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.


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.

O Porto é. Oporto is.


“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.


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


Photo credits and more info:

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!

premio fernando tavora

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:

Photo credit:

João Rapagão at CreativeMornings Porto

The world is small, indeed! Many years ago, I discovered an inspiring blog named swissmiss, run by a Swiss lady who lives and works in New York – Tina Roth Eisenberg. I revisit it often, and only now I realized that it has to do with my today’s theme – CreativeMornings! The free monthly breakfasts + interesting talks for the creative community began in 2008, when exactly Tina Roth Eisenberg founded the event in New York. But then, they started spreading around the world and currently 89 cities are “infected”. I am happy that Porto is one of them!

I know it’s the end of September, but my memory of the CreativeMornings edition for July still remains fresh! The theme (common for all the participating cities) was heritage, and the guest speaker was João Rapagão – a professor, a thinker and an architect from Lisbon (but, from what I deduced, teaching here in Porto), dealing mostly with the problems of built patrimony. The site was just right: the CreativeMornings of Porto take place in its Palace of Arts.

The first thing one usually does at CreativeMornings is presenting themselves through a sticker with a name and a personal view to the topic on the table. This time, the question was “Memory and heritage: why preserve?” (it’s me on the photo!).


And then, so many more issues to think and rethink were brought up by João Rapagão:

  • “heritage as alibi for the fear of change”;
  • “demolition as a way to, actually, give value to heritage in certain cases” (because “there is also old that is bad”!);
  • “sense of loss that creates obsession” (this has to do with the non-existent Crystal Palace of Porto);
  • the role of foreign architects in Portugal (related to the above mentioned Portuguese fear of change and evolution);
  • the question of reuse – “our epoch is just another epoch in the monument’s life”. When conceiving the intervention, one has to keep in mind that current use might not be feasible in the monument’s future and that there has to be room for change.


The summer has passed, and I am still “digesting” these questions! For me, CreativeMorning with João Rapagão was one of the most inspiring mornings since I am in Porto.

Related links:

Photos: CreativeMornings Porto

CAMOC 2014

CAMOC, the ICOM’s Committee for the Museums of Cities, had its annual conference during the first days of August in Sweden. The host was the Gothenburg City Museum.

This year’s topic was a very intriguing one – industrial heritage. CAMOC experts came from around the world, and the host country was the right place to find inspiring, state-of-the-art examples of what can be done in this area.

Thanks to the CAMOC’s grant, I took part in the event, from which I benefited at so many levels! It was great to see all the people I met at the ICOM Rio general conference in Brazil last year and to make new,  beautiful contacts and friendships. It was a privilege to learn from the leading Swedish experts in industrial heritage and to discover how they turn projects and ideas into reality. It was interesting to find out how museums around the world work beyond museum walls and how both experts and non-experts create numerous innovative, museum-like experiences everywhere, from Greece and Belgium to Japan or Australia. It was rewarding to share my own research findings and external views to the industrial heritage of Porto, and to find out it was inspiring to others too!

Out of many precious moments, here I will share a few of the most memorable:

Abandoned Places. Jan Jörnmark started to research abandoned locations accidentally. He ended up publishing several books of photographs: powerful and poetic, the “images worth a 1000 words” kind of photographs. It’s a pity that he, strategically, almost didn’t show any during his keynote speech at the conference…


SAACKE. My dear colleagues Zé Luis Tavares and António Feio also research abandoned places, perhaps as long as Jan Jörnmark, and their work is at least as philosophical and poetic as Jörnmark’s. I hope that, soon, their findings will reach broader public. And we missed them in Gothenburg, even though their work was represented with a video!


The Skateboard Guy. Professor Lasse Fryk used his son’s skateboard as a metaphor for the learning process: true learning is only possible through experiment and practice. Practice, and openness to challenges and possibilities of the contemporary epoch, make perfection!


The textile museum in Borås. More than just a museum, it is a result of a joint effort of the university, the municipality and private investors. An abandoned factory has been converted into a multi-purpose creative center, opened this May. They already have converted 40 000 m2 of space, bringing all textile forces of the region together – from students to fashion designers, entrepreneurs and even innovators. And there are another 20 000 m2 to be transformed for the future tenants! The museum itself was bursting with colour and creativity. My favourite part (every girl’s favourite, I guess): a giant walk-in closet full of clothes, shoes and accessories, where it is possible and desirable to try everything on!




Creative initiatives related to heritage in Athens. Marlen Mouliou explored them all! The Soundscapes/Landscapes project, that she experienced herself, sounded the most interesting to me. The idea was simple: interpreting the history and the atmosphere of a neighbourhood in Athens through its sounds, in real time. A hybrid, interactive artistic installation was commissioned by the Onassis Cultural Center of Athens and various artists participated. According to Marlen, the realization was brilliant – memorable and completely immersive. Something to investigate further!


Photos: my own + (Jan Jörnmark)  +

Quinta do Santiago: learning through experience

Among the many palaces I was lucky to visit over years, discovering Quinta do Santiago in Leça da Palmeira some weeks ago was by far the most imaginative and memorable experience. And I think experience is the keyword here! Not the investment or state-of-the-art equipment, because this cost just some good will, creativity and an elegant suit (but no, the visitors were not expected to be in suits).



