New Portuguese architects
Ground line: Presenting a new generation of New Portuguese architects
Joao Belo Rodeia (b.1961) is an architect and teacher in the Architecture School of the Technical University and in the Architecture Department of the Universidad Luslada, both of them in Lisbon. He has curated various exhibitions and written many articles on architecture in Portuguese specialized magazines and in the daily press.
He has also participated in different architecture-related events, mainly in Portugal, Spain, Switzerland and Italy.
In the 1990s Portugal restructured itself. With an already mature democracy in place, Boaventura Sousa Santos spoke of a re-centralization of the country, of peripheral coexistence with a global Europe that is itself ultra-peripheral in relation to a globalized world; and, alongside this, Eduardo Lourenco described what Portugal means today in terms of its destiny, or better still, identified the stimulating challenge that continuing to be Portuguese implies.3 These attempts at recognition, although contradictory or paradoxical, embrace and stimulate the citizenry and civic society, temporally coinciding with public recognition for the new generation of Portuguese architects, or, put another way, of a significant set of projects and works that various young architects create. This professional interest, albeit somewhat late in the day as far as their fellows are concerned, doesn’t escape the kind of spirit of the times that is sweeping Europe as a whole, although in the Portuguese case it assumes a particular form, due to the reduced size of the milieu and the difficulties of professional practice, and in particular to the (still) fragile framework of disciplinary experiment, of the publishing market and of specialized Portuguese magazines.
Of special importance within this context are the two Portuguese-Spanish Encounters in Architecture (1997 and 1998), organized by Rafael Moneo and Alvaro Siza, in which, for the first time in a joint form, an important group of young Portuguese architects —Manuel & Francisco Aires Mateus, Antonio Portugal & Manuel Maria Reis, Jose Adriao & Pedro Pacheco, Joao Pedro Falcao de Campos, ARX-Portugal (Nuno & Jose Mateus), Paulo Providencia & Jose Fernando Goncalves, Cristina Guedes & Francisco Vieira de Campos, Ricardo Bak Gordon & Carlos Vilela, Joao Mendes Ribeiro, Isabel Furtado & Joao Pedro Serodio, among others—were able to publicly show and represent their respective works, and the Serpa Meeting (1997), which took place through the initiative of some of these architects. In 1999, in a gesture of institutional recognition and with enormous impact on public opinion, the same Ordem dos Arquitectos Portugueses promoted, in the midst of (fruitful) controversy, the exhibition Generation 90, the nucleus of which, Complicities, includes, alongside some of the participants in earlier encounters, Ines Lobo & Pedro Domingos, Paulo David Andrade (and Luis Vilhena) and the Biigio Group (Joao Favila de Sousa Menezes, Teresa Goes Ferreira and Luis Rosario). Still within the ambit of the Ordem dos Arquitectos Portugueses, it is no mere coincidence that on the cultural agenda of its first congress in Evora in 2000 a meeting was dedicated to the new generation, called Options: Young Contemporary Creation in Architecture. In 2001 in Barcelona, with Daniel Lopes as its cur&tor and organized by the Architects’ College of Catalonia, the first international exhibition devoted to this new generation appeared, Panorama Portugal, which included architects like Pedro Mendes & Silvia Namorado, and Nuno Brandao Costa. Extending the range of this extensive group, many others might be added like, for instance, the special case of the Promontorio Group, unusual in both its size and the extent of its research and professional activity, as well as the case of certain landscape architects such as Joao Ferreira Nunes (PROAP Studio) and Joao Gomes da Silva.
Naturally, to belong to this new generation is not, either in Portugal or anywhere else, something clear-cut, and one finds oneself, of course, confronted by differing criteria and approaches in relation to this: age, graduation year, commencement or duration of professional practice, built works. For that reason, once the leading figures within contemporary Portuguese architecture are recognized and subsumed in four different generations —Manuel Tainha (b. 1922) and Fernando Tavora (b. 1923), Vitor Figueiredo (b. 1929) and Alvaro Siza (b. 1933), Goncalo Byrne (b. 1941), Eduardo Souto de Moura (b. 1952) and Joao Luis Carrilho da Graca (b. 1952)—, we can speak of the ones who have recently arrived in the profession, especially during the last decade, with a feeling of certainty about those who are already in it and those who are gradually arriving, since this is a new generation which, in contrast to other examples, doesn’t fall victim to any phenomenon of exaltation about such a potential status, doesn’t feel any kind of discomfort in relation to their masters, and hence doesn’t aspire to a hypothetical ascendancy at the cost of the latter or of themselves. On the contrary, far from being the victim of the immediacy of the media and of advertising, these authors have as much awareness of the existing legacy as of the specific affirmation they represent: theirs is a serene, mutually binding and integrating way of working, the exercise of which is intended to construct buildings and territories, their natural obsession.
