Architecture in context

PT_exhibition_2Between march 9th and 20th in the Museum of Sofia (the old Central Bathhouse) can be seen the exhibition “Architecture in context”. 12 projects, built in Portugal the last 15 years, will be exhibited. The exhibition’s author is Ina Valkanova, an architecture with professional experience from Portugal, Germany and Bulgaria. ONE ARCHITECTURE WEEK was invited by Ina to organise a debate, which relates to the exhibition. It will take place on March 15th at 18:00 in the exhibition space. The debate’s name is “Identity in/to/with/from/despite the context” and the focus will fall on the link between identity and context in Bulgaria.

In relation to the exhibition we asked Ina a number of questions.

1. What motivated you to organise this exhibition?
Portuguese architecture has long been internationally recognised due to the characteristic style, high quality and attention to detail. As an architect, who lives and works between Portugal and Bulgaria I have interest in the cultural exchange between the two countries. They are both peripheral in their geographical position, both have undergone dictatorship and have similar economic struggles. In this regard, I think it is not only interesting, but also important, for the Bulgarian society to see projects created in a similar environment.

2. What stand behind the choice of the title? Is there anything specifically contextual about contemporary Portuguese architecture?
As I mentioned, the Portuguese architecture has a characteristic style. This style is not only related to form and concept. The common theme in works from different architects is the extreme respect to the given situation of each project. For example, when working on the Tea House Boa Nova in 1963, Alvaro Siza spent months measuring and sketching each rock on the project site, located on the coast of the Atlantic ocean. Souto de Moura often chooses the materials for his projects, based on the local produce of the region. This tendency can be observed In general in the Portuguese contemporary architecture. The context of the location are the departure point in the works of Portuguese architects. We can say that architectural identity is created through working in context. This frame inspired the title of the exhibition.

3. How did you chose the projects to be exhibited?
The guiding theme in the selection of the projects was our intention to exhibit different typologies and architects, with the idea to present a broad idea about the Portuguese architectural scene. It was important for us to present as well architects from different generations. The works of Siza, Souto de Moura, Carilho da Graca and Goncalo Byrne are already known and widely published. In the exhibition we combine works from famous Portuguese architects with project of the younger generations, that deserve attention. Each of the selected architect was asked to choose a project that represent his own personal approach to the Portuguese context. The typologies of the project varies from infrastructure to hotel and wine houses.

4. Could a comparison be made between the Portuguese starchitects (Siza for example) and the young names? Do the young practices stand a chance?
It is difficult to compare Alvaro Siza to other Portuguese architects. There is a kind of international cult to his works. In an article New York Times called him the last modernist of our time. In this regard, he works in a special distinct frame in comparison to other architects. Regardless Portugal offers a chance for the younger generation, even more than economically stable countries such as Germany and The Netherlands. This is partially due to the flexibility of the construction sector. The country attracts also foreign architects, who choose it for a working base. In the selection we have included a project from Japanese and Italian architect who work in the Portuguese context.

5. What are the issues, which bother the most architects, and society in general in Portugal?
The topics that concern the society in Portugal are not so different from the hot topics in the Bulgarian society. The country is still recovering from the financial crisis in 2008 and the main topics are connected to the events following the crisis – economical regress, youth emigration and decrease of development. The architectural society is concerned with the lack of investment, lack of transparency in competitions and unregulated honorary. Interesting is that even with the difficulties in the architectural sector, Portugal recognises its architecture as an important national product, such as the wine and the ocean beaches.