In the middle of the ocean

Until very recently, I knew almost nothing about Cabo Verde, except that it is a tiny country spread over an archipelago in the middle of Atlantic Ocean, and that amazing Cesária Évora was from there. But, living in Portugal, one gets to find out more sooner or later: there are more Caboverdians living abroad then in Cabo Verde itself.

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A few days ago, I learned a valuable lesson about Cidade Velha, the world’s oldest colonial city, funded by the Portuguese in 15th century (1462). Simultaneously, I learned a lot about Álvaro Siza and the qualities of a great architect.

Cidade Velha has been on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 2009. Knowing the requirements and the contents of application dossiers and having been involved in their preparation before my present “Portuguese phase”, I could imagine how complex task it must have been to manage the inscription of a site in Cabo Verde, with scarce human and technical resources and all kinds of obstacles on the way.

That process was reflected in the documentary I have just discovered: “Siza Vieira, Arquitecto e a Cidade Velha”, directed by Catarina Alves Costa. The film is not recent (it dates from 2005), but it turned out still state-of-the-art and revelatory for me, as much about Cidade Velha and its people as it was about Siza and his sensibility.

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The idea to candidate Cidade Velha for the UNESCO World Heritage List was not new: Siza was invited by the local authorities to help in the course of preparations, in the beginning of 2000s. The film was following some three years of the process, capturing the dynamics of various, often opposed forces present. It was admirable how the architect dealt with the multitude of factors: being respectful to the people and their needs, at the same time recognizing and preserving the values of historical architecture and the sense of place, and not letting local politicians compromise the project. The film was an excellent reminder on how being a (great) architect is not about being an unconstrained creative artist, it is about swimming in the sea of opposed streams and forces and still bringing in new values for the people and their cultural landscape.

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How does one explain the need to preserve authenticity to people who replace their thatched roofs with roof tiles because the only thing they want and truly need are better living conditions? What to respond when they ask: “But why don’t you cover your own house with the beautiful and authentic reed?” How does one cope with the politicians who let one take the risk of failure and, when the work is done, ascribe the merit to themselves? How does one find a fine balance between the need for change and modernization and the heritage values? How to be respectful and down-to-earth, and still contribute personally as an author? That is also what the documentary was about. Conservators could learn from this film and from Siza, I believe.

From what I have found out, the document Siza was developing, the Plan of Recuperation and Architectural Transformation of Cidade Velha, was completed in 2008, beyond the scope of the film. The Plan turned out to be one of the bases for the successful candidacy of the site, even though it was only partially realized.

Photos: UNESCO

See more about Cidade Velha: Cidade Velha, UNESCO world heritage list page

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The Douro valley experiences

The Douro valley on a warm, golden autumn day is a great place to be. There are people who travel half the world to get to see it, and I am so privileged to live nearby! Last weekend, the time has come to pay a visit to the region, passing through Mesão Frio, Peso da Régua, Pinhão and Quinta do Seixo, where I spent most of the afternoon.

The Alto Douro region has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2001 and it is one of the world’s oldest recognized and protected wine production regions. And its contemporary life is flourishing amazingly!

An average Portuguese is probably as much as a wine expert as a professional enologist in countries with less wine culture. Wine is a part of their everyday and a major pillar of the national economy. Never forgetting the traditional modes of wine production (which can be known from azulejo panels or learned about in museums), they however opted for the use of latest technologies in this industry nowadays. So there are robots, computerization and wine institutes with highest precision instruments involved to get the best of what nature has to offer.

Actually, Portuguese wine producers don’t hesitate to take the best of both worlds, and that can be seen in Quinta do Seixo: in 2007, the old structures there were recuperated and a modern winery constructed, upon a design by Cristiano Moreira & Associados. Cristiano Moreira (1931-2012) was a professor at the University of Porto, with significant experience in industrial facilities, and, in my opinion, refined approach towards the beautiful Douro landscapes, both cultural and natural.