And so this way of working distinguishes itself from others, since not only is individual professional activity in short supply, but in the vast majority of cases they share experiences among themselves, be this is in the periodic presentation of projects and works, as happens for example in the case of Aires Mateus, or in the elaboration of the same, a nomadism between different teams being no rare thing. Feigned or not, this renouncing of competition, somewhat inevitable due to the restrictions of the metier, increases the professional resistance of these architects to the increasing difficulties of self-affirmation within the Portuguese context; a resistance that is equally associated with the open nature of the project, and is expressed in dialogue and interdisciplinary participation in the overall process of undertaking projects, including the clients here. Or in a sense of curiosity and critical reflection in the presence of experiments in other areas of culture, art, learning and knowledge. Or in an awareness of information, whether this comes from the main centers of international production and criticism, or from other, re-encountered realities, as in the case of Brazil. Or in a feeling of disquiet in relation to the 1950s and 60s, midway between the artisanal claims of the so-called Porto School and the urban sophistication of other experiments, above all in Lisbon. Or, finally, in the media used for the exploration and synthesizing of projects, inseparable from project design, namely, computers —this is the first fully computerized generation— and three-dimensional models, essential for everybody.
Perhaps this resistance also constitutes a special reason for the notoriety of these new figures as far as their colleagues are concerned, something that is evident in the innumerable competitions won and, even more so, in the work built, or on the way to being built, a far from frequent example within the European context.
They are architects with ages ranging from thirty to forty years old, and as remote from the era that witnessed their birth as from the problems inherent in the affirming of Portuguese democracy, post-1974. With a few exceptions, they live in urban centers between Lisbon and Porto, although all of them function outside of these.
They graduated shortly after 1990 from the traditional architecture faculties of Lisbon Technical University (FAULT) and Porto University, after the academic emancipation of the School of Fine Art that took place in the mid-80s. Open to the world, distanced from the quarrels between modernists and postmodernists that marked this decade in Portugal, they do not even remotely recognize themselves in the old rivalry between the two main Portuguese cities, whose mutual isolation is right now as absent as it is latent; evident in all of them is the inevitable and guiding influence of Alvaro Siza Vieira. Many of them have studied, done their training or worked in schools and studios in other countries, in Switzerland, Italy, Spain and Holland in particular, in some of the most important European practices. Others, almost all, have collaborated with prestigious Portuguese architectural practices, where they started or rounded off their professional apprenticeship, from project design to built work, and with which they frequently maintain an almost filial relationship (or through sporadic collaborations). Within this context, it could be said that their youthfulness is not in the least synonymous with professional immaturity. On the contrary, some have being working without a break for more than fifteen years, given that they began their professional work at little more than twenty, which in part explains their unusual maturity vis-a-vis their colleagues, Portuguese or otherwise, and is expressed in their ability to respond to the most diverse kinds of competitions and commissions, and to solve with renowned efficiency the various problems of project design.
