An external view to a country’s heritage and cultural identity functions somewhat as a mirror: one is curious to know how others see them. And that was, I believe, the reason for me to be invited to ISLA (Instituto Politécnico de Gestão e Tecnologia) in Vila Nova de Gaia, to participate in their event commemorating the European Heritage Days 2015.

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I told a story about the discoveries of a cultural tourist – that was just me disguised as one, of course – related to Porto’s industrial heritage, its past and present contexts and its possible future. I have learnt immensely from those discoveries! Switching between the two countries and the status of more-than-a-visitor in Portugal enabled me a detached view on the well-known problems of industrial (and all other) heritage back in the homeland, informed by the discoveries on how others do, and how they face their challenges. Not being without its problems, the industrial heritage experience from Portugal still offers many inspiring initiatives and good examples to learn from.

Look at the European Heritage Days website for a very nice interactive map of EHD 2015 events across Europe.

Saturdays at six

A common idea unites cultural Saturdays here in Porto: interesting artifacts as starting points of most diverse talks and presentations around the city, throughout the year. Yes, “Um objeto e seus discursos” (“An artifact and its discourses”) continues in 2015!

005Many Saturday afternoons across the city, all the way to December, are already on my wishlist thanks to Objeto, a cultural initiative organized by Porto City Hall, touching themes of history, art and contemporary society. I will be visiting new places, mostly unavailable for general public, or revisiting the ones I know, to meet people and learn new things. So far, I have walked though the monastery of Santa Clara and seen remains of the city walls, and learned about “New Portuguese letters” and the censorship they were subject to in early 1970s.

The mondrianesque design of the little brochure reflects the simplicity of the idea, and, at the same time, vastness of possibilities to interpret and reinterpret one same object from diverse perspectives and in different epochs.

003Looking forward to seeing the Afonso Henriques’ sword, entering the House of Prelada and its labyrinths, seeing the Aliados avenue from the City Hall balcony, learning about the meaning of the traditions related to the St. John’s day, seeing Rosa Mota in person in her pavilion, revisiting the VIP hall of Casa da Música.

And all this for free……..or almost so!

Besides being in Portuguese only (not a problem for me any more, though!), my single remark is regarding the quite chaotic organization of practicalities: this lead to finding out there will be a sequel of the 2014 Objeto very, very late, as well as impossibility to buy all tickets at once, or at least at a central place, for example.

http://www.umobjetoeseusdiscursos.com/