Voilà, here I am at the Quinta do Seixo: at first glance, it seems to be an immense complex of vineyards, with a well-maintained old building, perfectly integrated into the landscape. During the tour, I discover lots of contemporary elements invisible from the outside. And later, with some a posteriori research, I realized the scope of construction works done!

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The quinta (the wine production estate) is situated near the village of Pinhão. The view to the wavy hills in all shades of green and earthy autumn colours is breathtaking. And there I come to the recuperated building itself. There is nothing in it that is not in harmony with the landscape. The technology is only visible from the inside: the robot-presses for the grapes instead of human labour and steel barrels for the wine to be preserved up to highest standards, the video-projectors everywhere and the latest-generation illumination. Maybe even a little too contemporary presentation, if you ask me!

Update: the interior design is a project of another architect, Paulo Lobo, who is responsible for many interesting contemporary interiors in Porto (thx Marta Costa!)

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But then, after the theoretical part, I get to taste the port wines, and that is an experience involving all senses. From the dark and elegant exposition and interpretation spaces, one gets to the bright, sunny tasting area, opening towards the landscape. Oh, how cleverly were the mirrors used to reflect the western sun and create shades and reflections! The division towards the outer space was nothing more but the thin glass surface that stretched throughout the entire length of the room. However, I was blessed with the best possible weather, so I spent most of my time outside at the terrace. The view stretched from Pinhão in the distance to the green terraced landscapes all around. The building and the terrace were just……nature rearranged: the layered stone façade with rich texture, the earthen esplanade with touches of grass and moss, and the shiny spotless glass surface reflecting once again the landscape.

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Silence is broken by glasses tinkling in a toast. And then, a sip of vintage ruby port crowns this magic experience.

Photos: all mine except the first one, which comes from http://www.afaconsult.com/portfolio/29911/92/adega-da-quinta-do-seixo.

Torre da Sé in Porto.

Hereby I present another discovery from the yesterday’s historical city tour – the Torre da Sé, designed by Fernando Távora in late 1990s-early 2000s (to be precise, between 1995 and 2002). The tower is situated in the very heart of the historical city – just next to the cathedral. And it doesn’t lie about its epoch: it is unmistakeably contemporary addition to the continuity of the Porto’s history of architecture. The main materials are granite (so, the traditional stone building was reinterpreted and continuity established) and glass (to provide a sense of our own epoch and also reinforce interaction, since the tower is meant to be a public space).

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This kind of intervention is probably among the most demanding and sensitive tasks for an architect. And I think he did it with a success, maintaining his own identity as an author, yet being highly sensible to the historical values of the environment.

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The tower was actually built on the ruins of an ancient building, the so called Casa dos 24, upon a call from the then mayor of Porto, Fernando Gomes. Casa dos 24 – because it is where the 24 local officials used to gather. The proportion system of the tower emerged from the interpretation of an old text containing the description of the previous building. The main unit is “o palmo”, which amounts to 22 centimeters. So, the tower is 100 palmos tall (22 meters, that is), the walls are exactly 5 palmos thick (110 cm), and its length and width amount to 50×50 palmos, that is 11×11 m. Of course, the interior system of measures also conforms to this palmo module.

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One more curiosity: the Távora’s building does not have any particular function, but to enable visual experience and enjoyment of the city!

Btw, FT lived between 1923 and 2005, he was a very important figure in Portuguese architecture and rethinking relations towards the past, so I’m sure there will be more posts about him here.

The oldest house in Porto.

Only a few days have passed since I am based here in Porto, and I already found out which the oldest house here is!

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The house is named “Casa do Beco dos Redemoinhos” and it’s situated very near the city cathedral (to be precise, just behind it). It is dated in the first half of 14th century. Of course, not all authentic elements and details are preserved to the present day. It belonged to a rich merchant who traded with northern European countries. Therefore, there are some Gothic elements (Gothic arches at the doors and windows, two original windows preserved out of 4) and influences of Flemish architecture visible on its façade (the chimney is placed in the middle of the façade, just like in Flanders of that epoch).

