Pedro Gadanho: Six Short Stories About An Architecture 21.12.09

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image: Dmf-Fotografia

A building in a Portuguese city harbours a secret

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image: Dmf-Fotografia

An architectural thing
What is most astounding, when you see images of the inside of this building for the first time, is the palpable, urgent, physical and visceral tension between what is inside and the physical limits that shelter the thing.

The architecture that is enclosed here is struggling, like an animal, against its boundaries. It is moving and wriggling as if it wants to break the cage – or the greenhouse or laboratory – in which it was created.

Thus, symptomatically, one of the many pieces of news immediately sparked by this construction bore the title "The Beast Within".

There is no better metaphor than that of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde to suggest that this is an architecture that wants to break free from its bonds.

Despite having been born in the confined environment of the greenhouse, this animal wants to be out there.

Ultimately, this metaphor alludes to the fact that, at times, the architecture of interiors is simply the expression – and the laboratory – of a will for exterior architectures. Where the most visceral architecture does not find a place in the open spaces where it rightfully belongs, it emerges in captivity by the hand of young scientists who would not be able to do anything else.

In any case, it is perhaps true that there are landscapes that are not yet ready for this apparently grotesque organism.

Only the safety of a certain kind of imprisonment allows the beast to be appreciated. And it is ultimately within the context of this clean and abstract laboratory that the thing lends itself to close observation.

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image: Dmf-Fotografia

Genealogy of a symbiosis
This architecture has a body and a soul. It breathes. It has legs, a back and a stomach. And limbs, humps and shoulders that lean against the walls. It has its own skin and rigidity. And an energy which transmits itself to its surroundings.

This architecture accommodated itself in a shell that was progressively being emptied, and has blown life into it again.

It is not just an autonomous body that is pulsing here now. There are hidden spaces that take on the appearance of uteruses, there are shapes and volumes that insinuate themselves, there are programmes and uses that sprout up like mushrooms, there are clear desires to occupy each interstice, and the other bodies which inhabit the routeways recognise each other with a new sense of curiosity.

An abandoned factory, a cereal silo that lies forgotten in time, has transformed itself into the protective shield of a complex organism, a benign parasite that extends through the available space in a contorted dance – a strange and vital animal that hangs here, settles on a foot there, and, over there, suspends itself like a bridge above the void.

Its creators call it "the anatomical structure of pre-existence".

The symbiosis between the vitality of the new architectural organism and the protection offered by the old container is palpable and unavoidable. It is a curious expression of the life 
of forms.

Even so, the fact that this parasite finds sophisticated ways to safeguard its autonomy cannot fail to be suggestive. At its far ends, the new architectural body brings two entrances down to the covering surface and links to the exterior via the existing empty spaces.

It is through there that it breathes and goes in search of the life that feeds its intestinal tract – even when the larger animal is sleeping.

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Inverted landscape
Within that fantastic and varied world that has already been dubbed the world of large interiors, this small but impressive intervention belongs to a very singular category.

Ultimately, the large interiors here have the quality of a landscape that is not only interior but has also been turned inside out.

Here, the construction that is found inside has an independence – it shows elevations, it has volumetries, it organises spaces, it creates uses, it benefits from a specific materiality – and it reveals, in the same way, an ambition to assert itself. It clearly behaves like an architectural object enclosed in a landscape.

In turn, the covering of the object has been stripped, transformed into an abstract architectural landscape, and turned towards the inside. The history, function, physical expression, and spaces of a robust building have been stripped, one by one, of their previous meanings and a new architectural identity has burst in through the hollow left in its core. From the past there remains only a white, geometric shell that has been turned into an unreal setting, an inside-out exterior for a new built body.

One architecture has become the landscape of another.

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In the city
He crossed the bridge and glimpsed once again the poster announcing a new function for the building that had been standing there, derelict, for several years.

