The ancient and close connection of Porto to the various artistic spheres, namely architecture, will not be news to anyone. This association is due in large part to two of the universally-acclaimed, Pritzker Prize-winning architects who are from there and also studied there: Álvaro Siza Vieira, who was awarded the Pritzker Prize in 1992, and Eduardo Souto de Moura, awarded that prize in 2011. They are essential references, whose work merges with the city’s DNA, and are part of the so-called “Porto School”, one of the most influential currents of Portuguese contemporary architecture. Reflecting the desire to keep up with the advanced trends of international architecture at the beginning of the 20th century, the names that take us back to the School’s genesis should be recalled, such as the architects and professors Carlos Ramos (director of the Faculty of Fine Arts of the University of Porto, in the 1950s and 1960s) and Fernando Távora (the mentor of Siza Vieira, who did his internship in Távora’s studio). We also mustn’t forget, going further back in time, the vast architectural heritage left by José Marques da Silva, who would later become a valuable reference for the famous Porto School. The School’s distinctive features can be found today all over the city: from São Bento Railway Station, São João Theatre or Casa de Serralves (Marques da Silva) to the renovated Avenida dos Aliados Avenue (Siza Vieira and Souto de Moura), taking in the Cube of Praça da Ribeira (José Rodrigues), the stations of the Metro do Porto light railway system or Torre Burgo (Souto de Moura), and also Serralves Museum or the University of Porto’s Faculty of Architecture (Siza Vieira), and ending at the renovated Pousada do Palácio do Freixo Hotel or the former city council building Antiga Casa da Câmara (Fernando Távora).
In 2001, as part of Porto European Capital of Culture (although only inaugurated in 2005), the emblematic Casa da Música venue, on Avenida da Boavista, must be mentioned. A true historical landmark, it has completely transformed and redefined its surroundings and the urban landscape where it is located. The work, designed by the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas — founder of the OMA studio in Rotterdam and winner of the Pritzker Prize in 2000 — is an “intriguing, disturbing and dynamic” building, as the jury defined it when it was awarded the prize by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). It is the stage for the city’s best musical performances (it is home to the Porto Symphony Orchestra), and stands out for its complex shapes and details on the inside (scalloped glass curtains, gold leaf on wood), as well as for the visual dialogue that is established between the inside and the outside, translating into an unmistakable trademark of the architect.
Currently, all eyes are on the eastern part of the city, where a work that is expected to be as iconic as monumental will be built, with the contribution of another heavyweight name from the world’s contemporary architecture scene. We are talking about the multiple award-winning Japanese architect Kengo Kuma — who designed the Suntory Museum of Art, in the Japanese capital; Bamboo Wall House, in China; Besançon Art Center, in France; and, more recently, the new Tokyo National Stadium, for the 2020 Olympic Games (postponed to 2021) — who will be responsible for the reconversion of the former Campanhã Industrial Slaughterhouse, in collaboration with the Porto studio, OODA. Abandoned for several decades, this is an enormous proposal for which the Porto City Council has reserved around eight thousand square metres, destined to house the City Museum, as well as other cultural and social projects. Notable in this work is the central square, which will receive a unique roof, uniting in one continuous gesture the old building, which will be preserved, and the new building to finish off the venue, as well as the pedestrian bridge over the VCI motorway, which will link the Slaughterhouse complex to the Dragão Football Stadium area to the west. As a garden and viewpoint, it will also be the most visible finish to an approach that creates a new and striking identity in the city, capable of generating a unique visual impact.
Indeed, we are proud to witness the vibrant dynamics of a city like Porto, which has been able to preserve the history and memory of its architectural heritage while, at the same time, keeping its eyes on the world, reinventing and redesigning itself, investing in innovation and contemporaneity.
Other initiatives to be noted are the Casa da Arquitectura in Matosinhos, devoted to promoting contemporary architecture through exhibitions, conferences and workshops, and to maintaining a municipal archive; and Open House Porto, an annual, free event that opens the doors (for the first time, in many cases) to a series of buildings of undeniable architectural value. Visits not to be missed.
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