Unfortunately, the gate towards the house was locked yesterday at the time of my visit, yet I found nice photos on the web for the blog. And a nice short film about the house, though in Portuguese: http://www.jn.pt/live/Programas/default.aspx?content_id=3650556

For this discovery and the link, I am thankful to my special guide through Porto.

The REHAB 2014 conference

Three days in March (19th to 21st) are reserved for the International Conference on Preservation, Maintenance and Rehabilitation of Historical Buildings and Structures (REHAB 2014), taking place in Tomar, Portugal. It is organized by the Green Lines Institute for Sustainable Development. It sounds so interesting for all the heritage people with its nine main topics, ranging from theoretical considerations  to matters of inclusivity or new materials applied in rehabilitation.

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Two more good things about the conference: the deadline for abstract submission is extended until December 31st, 2013, and the dear lady and a great expert Görun Arun I know from Mostar TA-MIR seminars will be in their Scientific Committee. BUT the registration fee is über-pricey – 400 € regardless of being a presenter or attendant. Well, something to keep in mind and decide about when the time comes.

The link to the conference: http://rehab2014.greenlines-institute.org/rehab2014website/

Hmmm, what do I know about Tomar? Just one fact so far, it has a world heritage site, the Christ’s Convent. I adore this drawing from the travel sketchbook of a Parisian blogger/artist nicknamed Flinflin:

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The intangible Portugal.

Heritage is not only about the material structures, of course. There is a whole range of oral traditions, performing arts, rituals, festive events, practices and skills to be thought of in that sense. People still have a basic need of physical and mental belonging to a particular context and those intangibles are still living and so much needed in the present times.

However, until recently, the traditions, practices and skills have been treated separately, country by country. Namely, the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage is quite a 21st century thing and it has been just 10 years since its adoption now.

There’s a world intangible heritage list, with one entry from Portugal so far – the Fado, which was inscribed in 2011. It’s defined as the popular urban song of Portugal, emerged at the beginning of 19th century and associated primarily with Lisbon and maybe Coimbra. The keyword to fado is saudade (the untranslatable word for longing and melancholy and feeling of loss).

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Another intangible asset of Portugal, shared with several other countries and planned to be inscribed in the world heritage list is the Mediterranean diet. There have been some problems in the course of inscription, as far as I know, but having been to Portugal I can say there’s no better example of a living tradition! Something to be investigated and lived in-depth, so I hope, as there are senses and heritage and present time in the mix!

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There’s a museum dedicated to fado in Lisbon, they mapped a few fado-related things, which can be seen here: http://roteiro.museudofado.pt/

There will be an exhibition in Tavira (Algarve) dedicated to the Dieta Mediterrânica – Património Cultural Milenar, linked to its inscription, something to keep in mind for next February/March. Link: http://www.unesco.org/culture/ich/index.php?lg=en&pg=00482&activityID=00094

The twins.

I have been to both cities and I agree, Avenida dos Aliados in Porto and Wenceslas Square in Prague seem to be look-alikes. I am supporting the claim with some photos:

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I have found out other important facts about the Avenida dos Aliados, considered the most important public space in Porto.  Is that  was remodeled in 2006 by Alvaro Siza and Eduardo Souto de Moura, the renowned architects and Portans themselves. Besides its representative works of architecture, the central city avenue and square, built at the beginning of the 19th century, used to have vivid mosaic pavements, lush green ambiance, but also the problems of traffic chaos and impossibility of mass gatherings.

The keywords for the 2006 project were ordered traffic flow, opening new vistas to the works of architecture in the Avenida and in side streets, and creating a central space for gatherings. However, the outcomes were not so happily accepted, and it was particularly difficult for the citizens to accept the removal of the green spaces.

This is how the Avenida dos Aliados used to look before:

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Some more info can be found at: http://monumentosdesaparecidos.blogspot.com/2012/05/jardins-da-avenida-dos-aliados-porto.html