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Architecture’s Independent Space[1]

An independent space is managed as an alternative, a space outside the institutional system. Programming can be complementary to a Museum or Arts Centre or it may disrupt that production, as a social, political or cultural way and means of critique. In theory, the weight and informality of an optional space are the identity origin of these venues. With a free programming, without being subjected to the arbitrary lobbying of the political-economic system or dominant culture, they are unusual places. They have atypical, informal, spontaneous occupations, focused on a specific community or public. They are independent places, whose programming covers all the visual arts, where there are usually no boundaries between methods and techniques.

And what about Architecture?

Let’s talk about the ambiguity of the title: architecture’s independent space. We know that architecture deals with space, but is there independence in that cliché? Which architecture best serves these places? What kind of spatiality, environment, areas or measures make it up? Which buildings allow themselves to be occupied by this other purpose? Turning the tables: is Architecture a discipline or reflection present in the programming of Portuguese independent spaces? What is the form and lexicon of that programming?

We start from three examples: O Instituto and Galeria De Arquitetura, both in Porto, and the recent Antecâmara in Lisbon. Before that, I think it’s important to trace architecture’s institutionalised path. This way, we can understand the importance of independent spaces when discussing this discipline.

Let’s Talk about Architecture: Manuel Graça Dias on radio-television – a preamble”

“The discipline of architecture will be, among the different arts, one of the most popular and widely shared. All people arrange and decorate rooms and houses, all have ideas about the city, feasible improvements for it, all are enthusiastic about furniture and designing household objects.” [2] Manuel Graça Dias, 1999 

Manuel Graça Dias (Lisbon, 1953-2019) was an accomplished communicator of architecture and his TV appearance was the first step in a new approach to bringing the discipline and profession to the public. First through image, with the TV show Ver Artes/Arquitetura (1992-1996) then through conversations on TSF radio station, with Ao Volante pela Cidade (1995-1999). In the mass media, Graça Dias spoke of architecture, with independent reflections on urban, suburban and above all metropolitan city planning. We all live in houses and want to say something about them and the city – which is an extension of the private, which becomes public in contact with the community.

Manuel Graça Dias appeared on radio and television in the final decade of the 20th century. We can say that the 90s cultural events, such as Europália Portugal (1991), the CCB opening (1992), or the European Capital of Culture (1994), followed by Expo’98 (1998) (commemoration of the 500 years of the arrival in India and Brazil two years later) were important years for cultural celebration in Lisbon. With various international events, the city transformed its artistic circuit. Architecture, through public works, responded to the urban and cultural needs of the city. The institution and modernisation of the sectors were born, of which the CCB is the greatest example. And also, the construction of the Culturgest vault, in 1993.

Along with the 90s boom, Portuguese architecture is internationally recognised in the work of Álvaro Siza Vieira. The architect was awarded the Mies van der Rohe prize in 1988 and the Alvar Alto medal in the same year. In 1992 he was awarded the Pritzker Prize for his efforts in reconstructing the Chiado.

The turn of the century: from the EXD Design Biennale to the Lisbon Architecture Triennale.

The first Design Biennale emerged in 1999. EXD, an ExperimentaDesign project, brought a different approach to design, focusing not only on production but also on conception – project culture. In 10 editions, it crossed art, design (the many sides of it) and architecture with new audiences. It took place biannually, using different themes/titles. Without a defined physical venue, it occupied unusual buildings in Lisbon, opening them to the city in a spasmodic celebration. Convents, palaces, markets, sometimes public, domestic or commercial venues were perfect platforms to show contemporary productions and practices. The DNA of this biennale encompassed transience, happening and internationalisation. EXD ended in 2017, but the association remained a mediating agent and producer of design-related projects. Primeira Pedra, one of the research units promoted by the association between 2016 and 2022, can be seen in the form of an exhibition at Museu dos Coches until September 25.

In 2007, the first Lisbon Architecture Triennale opened with the theme Urban Voids, under a private and free initiative. The commissioner was the architect José Mateus (current director of the Architecture Triennale). It was born in Lisbon as a platform for reflection and national and international promotion of Portuguese architecture, writing a manifesto over several editions: Falemos de Casa (2010), curated by Delfim Sardo and based on Herberto Hélder’s poem, solidified the event; Close, Closer (2013), curated by Beatrice Galilee, allowed the Triennale to destroy the physical boundaries of discipline and language; there were also the editions A forma da forma (2016), curated by the duo André Tavares and Diogo Seixas Lopes, and A poética da razão (2019) by Éric Lapierre.