This situation is even more relevant when one considers the substantial increase in the number of architects that has occurred in Portugal, rising from 1,473 in 1980 to 4,079 in 1990 and to more than 10,000 at the present time, a fact which in itself confirms the current popularity of the profession and its growing impact on Portuguese society, but also underlines the greater problems of access to professional practice, given such intense overcrowding. This factor was a crucial element in the Ordem dos Arquitectos Portugueses, whose corporate and institutional importance is still far from corresponding to the pressure caused by this explosive increase, in particular in terms of an effective regulation of the profession, of the ethical dimension of professional practice and the corresponding social recognition, of the safeguarding of rights apropos of third parties, of the transparency and openness of public competitions, of architectural culture, and of the intransigent defense of the environmental and spatial quality of the territory. Due to this, urgent, short-term changes are foreseeable since, were this not so, a unique opportunity would be lost for reaffirming the profession in Portugal. This phenomenon of growth, in which the increased presence of women is notable (20 % of the total at the start of the 90s; more than 50% today), is also confirmed within this generational group (Cristina Guedes, Ines Lobo, Isabel Furtado, Teresa Goes Ferreira and Silvia Namorado), and is above all produced in parallel to an increase in the number of architecture schools which, starting with the first two (FAULT in Lisbon and FAUP in Porto), now stands at more than twenty, spanning public and private schools, and their various affiliated bodies in different parts of the country. Important among these, right now, are the Architecture Department of Coimbra University (FCTUC), the Architecture Departments of the Universidades Lusiada of Lisbon and Porto (DAUL/L and DAUL/P), and the new Architecture Department of the Autonomous University of Lisbon (UAL/DA), Coimbra being the only state-run university here.
At least five aspects are important within the confines of this new reality. The first is centered on the university context, in terms of a reflection on and a research into the discipline which, thanks to the new academic qualifications, has increased, leading to a growing number of doctoral theses, some of them important for a deeper understanding of 20th-century Portuguese architectural culture. We may take the case of Ana Tostoes, whose research and dedication have been fundamental in revising Portuguese modernism, especially that of the 1950s. And likewise with a set of academic initiatives, including an ever-increasing and more regular number of specialized workshops and courses which, often in association with foreign institutions, lead to greater theoretical openness, be this via the ongoing education of the students or, most of all, of young professionals.
The second aspect has to do with the publishing market and the specialized magazines, in the sense that the increase in demand has involved not only an exponential increase in the foreign, mainly Spanish, titles available on the national market, but also new bookshops, new publishers and, above all, new specialized magazines, which until very recently were limited to two, Architecti and JA-Jornal Arquitectos (the review of the Ordem dos Arquitectos Portugueses), recently overhauled by Manuel Graca Dias, a key author within contemporary Portuguese architecture. In the last two years, aside i from university reviews, as in the recent case of the exemplary ECDJ, from the Architecture Department of Coimbra : University, three new titles have emerged: DA-Documentos de Arquitectura, as pioneering as it is sporadic, ARQ/A, linked to the Ordem dos Arquitectos Portugueses (Southern r Branch), and Arquitectura e Vida, more informative and commercial. Allied to this, and also during the last few years, the a- regular appearance is noticeable of columns related to architecture, with a long list of contributors, in three of the most a, influential Portuguese newspapers: Expresso, Independente and Publico. All have contributed to the growing dissemination of Portuguese architecture and, in the case of the second, with an enormous influence on the recent output of the younger architects.
The third is linked to the presence of some of the most notalble Portuguese and foreign architects of varying generations tuat conferences, round tables, colloquia and exhibitions within, the context of university programs, programs that are increasreingly regular and dynamic, especially over the last few years, iso and of special significance, today, in the cases of the FAUP, reDAUL/L and recently the FAULT as well.
The fourth is related to the vigor of specialized criticism, in de which the new generation has a leading role. We may cite the ros cases of Ana Vaz Milheiro, Jorge Figueira, Pedro Gadanho, Paulo Martins Barata, Nuno Grande, Ricardo Carvalho and: de Fernando Hipolito, among others, and also the present writer. :los All of them are connected with university teaching and acaios. demic research, in some cases undertaken in foreign faculties (something unusual in Portugal), and they participate on a regular basis in the architecture pages of newspapers and magazines. Some of them also keep up their professional practice, either on their own account, or as members of different groups of architects. Others, like Nuno Grande and Pedro Gadanho, are linked to the creation of independent study centers, as is the case of the CUC (Center of Contemporary Urban Culture), with its headquarters in Porto, the announcing of a change that has yet to be confirmed.
