An Arc of Portuguese Architecture

RDA Executive Director Linda Sylvan reflects on the RDA Hometown Tour to Lisbon and Oporto, June 17 – 24, 2013

Thirty-nine RDA members began their weeklong tour of Portugal in Lisbon, the country’s resplendent capital by the Tagus River, and concluded their adventure in Oporto, the country’s second metropolis along another great river – the fertile and aromatic Douro. Portuguese architecture is admired the world over for its poetic rigor and exquisite materiality, and local guides joined Rice School of Architecture professor Carlos Jimenez and architectural historian Stephen Fox for a romantic tour of one of Europe’s most visited destinations.

In Lisbon the group stayed in the Hotel do Chiado, designed by Portugal’s great contemporary architect and Pritzker Prize laureate, Alvaro Siza Vieira (1992). The rooftop bar, with its amazing views of the city, became our gathering place.

The view from the bar at Hotel do Chiado.


Our first evening was packed with activities, beginning with a private reception and visit to the medieval castle of Castelo de São Jorge, located atop the highest hill overlooking the Tagus river. João Luís Carrilho da Graça (RDA’s 1994 lecture series participant), a Lisbon architect who restored the grounds to heighten the castle’s layered history while providing new panoramic views of Lisbon, led us through the archeological site, uncovered in 1998. Dinner followed at 1300 Taberna, located in the LX Factory of the Alcantara district. Alcantara dates back to 1846, and is now occupied by creative companies and industry professionals.

Touring the archeological site at the Castle of St. George.


View of Lisbon from the castle.


Dinner at the hip new restaurant 1300 Taberna.


The next two days were spent exploring Lisbon and environs. The esteemed Lisbon architect-about-town Gonçalo Byrne took us on a meandering walk through the Alfama and Chiado neighborhoods. Sites along the way included Byrne’s remodeled headquarters of the Banco de Portugal (2012). We also saw another recent Byrne project, the Teatro Thália (2008) with Patricia Barbas and Diogo Lopes, which is a radical architectural rescue of the architect Fortunato Lodi’s neoclassical theater (1843). Next the group visited the grounds of Expo ’98, an international exposition. Major Portuguese and international architects designed the individual buildings, including the Pavilion of Portugal by Alvaro Siza and the Pavilion of Knowledge of the Seas by João Luís Carrilho de Graça.

Rossio Square, Lisbon.


Gonçalo Byrne's restoration of a neoclassical theater, Teatro Thália (2008).


The Pavilion of Portugal by Alvaro Siza Vieira at the Expo '98.


Just 18 miles west of Lisbon is the town of Cascais, which faces the rio Rejo estuary near the Atlantic coast. Of medieval origin, it was historically a fishing village, but because of its proximity to the mouth of the Tagus river, Cascais became the site of fortifications to control access from the Atlantic to Lisbon. Now a popular resort town, it boasts two cultural sites that we visited, the Casa das Histórias Museu Paula Rego by Portugal’s second Pritzker Prize laureate, Eduardo Souto de Moura (2011), and the Santa Marta Lighthouse Museum, designed by the brothers Francisco and Manuel Aires Mateus, which entailed the restoration of the lighthouse and several adjacent buildings. They also designed the three tiny buildings on the site to contain museum and visitor spaces. Back in town, tour guest and landscape architect Sarah Lake led a group through the Palacio dos Marqueses de Fronteira at Benfica. Manuel Aires Mateus later entertained us at a private reception at his home in Lisbon.

Casa das Histórias Museu Paula Rego by Eduardo Souto de Moura (2009).


Interior, Museu Paula Rego.


Restored lighthouse at the Farol Museu de Santa Marta by Aires Mateus, Cascais.


Coincidentally, guests dressed in their sailor striped shirts for the lighthouse tour.


The gardens at the Palacio dos Marqueses de Fronteira at Benfica.

On the fourth day of the trip, we bid farewell to Lisbon after a must-stop trip to Pasteis de Belém and a visit to the Mosteiro da Santa Maria da Belém, a landmark of Portuguese architecture in the Manueline Gothic style. Then it was off to Oporto on the train, leaving from the modern, multi-level station Gare do Oriente (1998), designed by the Spanish-born Swiss architect Santiago Calatrava.

A sampling of pastries at the Pastéis de Belém.


The Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (1501-1601) is a landmark of Portuguese architecture.


RDA travelers went by train to Oporto, leaving from Lisbon's Gare do Oriente station.


Oporto is the hometown of Siza and Souto de Moura, and it is a marvelous city of intricate tiled buildings, multiple shades of porto wine, and striking baroque buildings. Among the places we visited were Siza’s birthplace, Matoshinos, and the Siza’s masterful Serralves Foundation Museum, which houses the national museum of modern art of Portugal. The 44-plus-acre site includes an Art Deco pink villa, formal gardens, and beautiful landscapes.

Gallery, the Serralves Foundation Museum, by Alvaro Siza Vieira (1991-1999).


The pink villa of the conde de Vizela is a monument of Portuguese Art Déco architecture that sits on 44 acres of landscaped gardens.

After a tour of the University of Oporto’s architecture school, where Siza designed the complex of his alma mater, the group visited individual works by Souto de Moura, the magnificent baroque church of Los Clerigos, and the Casa da Música designed by Rem Koolhaas/OMA, an inspired addition to an already rich legacy of singular buildings in the city.

The Casa da Música designed by Rem Koolhaas/OMA (1999-2005).


Our tour concluded with a one-day trip to Santiago de Compostela to visit Siza’s masterwork, the Galician Center of Contemporary Art, with a prolonged pause at the city’s incomparable cathedral and pilgrimage site, and the experience of its innumerable granite streets and portals. On our way back to Oporto, we made a last stop at Peter Eisenman’s controversial Ciudad de las Artes.

The city of Santiago de Compostela's famous cathedral and pilgrimage site.


Back in Oporto, we were lucky that our last night coincided with the Festival of São João. After dark, streets were closed to allow celebrations in the many squares throughout the city. Live music, food trucks, fire balloons, and fireworks were abundant. Revelers participated in an interesting tradition with roots in pagan courtship rituals by hitting each other with garlic flowers or soft plastic hammers. It was great fun to “get bonked” in this family-friendly celebration. It was a night to remember after a memorable week in the romantic cities of Lisbon and Oporto.

Thanks to our fantastic tour guides Carlos Jimenez, Stephen Fox, and Lynn Kelly! We also thank our photographers, Jay Allison and Hill Swift.

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