As a cultural association, the Architecture Triennale has organised other affairs: Open House Lisboa and Palácio Sinel Cordes, both since 2012. The Palácio project is also a headquarters and gallery for architecture, a creative cluster that hosts multidisciplinary projects that connect architecture to other sectors, bringing this discipline closer to society. Since its opening, the palace has become not only one of the triennale’s focal points, but it also tries to be part of a European network of partnerships with similar institutions.

Although the Triennale was born as an independent incubator, using the same communication language and strategies with the public as other independent structures, it wants to become a major institution. A fundamental organism to produce the discourse of architecture, which uses transitory structural logics. On the other hand, their exhibitions almost always have a careful layout, with means of production that come close to the notion of a museum. Catalogues are replaced by publications or books with flawless graphic design, intended to transmit/produce research, cataloguing, inventorying – knowledge. About the most recent edition, in the last quarter of 2022, Cristina Veríssimo and Diogo Burnay are the curators of another edition of the Lisbon Architecture Triennale, with the theme/title Terra.

In the same year, Garagem Sul (2012), which is now 10 years old, is inaugurated in CCB’s car park. With a direct entrance through Avenida da Índia and with access by stairs to the olive tree garden, Garagem Sul positions itself outside the idea of authorship in Architecture. It distances itself from the idea of monograph and retrospective of authors and the exceptionality of the work. On the other hand, it generates a reflection and an approach that combines different social, economic and cultural contexts.

What do Garagem Sul and the Architecture Triennale/Palácio Sinel Cordes have in common? In a way, they are what we can call “new institutionalism”.

They are entities inspired by novelty and independent knowledge to produce new exhibition scenarios, contributing to a modernisation and apprehension of other realities. The Architecture Triennale, which, on the one hand, was established to be an assiduous presence in civil society, seeks to be legitimised with the Institutions (peers). And Garagem Sul (as a CCB room) seeks to open itself to the urban and cosmopolitan city, with new discourses. This makes us question if there are independent places to talk about Architecture or if the profession, the entities and their agents are too committed to the system. With the public procurement? Can architecture detach itself from institutions and position itself in civil society as a free and critical reflection?

Porto: an urban school for two Pritzkers

The northern accent should feature in this reflection. Álvaro Siza Vieira and Eduardo Souto Moura shape the Porto school. And Porto’s city or contemporary urban model is intertwined with both architects’ work. The international recognition of Portuguese architecture with the Pritzkers Prize took place in 1992, as we have already seen, and 2011. Porto entered the world map as the Architectural Mecca, and the Faculty of Porto as the birthplace of two Nobel Prize of Architecture winners. Besides the recognition and humdrum, this intricate relationship and media projection triggered the reason for the establishment of Casa da Arquitetura, as well as underlining the need for it.

Casa da Arquitetura was installed in a building on Rua Robert Ivens, in a house owned by Álvaro Siza’s family, who designed the redevelopment project. It was there between 2009 and 2017, and then moved to the Real Vinícola, with the aim of being the Portuguese Centre for Architecture. Casa da Arquitetura has a different approach: with various instruments, it archives, studies and disseminates architecture collections that have been donated and deposited.

In partnership with the Matosinhos City Council, it also preserves the heritage of buildings such as Piscinas de Leça (1966) and Casa de Chá da Boa Nova (1963), both projects by Siza Vieira, or Quinta da Conceição (1960) by Fernando Távora, arranging tours and guided visits. Since 2015, Casa da Arquitetura has organised the Open House Porto event, following the same logic of disseminating and bringing the field closer to the public.

Casa da Arquitetura is a storehouse, hitherto occupied by other foundations, libraries and institutions. Although it is an interesting and stimulating educational service, Casa da Arquitetura is primarily associated to the authorial tradition (focused on retrospectives of individual works and monographs, such as the major exhibitionSouto Moura – Memória, Projectos, Obra, or the recent Flashback-Carrilho da Graça, which ends in January 2023), with little connection to the autonomy of transitory spaces. This differs from the purpose of the Architecture Triennial and the Garagem Sul extension.

 

On the Institution’s fringes:

O INSTITUTO

O Instituto, a project by Paulo Moreira, bears the name “Instituto Pasteur”. In 2018, the former pharmaceutical warehouses opened up to the city again, at a gallery that connects Rua dos Clérigos, in the heart of the city, to one of Porto’s many block interiors. The connection between the street and the courtyard that precedes the Instituto is a discovery, where we grope our way down the long corridor towards the light projected onto the blue walls of the courtyard. Like the space, Instituto has an organic and multidisciplinary programme, between art and architecture. The focus is always on society, community, places and territory.

