Although many Portuguese towns and cities are characterized by well-preserved, historic architecture, some contemporary architects are using modern ideas to advance this traditional language of design. At the same time, Portuguese designers are careful to maintain and honor the legacy of artists and architects who came before them. Museums in particular play a key role in these preservation efforts by containing and exhibiting this history, but just as importantly, by embodying it, and becoming a modern interpretation of the very traditions it investigates. It is not enough for a building to display important cultural histories and artifacts if the museum’s design is not sensitive to this program. This is especially important when a nation’s architecture and urban planning are themselves of great historical significance.
Each of the following projects provides a different way of understanding and addressing this issue. Some of the museums are focused on the past, while others exhibit the work of living artists. Still others offer spaces for the production of future cultural treasures. Some of the museums are devoted to Portuguese art, craft and culture; some boast international collections, and are designed for a world stage; finally, some of the museums contain content which is not specific to Portugal, but are projects which nevertheless demonstrate the ingenuity of the Portuguese architects and curators behind them.
Standing for Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology, the MAAT in Lisbon is intended to be a space for exhibiting diverse media from around the world. It is fitting, then, that the museum juts out like a ship’s hull towards the River Tagus, a site where Portuguese explorers used to begin their journeys, forming connections between Lisbon and the rest of the world. The museum is still tied to local architecture, however, with a façade composed of thousands of glazed tiles, an ode to traditional Portuguese craft.
Constructed to house the work of artist Nadir Afonso, this museum in northern Portugal is also essentially a monument to the artist who began his career as an architect. The project references the design language of the modernists Afonso trained with — featuring clean geometry, exposed cement walls and window-lined curtain walls — as well as natural elements specific to the building’s location. The museum is nestled alongside a wall made of stones salvaged from the site, and includes a large garden for outdoor sculptures, carefully situated to draw attention to the surrounding landscape.
Conceived of as an intervention into the commercial space of the Colombo Shopping Mall in Lisbon, The Andy Warhol Temporary Museum initially seems to be at odds with itself. Its program, as an arts center, seems to be inherently opposed to its setting, a shopping mall. Yet the structure, as with the Warhol works inside of it, merges the ostensibly separate spheres of “high” and “low” culture through humor, skepticism and absurdity.
The museum’s walls are constructed entirely out of metal paint cans that reference the artist’s use of everyday materials and emphasis on repetition and seriality, recalling such works as Warhol’s paintings of Campbell's soup. The paint cans allude to the commercial setting of the mall but also embody the museum space as receptacles for the medium represented within.
Another intervention in the Colombo Shopping Mall, the Salvador Dali Temporary Museum is organized into three spheres: Paradise, Hell and Purgatory, to reflect the content of Dali’s Divine Comedy prints. Yet rather than providing obvious distinctions between these spaces, the entire structure is united through openings at the corner of each room. As with the Andy Warhol Museum, the structure opens up to the mall so that shoppers can see into the galleries from above.
The Barroca Museum is fashioned out of a pre-existing agricultural building in the rural town of Mora. Although the museum is outfitted with white-walled galleries, the project defies convention by highlighting its traditional architectural elements, including exposed wooden rafters and tile floors. These features, along with a preserved exterior, allow the structure to fit in with its setting while creating a museum environment that does not pretend to be neutral, instead establishing a specific context for viewing the exhibitions within.
The Platform of Arts and Creativity is a complex of buildings designed to house multiple programs, including workshop spaces, performance venues and exhibition spaces. The project also assimilates pre-existing commercial buildings with new architecture and a large outdoor patio. Along one side, all of the structures bear a façade of brass and glass, which unites the entire complex under one visual identity. The center is also integrated with large, open spaces that connect the various interior spaces.
The exterior of the Museum of Mechanical Music is deceptively simple — with a boxy profile and monochromatic walls — yet the subtle bevels that lead towards the entrance suggest elegant disruptions to this uniformity. Containing galleries for the display of art and artifacts, and an auditorium for performances, the museum is organized around large open corridors, which guide visitors throughout the building, leading them along diagonal passages and stairways.