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Quartos de Sao Carlos - a gallery within the Chiado, Lisbon

Part 2 Project 2000
Nicholas Champkins
University of Bath Bath UK
Quartos de Sao Carlos

Throughout my work I attempt to compose an architecture that would, even as a ruin, contain beautiful spaces. My thesis project for my Masters of Architecture at the University of Bath consisted of a small public art gallery crafted into the very individual context of the Chiado, Lisbon. Working as part of a small group we formed the opinion that the fire in 1989 was beneficial for Lisbon, as it invited its population to reexamine its nature, perhaps with a sense of nostalgia (saudade), but surely with the intention of bringing the city back to life. Indeed with the inevitable touch of falseness the Chiado is once again becoming the heterogeneous centre of Lisbon.

We focussed our attention upon several ‘opportunities’ within the Chiado. This formed what could be described as a master ‘approach’ rather than a master plan. One such opportunity, which I developed in my individual project, is an existing largo or piazetta in front of the Teatro de Sao Carlos, the Portuguese National Theatre. This square, designed to compliment and perform as part of the theatre experience, is at present little more than a carpark fronted by a tatty subterranean strip club and paint store. I inserted a small art gallery into one side of this square, served by a small cafe, book shop and bar arranged around its own small public court.

What constitutes an ideal gallery space is very subjective, and I considered it very important to provide a variety of spaces and ways in which art can be enjoyed. Moreover, the gallery is designed to offer points of pause and reference throughout to orientate the visitor. This concept is extended to the immediate context including the redesigned largos, and so revalidating the nature of the site.

Nicholas Champkins

This year's 'final year' at Bath began in the dying months of the final year of the 20th century in Lisbon, a city in the process of resurrecting itself - after years of impoverished dictatorship - through a process of increasing integration with a broader European community.

At this critical moment in Lisbon's transformation, it seemed particularly apt that the role of architecture in this process should be investigated from an 'external' perspective. Which models should be employed in the re-configuration of a damaged city in urban design terms? Formal? Spatial? Should architecture act as a catalyst, or is its most valuable role as a passive reflection of the culture that drives it? The question of who we build for becomes crucial. A local community? Some sub-culture within the national demographic? Tourists? As visitors ourselves, to disengage our thinking from this last group is a particular challenge.

As 'outsiders' building in an (initially at least) unfamiliar city, it becomes even more critical than ever to address these questions, to validate the whole enterprise by establishing a position in relation to these, and other issues. How we do respond to the climate, to unfamiliar urban contexts which relate to a tradition of building not our own? To what extent is the physical context which we encounter an expression of a social structure into which our interventions must settle?

These challenges were explored through a fascinating sequence of projects, made unique by their relation to one another and to Lisbon's particular topography; from a campus for learning resurrected from a dying garden, to a sequence of buildings targeting moments of decay within the ancient Alfama; from an international train station reconnecting Lisbon's dockside to its urban hinterland, to a jewel like house for Fado at a gate in the ancient hilltop fortification; from a project for a church and community centre exploring the contemporary role of the most ancient of institutions, to a centre for film and photography locating 20th century traditions in an historic neighbourhood. Locations varied from the most discrete (below ground in the castle escarpment) to the most flamboyant (a prow of land visible from almost the entire city). Buildings emerged which took imperforate hillsides and found ways to make them permeable, introducing new ways to move both visitors and residents through the city and integrating new institutions seamlessly into the existing fabric through rich sequences of spaces, ranging from the intimate and poetic to the expansive and dynamic.

In the end, it is this learning process that matters, and the schemes, in all their diversity, reveal a level of integrity and care which speaks for itself.

David Shalev, Debbie Kuypers and Jim Hutcheson

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