images Joao Morgado
words Caitlin Tobiasz
Guimarães, the first capital of Portugal and reputed birthplace of the nation’s first king, was named a European Capital of Culture in 2012. A heavily industrialised city until quite recently, Guimarães is now seeing millions of euros pumped in to infrastructure and cultural programming to reinvigorate its creative scene.
The Platform of Arts and Creativity, designed by local practice Pitágoras Architects, was opened as “the most important and visible building constructed for this purpose”, Raul Roque, one of the project’s architects, explains. The programme for the building includes an art centre to permanently house works by local artist José de Guimarães, creative labs to develop enterprise and creative industries and workshops to support emerging talent.
The Platform sits on the site of a former market in central Guimarães, just outside the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the historic centre. Both physically and symbolically, the square acts as “a transitional space to the recent urban areas”, Roque says. He adds that the people of Guimarães have a tradition of “living in their squares and streets in an intense manner throughout the year”, so it was important to reinstate the disused square’s “strong tradition of sharing and exchange”.
The architects designed a large main square to connect the new centre to the existing buildings on the site and to the surrounding neighbourhood. The practice says it left the area “purposely under-fitted … allowing for the development of numerous spontaneously or organised activities.” The two-storey centre carefully maintains the scale and existing formal relations of the square, burying much of its programme underground to avoid overwhelming the site with a disproportionately large building.
Yet the Platform takes on what the architects describe as “a radically different language”. It is composed of a succession of protruding and receding rectangles covered in a grid of brass pipes, a “noble and classical [metal] used here with an intentionally contemporary design”, Roque says. Behind the metallic elements is an LED lighting system that transforms the building’s appearance at night, while the undersides of the protrusions and a few openings in the building are covered in chromatised glass that reflects the golden hues of the metal.
The choice of material is a daring departure from the stone and tiles of the surrounding city, yet so far it has been well received by locals. “Indeed, the attitude of the general public has been revealed to be more open than that of the municipal and national authorities that, supposedly, ensure the conservation of heritage,” says Roque.
Guimarães will pass its Capital of Culture title on next year, but the city hopes that its new investments, such as the Platform, will continue to attract creative talent and provide a model of development for the region.