The strange visiting hours were the first twist, as we were supposed to appear (in whichever clothes) at 9.30 p.m. And then, we became part of a play! One of the three organized in Quinta de Santiago in a year. This time, the charismatic Joel Cleto was the main character, and the play was about him as an elegantly dressed butler, leading us through the noble family’s house. Revealing its secrets, Cleto was intertwining stories about the family members, urban history of Leça and building of the great port of Leixões, and the broader context of Portuguese history.


The palace was interesting anyway, researched and restored carefully, but no written or audio guide could compare to this way of telling the story, nor inform so well. And the great thing is, Joel Cleto is an expert, in acting as much as in history & heritage.

By the way, the house was built in eclectic style by the Italian architect Nicola Bigaglia in late 19th century. The architect just gave proper form to the ideas of the owner, João Santiago de Carvalho e Sousa, who was educated in fine arts. And obviously passionate about every little detail of his home!


For example, the house has an excellent ventilation system, so besides being pleasing for the eye and the sense of touch (photos cannot reproduce the variety of materials and textures used!), it is also very fresh and dry and simply … lacks that smell of old houses where windows are rarely open!

The old photo of the owner comes from here:

In regard to the insider views from the event, I called M. for photos! A big, big thanks*


Sensing Spaces. (just ended)

Too bad we need the UK visas, otherwise I would not miss the Sensing Spaces exhibition that just ended in the Royal Academy of Arts in London.

The idea was to call seven architects/teams to make installations taking around 23 000 square feet of their interiors, and “reimagine architecture” by addressing not only the eyes of the visitors, but also by emphasizing olfactory or haptic properties of the exhibits. Engaging visitors went also in the direction of giving them opportunity for a creative experience – by letting them finish an installation (weaving colourful plastic straws in the white space of Diébédo Francis Kéré).


One of the installations (Chilean architects Pezo von Ellrichshausen) was in a particularly strong relation with the exhibition space: it brought visitors high up to the ceiling of the hall, the closest possible to the gilded details of its decoration, that would otherwise not be experienced.


Among the great seven from all around the world, two Portuguese architects were invited to participate! Siza and Souto de Moura, the Pritzker prize winners, were present with their works. Souto de Moura was exploring heritage and meanings through creating concrete copies of the door cases and juxtaposing them with the originals. And Siza…from what I saw on the photos, it was something in the museum yard, and the information available said that it was “beautiful” 🙂

Sensing Spaces Royal Academy of Arts_Eduardo Souto de Moura_Joao Paulo Nunes_The Style Examiner (10)


The architect’s own explanation, though, cleared things up: the installation was about “the birth of column”.

Some wonderful links: (a bit about the exhibition)

(Siza talks)

The city through its windows.

My daily dose of art (and architecture) was obtained at the CPF – Portuguese Center of Photography in Porto, the place I will certainly be coming back to.

The 18th century building used to be a prison, but since 2000 it is a home to photographic exhibitions and documentation. Eduardo Souto Moura and Humberto Vieira were in charge for the adaptation project. The interior consist of just mighty stone in thick walls and cold floors, cast iron bars (it was a prison, after all) and a touch of red given by painting wooden shutters.


One of the current exhibitions attracted me particularly: “O Porto à janela” by Pedro Mesquita. It tells so much about the city, but also about its inhabitants: to make the photos possible, the artist asked people to enter their homes and get to have the views as real people do. He was ready for all kinds of hesitation and decline of access. However, hardly anyone said no!

pedro mesquita

And that’s also informative of Porto and Portugal.

P.S. The photos are from the CPF web page; the second one is my favourite Pedro Mesquita’s work from the exhibition.

The houses on the sand

A weekend house project that turned into a Venice Architecture Biennial entry and a very particular hotel …

In 2010, the Aires Mateus brothers were invited by a friend to do a rehabilitation project for one of a group of three traditional small houses (or more accurately, auxiliary buildings) in the Natural Reserve of Sado Estuary, at Comporta, one hour drive southern from Lisbon. The project then evolved into rehabilitation of all three and building a new pavilion, combining old and new materials and at the same time respecting the spirit of the place and local building traditions.


So reed was introduced instead of roof tiles, and small interventions were undertaken on the façades and in the interiors of existing buildings. The new building was constructed of wood and reed too. All in all, two are of wood and reed, and two are of firmer materials. The little yard that all the buildings are opening to is their binding element as well.


And what do the sandy floors mean? The architects said inspiration was coming from an exhibition in the Tate Modern they visited at the time when the project was being developed (exactly the installation with talc created by Cildo Meireles). By introducing sand into the living spaces, everyday life was made much slower and the perception of time changed, explains Francesca Vita in the 2013 monograph on Aires Mateus brothers I’m currently reading.

For now, there’s no way to experience the place in person, as the stay costs 500 – 600 EUR a day, depending on the season. But someday, who knows …


The latest reports!

I am sure all Portuguese already know about it, still very excited to share the important and amazing link:

It is a website of Fernando Guerra, the architect and architecture photographer, containing a whole bank of images related to contemporary Portuguese architecture. And not only Portuguese! He has founded the site together with his brother. His greatest privilege, as he says, is to work with Siza and be the photographer of Siza’s architecture.


Note to self: research thoroughly, investigate how he sees the relations of contemporary and inherited in architecture!

More about Fernando Guerra in this interview:

And a big obrigada to my special source of information 🙂