Portuguese architecture – Discussion 9

The great rules of architecture are universal, only varying in language and form to fit into its endemic surroundings. This found expression in the refreshing presentation by Ar.Tiago Santos on Portuguese architecture. Tiago, who hails from Lisbon, practiced in his city for over five years before embarking on a journey of exploration that brought him to India.

The presentation began with the work of the trio – Ruy Athouguia , Pedro cid and Alberto Pessoa who designed the headquarters for Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon. The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation is a Portuguese private institution of public utility whose statutory aims are in the fields of arts, charity, education and science. A landmark in the Portuguese Architecture of the 60′s, the apparently simple, modern building is skillfully combined with the surrounding park with its lake and open-air auditorium to form a harmonious whole. The building seemed to hold a character of serene monumentality and seemed to have a rational ordering within itself.

Moving on, we were introduced to the work of Carillho de gracia.  Knowledge of the sea Pavilion, which is an abstract, sharp geometrical composition – two rectangles at right angles to each other reflecting the stark modernity and minimalism that runs through modern Portuguese architecture.  However, the creation of spaces within the building – the open courtyard with greenery, provides respite and adds to the sculptural quality of the building.

An optimal mix of the fierce minimalism and organic restfulness was the work of starchitect Alvaro Siza. Tiago presented before us two buildings of Siza with almost contrasting characters. One was the Portuguese pavilion – minimalistic, logical and precise the prominent feature of which was a concrete sail anchored on fin-line walls. The building responds with clean straight walls and geometric volumes respond to the needs with no frills. Almost in contrast to this is the serpentine gallery. A non uniform form developed in response to the site – accommodating the trees and other elements. The framework of wood and mortar-tenon joints with polycarbonate sheets provides abundant natural light.

Tiago seemed to be of the opinion that a discussion on Portuguese contemporary architecture cannot be complete without the work of Eduardo Souto Moura. Clean lines, buildings that seem to stand on their edge in an honest, non-superfluous manner seem to define his style. An array of residences, including one reminiscent of the monumentality of pyramids and another, for a cinematographer which literally spells out the vocation of its resident capture interest.

However, the contemporary architecture of Portugal, with the exception of Siza seems to give greater attention to the visual and spatial aspect of the building. It seems mostly unrelated to the context and bold – with no symbolic and metaphoric allusions.  The architects seem to be detached from the old-world need for relation to the environment and search of meaning. The buildings just seem to hold their own and stand apart, in bold defiance to the past.

While the merits of tendency are debatable – this glimpse into the architectural scenario in Portugal provided us direction and inspiration – to transform the ideals of postmodernism to fit into a paradigm of our own.

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