Portugal Spring Break Pt. 1 – Lisbon and the Imaginary of Discovery

Portugal Graphic Design
Casa da Musica tickets, transit passes, Serralves and more…graphic design in Portugal is ON POINT

A friend and I traveled to Portugal for five days in search of work by Alvaro Siza and to take a quick break from Rome before finishing out the semester. I decided to photograph and write rather than primarily draw for a change of pace, due largely to the limited amount of time we had. I came [r/h]ome with a handful of ideas and explorations that I am eager to get started on.

We saw far too much to digest and condense into one post, so I’ll leave some photos and thoughts about Lisbon today and tomorrow and follow up with Porto later.

Lisbon Misc
The milky sky and sea culminate architecturally in the tiles that drape the surfaces of the city. The monuments depict scenes of significant explorers and discoveries.

There is an extremely tangible energy and aesthetic of discovery in Lisbon that is instantly recognizable when one thinks of the imagery in the Legend of Zelda Windwaker, Cloud Atlas or Pirates of the Caribbean. The symbolism and imagery is clear: chart the unknown! take to the seas! spoils! MAPS! This imaginary comes from Lisbon’s (and Portugal’s) role as the literal and historical point of departure for the hugely significant Age of Discovery, where new trade routes with Africa and India and the discovery of the Americas ‘reduced’ the size of the Earth into a more legible and globalized world. Somewhere there is an incredible set of maps that reveal not only the Earthscape as we believed it to change based on new voyages, but also the psychological attitudes these discoveries entailed. My knowledge is very limited on the history of Portuguese exploration, but I am eager to pick up some books on the movement back at Parks library, and the energy and aesthetic is truly infectious.

Our first stop towards Siza happened at the Oriente transit stop by Santiago Calatrava:

Santiago Calatrava – Oriente Transit Station – 1998

The transit hub connects four levels of transportation, embodying a variety of biomorphic forms that have aged much better than I was anticipating. This being the first Calatrava work I have seen in person, I was skeptical of the design (due largely to his recent legal problems in numerous countries), and initially ashamed at how quickly I loved visually tracing the swooping profiles, imagining a life in motion and a future of skeletal architecture married to the forms of nature. The spines of fish and the canopy composed of leaves all seem contextually sensitive with the shoreline’s constant sun and breeze.

Across the street stood Siza/De Souto Moura’s ’98 Expo Pavilion:

SIza Pavilion
Alvaro Siza and Eduardo De Souto Moura’s ’98 Expo Pavilion

Despite the structural acrobatics of suspending a material like concrete (a material used for its strength in compression) in tension (note the steel cables detail), the visual and spatial qualities the work exuded was astounding. The weightless ‘sail’, likely to billow or ripple at any moment (another reference to oceanic voyage), protects the occupant from the sun, while framing the city and the ocean in one simple move.The ‘whoa’ moment one encounters when entering beneath an architectural underbelly of such a tremendous size, happens just within its loosely defined confines, as the cone of vision is filled with the curvature of gravity. This gravitational bending, heightens our relationship to the ground and to the presence of the distant horizon.

As opposed to simply underpasses or flat planes, an architectural ‘underbelly’ must take the profile or sectional quality of convexity between the ground and the sky. This kind of curvature, (something I tried in the recent River Memorial  project) communicates a kind of bending of space, signifying a weight, a perceptual challenge to our vision and an acceptance of the shape of the earth and our relationship to it.dumb sketch A formal image that comes to mind is Atlas, holding up the Earth on his shoulders. There is an abstracted tinge of melancholy and the sublime in the underbelly, a formal burden I believe we resonate with as humans. I will continue to explore…

In a display of irony, the pavilion is currently housing a T-Rex, used to advertise an exhibit in the once ’98 world expo building (the constant problem with pavilion buildings: how to use them post-expo?). The T-Rex was dwarfed by the pavilion, its ferocity belittled by an architecture so unique and massive; the pavilion in turn belittled by the T-Rex.

I’m stopping for the night – obrigado


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