The fifth aspect, which has already been noted, is related to the teaching activity of almost all these young architects in different faculties, above all in the more recent ones. This applies to the Architecture Department of the Uiversidad Lusiada, be it in Lisbon Ones Lobo, Pedro Domingos, Ricardo Bak Gordon and Pedro Mendes) or in Porto (Joao Pedro Serodio and Cristina Guedes), to the Architecture Department of the University of Coimbra (Joao Mendes Ribeiro, Paulo Providencia and Jose Fernando Goncalves) and to the Architecture Department of the Autonomous University (Francisco Aires Mateus, Nuno Mateus and Jose Adriao). In this area, Manuel Aires Mateus proves to be the exception to the people mentioned above, since, aside from having taught in different Lisbon universities, he is being increasingly asked to give classes in foreign institutions, as has happened in Pamplona (Spain) and Mendrisio (Switzerland). Yet this active participation in university teaching doesn’t only reflect the obvious interest of institutions to collaborate with this generational group, it also opens up new horizons of reflection, comparison and debate for them, complementing and broadening the space for maneuver within professional practice.
This practice depends on the role of the State, local government bodies, institutions, promoters and civil society, insofar as these are responsible for both public and private commissions. Within this context, the acceding of young people to professional tenure, the possibility of building and, most of all, the need for critical distance and experimentation are to a large degree restricted to the possibilities offered by public competitions, whose proliferation in the first half of the 1990s was due not only to funds from community aid programs and to the efficiency of their implementation, but also to the political will to promote these, something less evident in the current proliferation of invitation-only competitions, closed to the young. That said, many of the commissions accorded to these architects, not to mention the very existence and survival of their respective practices, are the direct result of these competitions, some of them very important ones during the last ten years. Within this are included, of course, the design for the striking Portuguese Ambassador’s residence in Brasilia (Ricardo Bak Gordon & Carlos Vileia Lucio, 1995), a paradigmatic example for having been the first international competition of major importance won by two very young architects, 28 at the time, and also for being surrounded by great controversy and enormous media interest. Along these same lines, reference must be made to the magnificent Portuguese Embassy in Berlin (Ines Lobo & Pedro Domingos, 1998), and also to two of this generation’s precursory houses: the delicate restructuring project in Terreiro do Paco (Jose Adriao & Pedro Pacheco, 1992), as significant within the Lisbon context as it is contradictory in its realization; and one of the finest Portuguese religious buildings of recent times, the evocative, partially completed Dominican Convent and Cultural Center, also in Lisbon (Paulo Providencia & Jose Fernando Goncalves, 1989-1995).
Likewise, many university buildings may be included, such as the Portalegre College of Advanced Technology and Management (Antonio Portugal & Manuel Maria Reis, 1993-1996), and also the Library of the Science and Technology Faculty of the New University of Lisbon in Almada (Paulo Providencia & Jose Fernando Goncalves, 1993), whose construction has yet to begin. Plus a large group of buildings by the ineluctable Francisco & Manuel Aires Mateus, among which are the celebrated, prize-winning Students’ Residences of Coimbra University’s Center II (1996-1999), the cantine of the University of Aveiro (1997-2001), recently unveiled, and the vigorous design of the Rector’s Office of the New University of Lisbon (1998), now under construction. One must also include the project for the majestic Central Library of Social and Human Sciences in the New University of Lisbon (Nuno Brandao Costa, 1998, the youngest of these architects), the project for the subtle conversion of the Sala de Calderas of Coimbra University’s Center I (Cristina Guedes & Joao Mendes Ribeiro, 1999), the projects for the impressive Nuclear Technology Center and Students’ Residence III of Coimbra University’s Center II (Isabel Furtado & Joao Pedro Serodio, both 2000), as well as the city-structuring territorial project of the Arts and Human Sciences Complex in the University Center of Evora in Aviz (Ricardo Bak Gordon & Pedro Domingos, 2000).
Within the experimental sphere of the Europan 5 and Europan 6 programs, mention must be made of the innovatory low- cost housing projects in Chelas (Jose Adriao & Pedro Pacheco, 1998-1999), and in Quinta do Almaraz in Almada (2000-2001) by the Portuguese-Spanish duo of Samuel Torres de Carvalho & Pedro Palmero Cabezas, with their head office in Madrid. Also, due to its singularity, one might refer to the private competition for the Xerox headquarters (1996-2000), won by the Promontorio group, and that for the central office of the Pre-Gaia company (2001), won by Cristina Guedes & Francisco Vieira de Campos, who have also recently won the public competition for the Freixo School of Archaeology (2001) in Marco de Canaveses.
