Creative Cities

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“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/

On summer Sundays and paper suits

It’s a summer Sunday in Porto. A logical move – going for a stroll along the oceanfront. Living in a city by the sea, one can hardly think of nicer way to spend a sunny weekend morning! So, here I am in the neighbourhood of Foz, where the river meets the ocean, and which, within the city, has a distinct cultural identity. Foz is among the most desirable locations to live in Porto, and those of us whose residences are elsewhere love coming here over and over again, for strolls, festivals, gastronomy or nightlife.

This Sunday, it seems all the city strollers decided to unite: the streets of Foz are turning into rivers of people! And it seems the strollers have taken over the roadway, too, as cars cannot pass.

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Hmmm, what might this be all about?

People line up in the shade along the sidewalk, and the music starts. I approach, too, with my camera ready to register this curious event I stumbled upon. And here they come: dozens of ladies and gentlemen, bishops and kings, children, maids, fishermen and their wives, in a parade that revives local traditions, ways of life, monuments, and reminds of prominent people that marked the history of Foz.

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As if we have gone back in time: they are all dressed in beautiful, elaborate, colourful, sometimes even theatrical clothes from the epochs long gone.

The parade doesn’t seem to be very disciplined: here and there, participants step out to wish a good day to a friend or to take a photo or two for their family albums. Quite a few approach to greet an elderly lady who has chosen a nice, shady spot right next to me. Being the participants just steps away, I realize: those wonderful dresses and suits, all the equipment and details, even their shoes, are all made of paper!

I find out that I am in the middle of the celebrations of St. Bartholomew, traditional of Foz, and that the paper suit parade happens to be their highlight. Some claim the tradition is over a 150 years old, others say that it goes just 50 years back, and that it became constant from the early 1990s. I won’t be investigating much into the dispute: maybe it is for the best not letting the truth get in the way of a very nice story!

The parade ends in the sea, but not all the participants dare to have a swim. Despite it is late summer, the ocean is unpleasantly chilly. The bravest ones dip in the ocean in their paper suits until they fall apart.

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This summer day in Porto remains so unique and memorable: the parade theme and the paper suits will be reinvented over and over in the years to come, yet in my mind there is nothing ephemeral about this Sunday.

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.

Photographing heritage

Porto has a very special photographer: Luís Ferreira Alves is dedicated to capturing Porto’s spirit through its architectural heritage. As much as to the city’s historical landmarks, his architectural photography focuses to the more contemporary built legacy created by protagonists of the Porto School of Architecture.

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They actually seem to be the reason why Luís Ferreira Alves dedicated to the architectural photography in the early 1980s, after some soul searching in the area of experimental film and amateur photography. At that time, he helped out a friend who needed photos of his project for an exhibition, and after it was presented at the Faculty of Architecture, interest was raised among architects and commissions followed. Alves then made a risky move: he abandoned his permanent job to dedicate completely to architectural photography.

It turned out the right choice.

Now we know him best through beautiful photos capturing his city and its heritage, like the ones that embellish the recently reissued luxury album Sentimento do Porto. But there is one more curiosity about this author: he specializes in exposing the process of heritage transformation through photographing restoration works. These are far beyond the documents testifying of the works done in the project dossiers, they make one rethink heritage and see it more clearly as a living thing, with a potential to change and adapt to the present times.

This gives visibility to the hidden layers of the monuments’ and the city’s history that often remain inaccessible and overlooked, and (here I borrow the spot-on expression of Pedro Bandeira), helps demystifying heritage that comprises a significant part of our surroundings and daily lives.

My “discovery” of Luís Ferreira Alves comes just on time to share the news of an exhibition that is about to be open in Porto: “Nasoni – Regressos” is about the restoration works on the city’s symbol – the Clérigos church. The opening is on April 21st, 2016, in MMIPO (Museu da Misericórdia do Porto). No need to mention the name of the author!

Details on the exhibition are here.

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.

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

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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.”

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!