WHAT PORTUGUESE? – what typifies, differentiates and characterises Portuguese architecture at Casa da Arquitetura

The English name of this exhibition tells us about Portuguese Architecture in an international context. How it stands out, what distinguishes it throughout history, but above all an analysis of the current moment. The path is made through a research project entitled (EU)ROPA – Rise of Portuguese Architecture coordinated by architects Jorge Figueira and Bruno Gil, also the exhibition’s curators.

Portuguese is another adjective attributed to architecture, which tells us of different connotations according to the period. This chronology leads us to the present context, where architecture and the production of criticism deserve to be studied in a context that is not only local. Yes, Álvaro Siza carries the greatest weight in Portuguese architecture in the world, but this research also mentions him as unique for having in him everything that maps out that Portugality dubbed by the architect Nuno Grande as Universalist.

The exhibition opens possibilities of positioning Portuguese architecture from different angles. These may lead us to answers to the most important question What Portuguese? With the involvement of authors for each of the highlighted fields, the invitation to this profiling is made by:

What History?, by Rui Lobo, places us in a western architecture full of subtleties, which only allow us to become aware of the future when they are studied. To do so, we must analyse key moments, such as the coming of international languages to our territory, the ambition to position ourselves abroad, the stages of formal restraint or the need for affirmation, and the contexts of unique moments in the expansion of Portuguese architecture in the former colonies.

What Historiography?, by Jorge Figueira and Eliana Sousa Santos, deals with the significance of the narratives written by critics, who introduce us to opinions and analyses of works and authors. With special emphasis on George Kubler and Paulo Varela Gomes, this section, with references to books or press articles, allows us to understand how the creation of “myths” or the insistence on the use of certain expressions has influenced the perspective on Portuguese architecture, both nationally and abroad.

What Fascism?, coordinated by Luís Miguel Correia, presents us with a hypothetical contemporary reading, according to discourses on notions of identity, ethics and ideology, which may allow an account of a more recent Portugal and its contribution to an architecture that either closed itself off to the world or aspired to freedom and tried not to be held hostage by old-fashioned discourses.

What Colonialism?, by Ana Vaz Milheiro, allows us to understand the logic of territorial infrastructures which, in times gone by, shaped the idea of settlement/mobility or the need for territorial planning and the surrounding political perspectives. A modernist heritage, where Portugal left significant marks in different territories, some for its ongoing importance in the architectural structure of the countries covered, others for the colonial disgrace that history should not wipe out.

What Democracy?, coordinated by Nuno Grande, underlines the “short-circuit” of the post-revolution, which shows post-modern yearnings in our country, while the struggle was still on behalf of modernity. Underlining the political activism of the discipline after the 1974 Carnation Revolution, as a response to issues such as education, housing, health and work, this is an analysis that also reveals the ambition of the European discourse. Álvaro Siza is introduced as a beacon of plurality.

What Social?, by José António Bandeirinha, between moments of collective hope and the end of a regime, shows that architecture also signalled the difference in economic, political and cultural classes. By reading these social processes, we find frailties and consistencies that can also be foundations for the building of the future.

What Women?, by Patrícia Santos Pedrosa and Jorge Figueira. In a country where only in 1942 the first woman graduated in architecture, during the Estado Novo regime, the roughness of a territory where, in 1950, 48% of women were illiterate is worth looking at. It analyses the emergence of women in university education, their activist and associative role, over several decades, where female affirmation was growing in Portuguese architecture.

What Education?, coordinated by Gonçalo Canto Moniz, shows us the cartography of the discipline through its teaching, institutions and policies that established schools and positions between 1966 and the 2000s. Comparing the main differences between Lisbon and Porto, but also all the other discourses, which at different political moments, through academia, revealed architecture’s positioning in relation to culture.

What Research?, by Bruno Gil and Carolina Coelho, tries to map the possible bridges between architecture and science in research since the 1960s, with greater interdisciplinarity, something essential for new practical paths.

What Pop?, by Jorge Figueira and Carlos Machado e Moura, makes us look at architecture through communication. Among more hermetic or hybrid discourses, the strength of a drawing, poster or even a comic strip can remind us of a canon or fable. In multi-toned criticism, such as that of caricature, architecture was the vehicle for the building of mass culture.

How many “Whats” are there in this Portuguese architecture catalogue? All those from the past and the ones there may be in the future, in a present that requires watchful eyes. The exhibition compiles perspectives and elaborates on discourses between the self and the we, the here and the elsewhere, the national and the international.

The exhibition is at Casa da Arquitetura, Matosinhos, until April 24.

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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