He often passed by with shopping he had bought in the city and he recalled that a factory had once been there. And before that, it must have been something else. He knew that those buttresses and that stone belonged to another era. They said, with a great deal of pomp and circumstance, that it was now going to be an Environmental Interpretation and Monitoring Centre, whatever that was. He could see no sign of any "environment" that might be worth taking care of, or "interpreting". Perhaps it was the stream, dirty and abandoned as it was. In short, amid the stagnancy of daily life, thank goodness some novelty was coming to the city.

As he approached the building, he noticed that, unlike on previous occasions, the doors were open.

He had heard the noise of the building work, he had even watched them working, but he still hadn't figured out what they were doing there. When he looked through the door he saw another door on the other side of the building. A shortcut. He decided to sneak through there, as if without meaning to. After all, the door was open and there was no way of killing two birds with one stone. He looked around. There was no one to be seen. And it looked as if it was already complete. He went in and then hesitated. Intrigued, he looked around. It looked like one building inside another, with doors, windows, and stairs. But it resembled nothing he had ever seen before.

He heard voices. Behind one of those dark edifices he saw some young people looking at a corner. And a girl with a video camera in her hand. He could not make out what they were looking at. As they didn't notice him, he continued walking even more slowly than usual. He wanted to make out what this was. But there was no sign of anything. Just some doors, windows, and stairs. Suddenly, it reminded him of a castle, with its battlements, towers, and dark stone. Now he knew what it looked like: a large version of a play castle.

He smiled to himself.

He would have to bring his grandchildren there.

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A brief history of architectural regeneration
There was a time when buildings were treated as if they were clothes. They were mended, enlarged, washed, ironed, modified to receive new pockets and compartments, tightened or widened to adapt to the bodies and uses of their successive occupants. There were cases when, owing to wars or storms, entire buildings were remade from scratch, repeated in all their glorious detail. There were situations in which some repairs were dismantled in order to remake others. In this way, the ideological meaning that the buildings acquired, out of necessity, was permanently recreated. There were times in which only the structure remained and all the rest was remade to suit the taste of the era. And then there were cases in which only the facade was maintained, allowing the strangest eyesores to be constructed behind it and above it. This was not very different from those occasions on which it was the air of ruin that was romantically valued, and new and immaculate boxes were built within the most beautiful ruins, which they scarcely touched. There were circumstances in which the reinterpretation, as it was called, caused new languages to flower among the foliage of the past. A time has arrived in which everything is more or less welcome and the opportunity to invent new ways of regenerating architecture for the social good still exists.

In Tomar, a city in which the religious orders converted buildings to the most varied spiritual causes, there is a construction which has been both a storehouse and a factory, and which is now countless things at the same time.

And how could such a simple thing manage to be countless things at the same time?

Because of another regeneration, of course.

This regeneration, however, has a special quality. It has managed to split a finite interior in a way that has turned it into a place where new places and situations can be found.

 

By means of an ingenious stratagem – more precisely, a machine for producing space that has been assembled within the old shell – this regeneration splits space and program and opens up the senses and the imagination.

The architects, Embaixada, have already proposed a machine of this type: in another project for another Environmental Interpretation and Monitoring Centre, in Guarda, the practice suggested a life-support machine that embraced and involved the architectural remains they were charged with revitalising.

Here, however, something different is occurring.

It is perhaps the first time that a regeneration project has assumed the characteristics of a computer virus.

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A world of possibilities
You can imagine what this might have been.

A paving stone here, a stairwell there, the expected compartmentation, perhaps a double ceiling height for a modicum of amusement.

You don't need much imagination.

And it is good to know that, in a world where banality, standardisation and lack of imagination tend to rule, exceptional moments still occur.

There are moments in which architecture is still capable of making clear to everyone its enormous potential to generate opportunities.

 

 

 Words

Pedro Gadanho

quotes story

This architecture has a body and a soul. It breathes. It has legs, a back and a stomach. And limbs, humps and shoulders that lean against the walls. It has its own skin and rigidity. And an energy which transmits itself to its surroundings

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