Physics of Portuguese Heritage. Architecture and Memory, a liquid, solid and gaseous equation

The exhibition Physics of Portuguese Heritage. Architecture and Memory, at Museu de Arte Popular, lasts until September 29th, becoming part of the European Heritage Days.

It will be the last session of the parallel programme of the exhibition, with a conference by the architect João Luís Carrilho da Graça, at 6 pm on 26 September. The presentation will be made by the architect Jorge Figueira, the main curator of the exhibition.

A reflection on the Portuguese Heritage, extended to everyone and not just to experts – this was the idea upheld by Jorge Figueira. Even within the class, the term “heritage” continues to be complex and the definition of “Portuguese architecture” is subject to different interpretations, in a country where the ideas of pre-existence and memory had a moment before and an after the 1974 revolution. If, until the Carnation Revolution, the height of modernity was based on a pre-existing Portugal, as proved by the exhibition Mundo Português in 1940, then came the change, and also in-depth analyses of the historical legacy – among them, the intervention of architect Álvaro Siza in Chiado.

With his typical irony, Jorge Figueira mentions in the exhibition catalogue “Adaptive, restorative, memorialist, the Portuguese architecture is not a clean slate, nor it can imagine a future disconnected from the past. Not even in the long-gone years of modern architecture, which architects like to evoke. But we shall not talk about “heritage” …” Without taboos, he proposed thinking, analysing and showing recent interventions on Portuguese heritage, precisely in a remarkable and controversial building like Museu de Arte Popular, in Belém. What better place to tell this “troubled” story of 20th-century Portuguese culture?

In a country where economic issues and the lack of specialised criticism were obstacles to the protection of Heritage, it’s important to celebrate in this exhibition examples of how, surgically, some works were important for that “knowing how to look” and “knowing how to intervene”. Together with the architect Carlos Machado e Moura, the curators of this exhibition believe that talking about Portuguese architecture is also about reading these interventions. Jorge Figueira said, in the presentation of this exhibition, that “you can’t talk about Álvaro Siza without talking about Chiado; you can’t talk about Souto Moura without talking about Bouro; you can’t talk about Carrilho da Graça without talking about Flor da Rosa”, among many other examples.

Many exhibitions, research efforts and conferences have already been held by academics and technicians, who have been working on the thought and preservation of heritage for decades. Physics of Portuguese Heritage is a tribute to all those who work for it, but wants to go further in that celebration. Beyond the physicality and construction of architectural matter, there is also a metaphor of the various states of that same matter.

In the liquid section, the exhibition reveals to us, with several examples, that Portuguese architects create a dialogue with the heritage “without excessive adornment”, or “nonchalantly”. This does not mean “disrespecting”, but it reveals a “non-inhibition when entering buildings”, giving them a contemporary appropriation. The “solid” state is presented with six models of six places, which tell us that, unlike the “liquid” examples, there are spaces in Portugal with an emblematic and symbolic weight that the intervention has not been able to overcome, such as Sagres or Alta de Coimbra. And, in the “gaseous” state, we have the important debate on the changes in downtown Lisbon and downtown Porto. A kind of “evaporation” that we don’t know how it will end, discussing the issue of tourism (mainly through one of the round-table discussions of the parallel programme), but not turning into the exhibition’s main subject matter.

With the lucidity of someone who studies Portuguese architecture, Jorge Figueira not only emphasizes projects that have been able to deal with heritage, but also shows, for the more attentive, the levity with which it is sometimes treated. This exhibition must be visited. Not as a compendium of works by the “untouchables”, but as a subtly sarcastic analysis of the paradoxes presented, in a discourse found between danger and seduction.

Fabrícia Valente holds a degree in Architecture from the University of Évora (pre-Bologna) and has training in complementary areas such as video, photography and the production of temporary exhibitions. She is an active curator (eg KAIROS Pavilion), Critic (she is the editor of the online section of Architecture of the Umbigo Magazine and is part of the J–A editorial team) and works in Cultural Mediation (Museu Colecção Berardo and MAAT) on more than 90 exhibitions. She collaborates with several entities in the search for multidisciplinarity between Architecture, Plastic Arts and Music, areas where she develops research works.

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