Lastly, within the institutional sphere of the Porto Society 2001 —European Capital of Culture— one must mention the important project for the Parque das Camelias in Porto (Ines Lobo & Pedro Domingos, 2000), a duo who, furthermore, and with deserved merit, must be congratulated for the intelligent clarity and dense complexity of synthesis of their designs, something perfectly expressed in the new Auditoria of the University of the Azores Campus (1997-2001), in Punta Delgado. Likewise worthy of special praise is the extraordinary project for the Tarello Park (Brescia, Italy, 2001), also by Ines Lobo, in this instance as co-author along with the landscape architect Joao Gomes da Silva; the first important prize gained outside Europe by architects of this generation.
In spite of all this, it should not be thought that working is an easy task for these young architects. Many of the competitions that are won end up generating inconsequential or irregular results, as in the case of the design for the Portuguese Ambassador’s Residence in Brasilia which, after six years work and close to completion, with its license granted and the competition body about to award a contract, ended up being rescinded by the state under circumstances still to be clarified, in order for a new commission to be taken up by the same architects. To this there must be added the incredible effort needed to arrive at a satisfactorily built work in the face of the aggressiveness of real-estate development, the non-existence of efficient controls in building work, the difficulties in obtaining licenses in instances involving local authorities, the disorganization of the construction business, the increasingly restrictive time limits for projects, the time lag existing between design and construction, changes and political pressures, the lack of understanding of many clients and, above all, the dearth of means and resources, almost always subject to very low sums of money per built meter. An arduous task that at the same time constitutes a major stimulus.
Some, although few, have managed to assert themselves within the national context of the direct commission, be this state-awarded, institutional, local authority or private. Mention, here, must once again be made of Francisco & Manuel Aires Mateus, the most successful of all in terms of prizes and recognition, who will shortly undertake, in the Cattaneo Archive (Como, Italy), the first of the various international exhibitions in the pipeline. These two brothers, who are somewhat the mediators between the generation they belong to and earlier ones, present an impressive group of works built or in the process of being built, as well as an enviable portfolio of commissions within the national ambit. Even so, they surprise us with buildings of energetic ambition and professional affirmation, with responses which explore the ambiguous nature of spatial limits, as in the case of the Emilio Vilar House (Alenquer, 1995-2001), or, most of all, of the designs for the Sines Cultural Center Library (2000) and the Lisbon Architecture Centre (2001), both local authority commissions. In terms of private commissions, attention must be drawn to their huge Parque das Nacoes office and apartment buildings (2000) in Lisbon. Within this same context, and also with a measure of success in terms of private commissions, in part due to the legacy of the family practice, referertce must be made to the duo formed by Isabel Furtado & Joao Pedro Serodio, whose unusual investigation of the nature of order, materiality and spatial limits is latent in their Foz do Douro apartment buildings (1995-2001) in Porto, but present most of all in an experimental series of single-family houses, almost all of them from the last two years.
In the majority of cases single-family houses and other small- scale works are the main things built by these authors, namely the telluric and mysterious S. Nicolau Public Baths and Laundry (1989-1998) in Porto, and the homely Tome Ribeiro Block (1995-1996) in Maia, both by Paulo Providencia, or the careful conversion of a former port building as housing for themselves (1996-1998) by Antonio Portugal & Manuel Maria Reis, or the very beautiful Oliveira do Douro Funeral Chapels and the Young Persons Tourist Center (1994-1997 and 1997- 2001) in Gaia, by Jose Fernando Goncalves, or the low-cost Aldas teaching accommodation (2001) in Porto by Pedro Mendes & Sylvia Namorado, also recent winners of the competition for the Quinta de St. Antonio Community Center (2000) in Almada.
Special mention ought to be made of the delicate Saraiva Lima House (2001) in Alcacer-do-Sal, a demonstration of unusual maturity by Joao Pedro Falcao de Campos, embracing the elementary ordering and refined surgery of the materials, and the resulting constructional and spatial potential. Or the Cafe do Casi (1994) and the School of Fine Art Studio Block (1996-1997) in Porto, by Cristina Guedes & Francisco Vieira de Campos, whose conceptual clarity and poetic vigor are dominated by the exercise of rigor and material austerity in the building systems, leading, with localized precision, to elaborate low-tech structures.
