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Home arrow ZOOM arrow 16. BIENNALE ARCHITETTURA | The Consequences of Architecture. The Portuguese experience, a model to aspire to
16. BIENNALE ARCHITETTURA | The Consequences of Architecture. The Portuguese experience, a model to aspire to
Written by Paolo Lucchetta   

padiglione_portogallo_copyright_andre_cepeda.jpgAn aptitude for public works is the most apparent contribution of Portuguese architects in the field of modern architecture.

In this sense, the exhibition of the Portuguese Pavilion is nothing short of exemplary, considering the theme of this year’s Biennale, Freespace. Exhibition Public Without Rhetoric takes place at Palazzo Giustinian Lolin and has been curated by Nuno Brandão Costa and Sérgio Mah.

Europe developed an interest in Portugal in the 1970s, in the years immediately following the Carnation Revolution that put an end to totalitarian rule. The experience and practice of man-sized methods in architecture was the focus of this interest. Architects helped the population to organize and participate in the transformation of their cities by helping them build their own houses. It was a unique moment of social and political instability throughout Europe. “With no conflict, there is no participation, only manipulation”, said (and says) Siza. The Portuguese experience thus became a model to adopt and utilize in other contexts. And from that moment, the architecture of a country and its protagonists are constant presences in international circles, in magazines, conventions, universities, museums, biennales.


To think that architecture is not a merely private, specialized matter, but it must serve man and the city, is the primary goal in this sense. To design and build keeping in mind the human dimension, the oldest unit of measurement there is.

“Landscape is everything that has a space in the visual field” says Álvaro Siza. It is what resides in our vision, it is a field of action with the person in its centre, it is our limited universe.

What matters is to give continuity to it all, using caution in transforming things. To collect and continue what has been left, “starting from isolated spaces, we look for the space that maintains them,” and using extant artefacts. The goal, here, is to improve the quality of spaces and, consequently, the quality of life of those who live in them.

This is the starting point for curators, who added references and inspirational cues to their narration.

Alison and Peter Smithson
, for example, focused their research and their practice on building collective public spaces and synthesized their idea of architecture in Without Rhetoric, a manifesto on the construction of shape. They wrote: “Buildings should be thought of from the beginning as fragments, containing within themselves a capacity to act with other buildings and be themselves links.”

Since the moment the Robin Hood Gardens, in London, started to be demolished, building for the common use and the definition of quality on the part of architects became an even more pressing demand. All over Europe, at the same time of a financial and economic crisis that hit Portugal hard, the last ten years saw strong opposition to public works. Public works, especially architecture for culture, education, sport, adhere to standards of civilization, progress, and social opportunity. At the same time, it reconstructs and renovates the shape of the city and revitalizes qualitatively and culturally a given public space.

avz-portogallo-6447.jpgThe second reference for the curators is Aldo Rossi’s The Architecture of the City. Said Rossi: “Our description of cities will focus especially on its shape. This shape depends on facts that, in turn, refer to real experiences: Athens, Rome, Paris. The architecture of a city recapitulates the shape of a city. Of the architecture, we perceive two aspects. The first one, the city as a huge mechanism, a contraption of engineering and architecture that is large, complex, and growing. The second one, some crucial aspects of a city that we call ‘urban events’, buildings that, much like the city itself, are defined by their own history and their own shape, as well.”

These roots allow the curators to maintain that the quality of Portuguese architects resides in their being generalist and plural. They refuse the specialization between public and private in their project, their approach to architecture is always focused on space, territory, and landscape, which is public by definition. Buildings, once completed, necessarily establish relationships with their contexts.

For this reason, the works selected for Public Without Rhetoric, as well as for their value as unique designs, show the diversity in programmes and scales Portuguese architects work at, and stress their generalist culture and their intergenerational excellence, which is apparent in the several generations of architects here represented.

The exhibition is divided in two – two ways to see and represent the perception of architecture. On the first floor, we will see a simple, functional installation of three physical supports that define the three elements of the work of design: a model, blueprints, and slides projected on screen. There is no hierarchy, either thematic or generational. These triptychs are assigned spaces in the several rooms and don’t alter the spatial structure around them, they hide no paintings or tapestry at Palazzo Giusinian Lolin.

On the ground floor, next to the courtyard, we may watch any of twelve movies, realized by four Portuguese artists. The goal of these films is to explore the current circumstances of the buildings, including any adaptation and usage by those people that, whether sporadically or not, are an integral part of the public mission of these constructs. The twelve films explore a wide array of possible ways to see and perceive architecture. They play with the unexpected and the unusual. Often, what we see is the essence of ‘being there’, in a place, in a space. Some films are vaguely narrative, others emphasize gestures, others evoke memories and ideas associated with the buildings.

In short, this diverse set of architectural images expresses the variable, impure nature of its representations, the swinging and swaying between reality and fiction, the relationship with what is tangible and its imaginary echoes.

This exhibition reaffirms a representation of Portuguese architecture and its contribution to European architecture especially on the relevance of public spaces, of landscape and territory, by inviting us, ‘without rhetoric’, to evaluate the possible consequences of making architecture.


«Public Without Rhetoric»

Until 25 November 2018

Palazzo Giustinian Lolin c/o Fondazione Ugo e Olga Levi onlus, San Marco 2893-Venice