Portugal Spring Break Pt. 2 – Lisbon and the Imaginary of Discovery

Next in Lisbon we headed to the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, which housed an incredibly charismatic selection of work from around the world. The building was strikingly similar to Saarinen’s John Deere Headquarters in Moline, IL in its horizontality, lowness, form, use of natural vegetation and material punctuation. It is an incredibly handsome and masterly building.

The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, completed in 1969 by Ruy Jervis d’Athouguia, Pedro Cid, and Alberto Pessoa

One thing that struck me about the collection was the number of animals represented across cultures. I found myself thinking about discovering my power animal, The Great Horned Owl, at a young age. I was really young and the experience was very bizarre, but somehow the notion of a spiritual protector or guide still resonates, and this museum re-energizes that sensibility: just look at Gulbenkian sitting in front of a mighty bird, in mutual pride and ease.

[In high school I spent a lot of time thinking about the Great Horned Owl as both ‘harbinger of death’ and bringer of knowledge. I still find the relationship fascinating, and (thanks to my latest lecture series) have been thinking of late about Einstein and the wonders and devastation his new knowledge brought upon the world…purity or awareness? the struggle of modernity? See quote in next image.]

The adoration towards the animal felt in this museum reminded me of just how magically other these creatures are and how remarkable it is we can still connect with beating hearts, in so many different ways…I must remember to smother Metro with hugs when I get home.

From the museum we got sandwiches and mango juice for the unreasonably low price of 2 euro. We took the metro back to the hostel and proceeded to MUDE, a fashion museum near the waterfront in the Baixa-Chiado area.

MUDE Exhibition of Student work from the University of Lisbon, and the work of Felipe Oliveira Baptista

The museum was only three floors of exhibition, but the quality of work was spectacular, inspiring, disorienting. The second floor exhibit was work from an architecture school in Lisbon and it was broken into elements of design. The third floor was devoted to a fashion designer. Because the space was so raw, unfinished and exposed, the pristine lines and forms of the clothes were very dramatic and impressive. There were somewhere around twelve ‘booths’ of clothing lines: panes with glass on one side and white plaster on the other. The clothes were presented always on the white side, while the glass bent and twisted the spaces surrounding the booth. The effect was dizzying and surreal; a fun house of architectural decrepitude with bursts of white and avante garde clothing.

From MUDE we headed west towards the Belem Tower. We saw Jeronimos Monastery, mainly the Church for Santa Maria, famous for its webbed vaulting. Here along the coast with the monument to discovery and the maritime, crustacean ornamentation of the Church, the imaginary of discovery was most present.

Santa Maria Church at Jeronimos Monastery, completed in the 16th century by Diogo Boitac and Juan de Castilho

Architecturally the style is Manueline, distinct to the age of discovery in its representation of voyages and instruments of navigation and reveals to the world the wealth new international trading afforded the Portuguese. Standing next to the tomb of Vasco da Gama, the explorer who established a trade route with India, it was hard not to be filled with this romanticized gusto of exploration. Navigation! Spices! MAPS! Here was where the voyages/ers were blessed before charting the unknown. Here was where people mapped the heavens, turned towards the sea and just freaking went for it.

We headed west towards a new Charles Correa project suggested to us by a professor. It was a complex of three tear drop shaped volumes connected above ground by a tubular sky walk and below ground through a network of tunnels and parking. The project is aptly named the Champilaud Centre for the Unknown, and the bizarre architectural languages employed certainly reinforce the program as an exploratory research and diagnostic center. Inside we found a beautiful garden, rooms dedicated to nuclear medicine and radioactive therapy, a playground and prayer room. The bizarre language came from its oval cutouts that punctured the tear drops, one becoming a window to massive auditorium, the majority of the cutouts being into an open air landscaped area, for recovering patients and waiting family members. The siting of the building could not be better, as it gathers you up and out towards the sea in a dramatic sloping gesture.

Charles Correa’s Champilaud Centre for the Unknown, completed in 2010

Having studied Chuck’s Kanchanjunga Apartments in Mumbai, I can only assume he’s functioning on a much higher level, and that all the moves have sustainably progressive motives, or formal poetry that I couldn’t fathom on our short visit. Again the program of the building reinforced the notion of this city as leading the way into the next worlds of discovery and opportunity, the subject matter has changed, the attitude has not.

That bizarre and perplexing building being our final stop, reinforced the notion of Lisbon as point of departure into the unforeseeable future. As I mentioned here and in the previous post, it is an infectious imaginary, one that resolves itself architecturally in the Manueline style, and stylistically in everything from urban sculpture to the graphic identity of Lisbon’s Public Transit system. It set up a bias for the next two and half days in Porto, which I found to have similar qualities but far more charisma and nuance – notions I will get to in the next few days.




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