Worthy of special mention, too, albeit in another respect, is the Bugio group, be it because it confronts extremely unfavorable local conditions when undertaking its projects in the remote island of Madeira, or because it works on the basis of private commissions, many of them in the complicated sector of the hotel trade, a sector especially affected by the superficiality of short-term consumerism. The case of the Casa Branca Inn (1996-1999), fluid and minimalist, is an object lesson in how to reinvent a traditional Funchal ancestral home. We also encounter careful exercises in basic design themes in a series of planned and built houses, notable among which are the Ornellas Monteiro House (1997-1999) and, in particular, the recent Ricardo Freitas House (1997- 2001).
An outstanding case is that of Joao Mendes Ribeiro, a key figure within this generation, whose Tea House in Castelo de Montemor-o-Velho (1997-2000) refers us to the exceptional work he has been creating in theater and ballet stage design, in which, aside from a disquieting contemplative beauty, his fabulous ability to make a lot with very little comes to the fore. This ability, nevertheless, rather than concealing, extends experimentation about the relational nature of space as a material sublimation of the poetic acts that go to form it, by evoking and questioning the foundational materials of architecture itself and, in that respect, by fostering debate within the discipline.
8. These works are eloquent testimonies to this generational group. Eloquent because they reflect a many-sided complexity, a plurality of uses and proposals, varying conditions and types of commission, and different local circumstances and possibilities. They are also eloquent because, contrary to what one might deduce from their respective quantity and quality, they form part of a small minority within the sphere of habitual Portuguese production, thus being, in that sense, exceptional. Furthermore, the distance separating them from this same production is, unfortunately, very great and accurately reflects the current state of affairs, with grim consequences for the occupation and transformation of Portuguese territory.
In fact, the country portrayed by Portuguese architects, even at the end of the 1950s, in the famous Inquerito a arquitectura regional portuguesa [Analysis of Portuguese Regional Architecture no longer exists, although it is still possible to recognize the humanized legacy of the last 2,000 years, in which models and marks survive that have been legitimated by time. Nevertheless, and for a great many different reasons, among which are the possibility of living better and the freedom of action of the last thirty years, the fragile equilibrium between land and life, and the structure between both, has broken down as if by magic.
This situation —inevitable, according to some— also reflects an inability to regulate the spatial organization of the territory, as well as the overwhelming impact and unstoppable rhythm of the civil construction industry within the socio-economic context of the country.
The consequences are clear to see. On the basis of its two major cities, Portugal has fled from the brutal metropolizing of part of its territory, in the midst of the uncontrollable aggressiveness of occupancy and the ferocious commercialization of land. Today, this suburbanization occupies, between Lisbon and Viana do Castelo, a 40-kilometer-wide Atlantic strip vital for 80 % of the Portuguese population; that’s to say, one of the areas of greatest population density in Europe, in direct contrast with the rest of the country, which is uninhabited and abandoned.
Thus, on the one hand, and in contrast to what was considered possible forty years ago, the spatial construction of Portuguese territory is, within such a context, a missed challenge. Added to which, it causes Portuguese architects in general, and these young ones in particular, to face growing problems in their professional practice, when recognizing their impotence in the face of the political and economic powers, the true agents of this transformation. On the other hand, the conditions have largely disappeared that for years nourished the myth of the local atomization of critical regionalism, thus opening up other disciplinary perspectives.
The illusions and redemptive myths of architecture, especially Portuguese architecture, being lost, what remains to these youngsters? To make a deal with the situation, to be the transmission belts of the crude logic of the marketplace and, in that respect, to renounce architecture altogether? To integrate themselves in the publicity and speculation that gains ground in other areas, which compensates one individually, but is of dubious functioning in current circumstances (and is, furthermore, incoherent within the state of the medium)? To restrict their project designs to mere enlightened rhetoric and to pleasant retreats for well-off people, or, worse still, to an autistic search for originality and innovation at any price, as if it were only a question a fashion? Everything points to a negative answer. Та mode se demode”, fashion becomes unfashionable, and to live through one’s own time always means, for all those concerned, attaining a critical distance with regard to immediate reality.