O Instituto has formal features of an independent space. The unusual location and occupation of an atypical building, the collaborations with transitory structures and the estrangement from a dominant vision. On the other hand, it tries to produce an informed discourse, with dialogues on points of conflict. This allows us to reflect on what it is to be contemporary in the community and society. It also debates the role of the architect in liquid modernity, in a constant tension and conflict. And it makes legitimate themes distant from the institutions, although these have been changing their approach recently. Non-consensual themes are addressed differently, either through annual publications or through outstanding communication. The importance of design is common in such sites.

GALERIA DE ARQUITECTURA

Galeria de Arquitetura, a project by the architectural duo Andreia Garcia and Diogo Aguiar, operates in a different field from O Instituto. They are not a gallery dedicated to authors and monographs, but neither do they cater for the conflicting themes of the daily agenda.

We also have to understand the spatial relationship of Galeria de Arquitetura with the street and the public. It opened in 2016, at Rua do Rosário 191, in a street perpendicular to Rua Miguel Bombarda, on a ground floor. The first exhibition, perhaps in a provocative approach, made a reference to the white cube and the lexicon of the gallery/museum: Is this an architectural exhibition? – was the question.

Galeria de Arquitetura wants to provide an answer to what an architectural exhibition is and how it can shape its programming. In this anteroom of a few square meters, the architects/curators presented exhibitions, pointing to future themes and cycle. In common, apart from the remarkable graphic work of the presentation posters, all exhibitions work on the relationship with the street, without mediators or formal obstacles – a niche inconclusive to the passer-by.

In 2017, the Architecture Gallery went to 99 Rua Visconde de Bóbeda, near the Porto Faculty of Fine Arts. The space is still a small commercial surface, having a wide window to the outside.

The strategy is democratization, self-sufficiency and self-management. The contents are presented to the public without prior notice or schedule, like a public showcase or urban antechamber. The gallery is seen from the street, as a kind of urban window, and this is the main interaction.

ANTECÂMARA

Antecâmara was once a bakery with shop windows for the public, in Arroios, before it became the lobby of Pedro Campos Costa’s architecture office.

This is an architecture gallery or an exhibition venue associated with the discipline. It is a radio station with a collective programme, with content about the house and their houses, the houses of others, the streets, the cities and the territory. Above all, it is a project about sound and not image, which deserves to be heard. Invited by Garagem Sul, Rádio Antecâmara made a residency at the CCB, broadcasting several podcasts. The installation is at the CCB until September 2022, under the name SOUND IT, but also on streaming platforms.

Between Antecâmara and Manuel Graça Dias’ radio show on TSF – Ao Volante pela Cidade – 25 years have passed. In almost three decades, the importance of debating cities has gained strength, and specific programmes on the subject have become commonplace. The independent space of architecture has not yet been created. But architecture has taken over some spaces with independent canons, strategies and aesthetics. New discourses on the limits and intersections of several areas have been created. Architecture has become predominant in discussions about the construction of the dynamics of cities and inhabitants.

It is not entirely disassociated from public commissioning and competition. Perhaps this is why it can never be truly autonomous. The venues dedicated to the theme assume the ordinary title of “gallery” as a strategy of validation among peers and by the public. Apart from all this, the diffusion of Portuguese contemporary architecture has an experimental field, in a collaborative and participatory debate, sustained by the production and subsequent reflection of less authorial and more collective knowledge. There is clearly room for the independence of architecture.

 

 

 

[1] Text and research developed within the subject Independent Spaces lectured by Sandra Vieira Jürgens, Post-Graduation in Curatorship, at FCSH NOVA Lisboa.

[2] 2 DIAS, Manuel Graça. (1999). Ao Volante, pela Cidade. Dez Entrevistas de Arquitetura. Lisbon: Relógio d’Água.

 

Frederico Vicente (Lisbon, 1990) master's degree in architecture (postgraduate from FCSH-UNL). In 2018, he founded the Sul e Sueste curatorship collective, a platform that aims to be a hinge between art and architecture, territory and landscape. He has regularly collaborated with the INSTITUTO in Porto, crossing different disciplines, from which exhibitions such as Emma Hornsby's "How to find the centre of a circle" and Ana Paisano's "Handmade" stand out. He was recently curator of the exhibition "Fleeting Carpets and Other Symbiotic Objects" by Tiago Rocha Costa, at AMAC, Barreiro. Professional activity orbits mainly around the multiple ramifications of architecture.

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