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TEMPO-TOPOS: art gallery Oporto

Part 2 Project 2000
Melanie Purvis
Kingston University, UK

My project negotiates the pathways and alleys of a steep site consisting of many horizontal layers of an architectonic and topographic nature. I began by photographing certain spaces on the site which could not ordinarily be accessed. Ruined walls enclose an overgrown courtyard, the interior of what was once a house. Council workers surveying the area allowed me to gain entry to this 'outside room' and i was able to photograph the space. The quietness and sense of elsewhere was very intense there. The rough and thick qualities of the tumble down granite walls absorbed sound and made the 'room' seem invisible, secret, calming and inspiring. I wanted to create a similar series of spaces in the new building which emphasised the tectonic and silent aspects of the site, reflective, recuperative, shadowy spaces in the city for making and displaying art.
The gallery building is a dialogue between a strong vertical element, a 4 story stone wall, and various interconnected exhibition spaces set within folded concrete planes. The vertical stone space is a memorial of the ruined walls kept intact elsewhere in the project. The concrete grounds establish new areas of elevation and depth on the site, indoor and external rooms are created. The stone flank walls establish a formal presence for the project on the site. They echo the massive corner of the adjacent maritime museum of Souta de Moura and make a recognisable edge to the site. The resulting external room emphasises the vertical quality of the site. The intermediate layer of the project is a market square in which the life of the building is commingled with the everyday activities which make up the quarter. Higher up, artists' studios are installed in a tower benefitting from light and views over the river and back up over the city. An existing ruined house is maintained as a private garden for the artists' community. This quiet space is filled with a pool and shady trees. It offers a formal and phenomenal counterpoint to the bustle of the market square and the monumental space of the external granite-walled gallery. Spaces of reflection, mundanity and ritual are made in close proximity. I hope to make an architecture of time and of place, a setting for art and for life.

Melanie Purvis

Melanie's project explores the tectonic qualities of the stone city, Oporto. A building for making, an art gallery and studios, comments upon the structure of local spaces and the 'universal' gallery situation. Her architecture is reserved and careful. The formal qualities of the tectonic object are discrete yet nonetheless bold. The memory of similar existing spatial conditions, the material qualities and scale of external rooms, inform the strategy of the new architecture. In particular, the 'urban room' of the deep vertical gallery evokes a reonant temporal and spatial echo of the existing ruined garden. The space for art, a monument, re-presents and mirrors the garden, which filled with water, similarly reflects the sky in the depth of the pool. The mimetic and representational aspects of experience are commented upon in the project in such a way that spaces for replenishment of the body and mind commingle. A broken pedestal is suggested, a setting for art which places its display into a close relationship with the life of the place. Festival spaces are suggested, the building is a stage upon which ritualised and mundane actions are placed into each others context. The Baroque urbanism of Oporto emphasises oblique relationships between buildings. You are led around the city by glimpses of and from one landmark to another. This sense of form making is implicit in Melanie's scheme I feel. The passage of people around and through the building embeds it in the structure, material and spatial sequences of the city.

Melanie worked initially from photographs of the site which suggested some latent qualities of atmosphere and material properties. The images were taken as propositional and were developed in photoshop to collage in certain very simple spatial elements, a pool, shade, etc. which amplified the existing conditions. These very simple adjustments to the existing spaces occurred at the same time as work upon a 3 metre square group site model @ scale 1:200. Initial formal investigations revealed quite quickly the basic strategy in terms of topography, emphasising existing spatial situations and identifying areas for new uses, a market square, a garden certain very basic scenarios which connect the sheme to its location. The formal moves were then developed in larger scale models. This process was one in which elements were rebuild many times to tune, adjust and measure their scale and thickness, etc.. The final design has an elegance and simplicity that the laconic and precise drawings barely capture. One needs to view the model to really grasp the sophistication and maturity of the design. Her verbal description of certain low key experiences, such as waking to the chatter of the market below, sunlight reflected off of an old gable skimmed with concrete to preserve it and to increase the amount of borrowed light reflected into the bedroom, was a delight.

The main gallery spaces are cool and neutral realms made up of smooth concrete finishes, lit from the north by skylight. These laconic, delayed, slow, quiet spaces are a still counterpoint to the movement and flux of the city. Places of contemplation and exchange co-exist and configure a conglomeration of unique yet related spatial themes, moods, atmospheres and emotional temperatures. Distinct and ambiguous volumes of space fulfill the marks and delineations of the building mass; Solid Air, Hollow Forms. The scheme evokes Robert Irwin's description of his art practise: 'available in response'. The work of this young designer suggests a similar sympathy for what is common and often overlooked. Made in such a direct way, these contextual moves retain a sense of strangeness and otherness appropriate to a gallery for local and international art. The care, subtlety, precision and openness of the design suggests a rare ability to judge the limit of what is needed to make architecture.

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