9. We are, then, in the presence of a group of young architects with wide professional experience, with a different way of working and a capacity for critical thinking that is expressed in the built work or in that on the way to being built, experts in the conditions in which they work, open to the world and to the internationalization of experiences, and attentive to each and every concrete reality, in a neighboring context of landscapes as diverse as they are (fortunately) stimulating.
More for this reason, perhaps, than for questions of inheritance, the project is based, in all of them, upon a specific disciplinary problem and on a legitimizing logic. What’s more, the process of constructing architecture via project design can be considered a specific mode of thinking and doing; that is, in disciplinary ideology. This doesn’t mean that the means are more important than the constructed and inhabited buildings themselves, but rather than such means are the ones that make constructing these same buildings possible.
Such thinking and doing, and doing and thinking, generates, in a process of commission and/or omission, different critiques of reality, or at least of the context inherent in each architectural project. Commission and/or omission, critiques understood, a priori, as a prospective ability that enables one to establish value judgments about what is basic to the origins of that poetic search for a response, likewise inseparable from a way of being in architecture and in the world. Having said that, while it is perhaps not possible, in this sphere, to ascertain and recognize recurrences and constants like sensibilities, tools, procedures and strategies in the professional practice of this generational group that might permit us to clarify this way of thinking and making architecture and of questioning this in the field of contemporary architectural culture, it is nevertheless possible to reasonably identify this way of being.
To begin with, none of these young architects escapes the time in which he or she lives, a time which is not so much an heroic “now” as a flow which enfolds facts and events that have, at least since the end of the 1980s, given the contemporary world a new perspective. The implications of the so called global society, the political reorganization since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the proclaimed end of postmodern relativism, and the sense of uncertainty vis-a-vis the finite nature of existence have, among other relevant factors, reconstructed a new “infra-structure” of truths. And so, by accepting the game of globalization, despite the latter being fundamentally economic and centered on a tiny part of the whole, and in the presence of an increasingly one-dimensional and relativizing technocratic thinking, these young architects allow themselves to have a memory, as opposed to giving in to the devastating effects of amnesia, and refuse to be mere spectators or to only register the surface of things, and, even less, to treat the planet as an object of commerce. This other notion of resistance, albeit paradoxical and ingenuous, nourishes itself on architecture itself, no so much as a political project, but as one of optimism, of a wishing and being able to do more and better in any situation, embracing the ethics of land and civilization.
Secondly, the disciplinary “return” visible in Portugal since the beginning of the 1990s, understood not so much as a nostalgia for the past, but rather as a disciplinary recentralizing via the project, involves a rethinking of all that is not indispensable in architecture, and hence essential, atemporal and solid. Of course, the being of architecture takes shape within the human being, to the extent that this person is a being who plans things because he or she has mastered the ability to exist in and organize the everyday things of life in terms of a future, or of that which involves the probability of being able to come to pass or which can cause itself to come to pass. This existential dimension, which is architecture’s too, is nourished by a primordial relationship that, proceeding from man and from the world, establishes itself with the land, recognizing this as a territory; namely, by establishing limits and constructing an idea; namely, by inhabiting. In a strict sense, the space of architecture is not something otherworldly, prior to existence, but what results in concrete terms from this relational activity. Hence, each built space is by definition unrepeatable. Hence, in terms of the models and matrixes deposited by time, of the experience acquired during all this, and of the revelation specific to each era, each location is conditioned by such global knowledge, and, inversely, globality is what it is only in relation to local knowledge. This dimension is inscribed within the architectural project and is inseparable from the work of these young authors.
Thirdly, to speak of architecture is, within this particular context, to speak of built works as concrete things that are revelatory of the space to be inhabited or which is already inhabited. And hence, it doesn’t have an objectual meaning in the first instance. That is, architects don’t design or build “architectonic objects”, an expression as commonplace as it is paradoxical. The object, namely what is placed before one, implies something external to man, be this as image, contemplation, manipulation or even as a thing in itself. There is nothing further from the architectonic work qua a space that can be traversed and which is open to all kinds of experimental events. Architectonic works are lived, and they allow one to live, as these young architectures well know.
