Embracing Identity and Opportunity Through Portuguese Architecture

Written by: Shydale James,

The College of Architecture and Design (CoAD) will unveil an exhibition that showcases Portuguese architecture as a national resource, through various scales and diverse programs in public and intimate spaces, for investment in new areas of intervention.

“Portuguese Architecture: Identity and Opportunity” explores the work of contemporary Portuguese architects in Portugal and around the world. Ideas of individuality and unity help connect the works of Álvaro Siza, Eduardo Souto de Moura, João Luís Carrilho da Graça, Manuel and Francisco Aires Mateus, ARX, Jose Adrião, Pedro Mendes, Pedro Domingos and João Mendes Ribeiro, among others.

Curated by Argentine-born architect and author Claudio Sat, the exhibit — which opens Feb. 19 and runs until March 11, with viewing hours Monday through Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. inside CoAD Gallery — intends to spread awareness of modern Portuguese architecture, offering a panorama of works projected and built in the 21st century.

Claudio Sat 

Here, Sat, who will give a lecture on campus Monday, Feb. 26, at 5 p.m., shares his thoughts on identity, constraints and the future of architecture.  

Your exhibition examines characteristics of identity and opportunity. What kinds of identity-conscious strategies exist in the work?

The exhibition tries to demonstrate that, since a century ago, the nationalist movement of the Portuguese House — with Raul Lino as the central figure — has sought a national architecture that reflects a way of living and building specifically Portuguese. It seeks its roots in popular architecture, with the aim of distancing itself from international or universal solutions that come consecutively from neoclassism, from the rationalism of the modern movement and, more recently, from globalization. From Lino, with its formation close to the arts and crafts, this identity is expressed in an organic architecture adapted to each place, solved with traditional materials and whose external form is generated from the interior by light and space.

Is there an inherent way of making architecture that allows us to outline its constraints and define an identity?

Yes, and a sensitivity to interpret each place — be it in Portugal or not — [and] respond in the spatial and social sense to its constraints. These constraints, which in other countries can be interpreted as difficulties, are transformed by many Portuguese architects, such as Siza Vieira, into valuable data. Identity in Portugal is expressed in examples characterized by the ability to achieve buildings of great emotional content from austere materials and narrow spaces. I admit that outside Portugal, the correct answer may have another expression.

How does current Portuguese architecture allow for the investment in new areas of intervention?

It is precisely this versatility and resilience of the Portuguese people — who almost always emigrated and usually succeeded — that generates the confidence to overcome certain crises. In this sense, the current difficulties in Portugal, caused by economic crises and the almost inexistent construction of new works, constitute an opportunity to work on the rehabilitation of existing buildings and their interiors.

As it pertains to expression and collective identity, what does your work, and the work of the architects on display, tell us about the future of architecture?

What interests me in my architecture, and [what] I think is of interest to my colleagues, is not participating in a certain Portuguese architecture, but a way of doing architecture in Portugal, based on an empirical and sensitive response to intervene in a physical, economic, social and cultural context, wherever it may be. I think the future of architecture will be precisely in its ability to correctly read global realities to generate local responses.

For more information about the exhibition, please contact CoAD Gallery Director M. Gosser at: smatt_nj@yahoo.com or call (973) 596-3080.