Fourthly, architectonic forms are not generated out of nothingness or in nothingness, but from a process and a project that implies at least a territory, a program and a materiality within each projectural synthesis. Within this context, it is inappropriate to attribute any kind of communicative priority to the genesis of an architectonic work, despite the fact that such genesis and the entire design process is influenced by a succession of ideas. Consequently, when one speaks of critical distance one is also speaking of the ability to judge, in passing, the sequential process of the project and its consequences, by seeking a rhetoric -a form or constructional system- as fitting as possible to what is basically in play in the concrete space one aspires to, or, put another way, in the construction of this relational structure. On the contrary, the reduction of the project —or of the work— to a mere question of language, qua the sum of a superficial set of visual signals via which an eventual communication is established, distances it from a hypothetical spatiality, tends to isolate it from the concrete context in which it is inscribed and, most of all, weakens its quality as an open-ended phenomenon, all the more so, if possible, in a world saturated by images. Without being immune to the above-mentioned questions of language, these young architects create so as to be and so as to enjoy themselves, not so as to exhibit their prowess. Fifthly, the architectural project is a process of approximation, identification, interrogation, clarification, ambition and response, the successive simulations of which anticipate a future one wishes were better. To a large extent the flexible and open-ended nature of the project enables it to address any problem, condition or circumstance. In that respect it is legitimate to think that, faced with any adversity or complexity, sophistication or simplicity, in any landscape or in any city, in the most remote or the most visible location, within a context of abundance or of scarcity, in the First or the Third World, the project always defends an identical disciplinary resistance, because, culturally adapted, it is conditioned and stimulated by each problem, and its tools and resources are honed accordingly. And due to this, in place of an ideology of the author and the “aura of the unique”, the contribution of learning and knowledge from other disciplines takes on special relevance, by interchanging collaborations in keeping with each of the projects and according to the idea one pursues.
If these young architects are sensitive, on the one hand, to this issue, since each work is presented as a synthesis adapted to each problem, and each problem is by nature multidisciplinary, on the other, they exercise their profession in a country that, pace its small size, has an extraordinary potential and a diversity of conditions and circumstances, many of these contradictory if not antagonistic, including scarcity, the optimization of resources and environmental precariousness.
Sixthly, the architectural project participates in the adventure of the world to the extent that the anticipation of an immanent reality influences the concrete activity of the architect. In the time span of the project itself, and in that which extends between the latter and the work, of course. Later, in the time span of the work’s ongoing permanence and in the resistance of the latter to time itself, in the conviction of the right to be enjoyed beyond the cycle of a life, linked to a stable whole and in constant transformation, also now transformed by the actual work. Within this context, one intuits the difficult task of the architect, given that to realize a project is also to partake of this collective responsibility. To realize something is not just in order for today to be an outcome of yesterday, but also in order for today to anticipate, insofar as this is possible, what will happen tomorrow and thus to be an outcome of that future. And in this act of realizing there is, without exception, the optimism of desiring something better and the ambition to realize something better, both inseparable from architecture, possessed of the ethical dimension of human solidarity and a reconciliation with the world and with the land.
For that reason, in seventh and last place, this reconciliation also constitutes a task. And it’s the architect’s main task to facilitate the construction of locations in which human beings may live and meet, something which denies these architects the absolute right to limit the project to technical or aesthetic questions, as well as to efficiency as an absolute value, given that efficiency depends on who and what it serves. Resolving problems and finding concrete solutions is very important, but not essential. A mixture of anguish and desire, the eternal query of the architect, of these young architects, that which basically guides their imagination, is reduced to a single question: can it be that from my work, from this work, the possibility will arise to help tomorrow’s human beings to be more serene?
As Alvaro Siza argues, this “young generation of Portuguese architects is freer from inhibitions and contradictions (innovation or tradition, internationalism or regionalism) than earlier generations,” and in it “the reencounter of modernism assumes, for the first time in many a long year, a posture of contemporaneity and, at the same time, of universality and an understanding of history as future.” That said, in a country like Portugal, in which poetry has always substituted for philosophy in the freedom to express what our meaning is, one foresees the fecund role that these young authors, faithful trustees of this little bit of land, will have in the construction of life as a local, global and shared destiny.