All about context – new museums in Lisbon and Tartu

MAAT Museum, Lisbon by AL_A Architects, photo HuftonCrow
MAAT Museum, Lisbon by AL_A Architects, photo HuftonCrow

On the edges of EU, two museums opened in the fall of 2016, both designed as a continuation to the surrounding landscape. In Tartu, the Estonian National Museum was designed by Paris-based firm Dorell Ghotmet Tane. Near the Atlantic coast in Lisbon, a new addition to the MAAT museum was designed by Amanda Levete’s London firm AL_A Architects.

Estonian National Museum, Tartu by Dorell Ghotmet Tane
Estonian National Museum, Tartu, designed by Dorell Ghotmet Tane

In two very different locations, the buildings tell two different stories, both accommodating to their context in spectacular ways. One is straight-lined, extending from a disused aircraft runway, a symbol of independence in the post-Soviet era Estonia. The other blends into the riverside walkway along the Tagus river like a giant wave, its innovative design so apt for a space dedicated to architecture and design.

Both Estonia and Portugal have been going through some tough economic moments. But both have also experienced a resurgence of creative energy. These buildings signal new beginnings, how good architecture brings people and ideas together.

Estonian National Museum, Tartu, designed by Dorell Ghotmet Tane
Estonian National Museum, Tartu, designed by Dorell Ghotmet Tane

Although Tartu is a small town, a couple of hours drive from the capital, the Estonian National Museum has gained big visitor numbers. The vast collection of objects and curiosities is impressive, and the space provides contrast and drama. It shows how people are touched by authentic experiences and narratives, that come to life through exhibitions that are well staged and put together with thought and sensitivity. The new place, built to be fused to adjacent historical ruins, also shows the evocative power of combining old with new architectural forms.

Estonian National Museum, Tartu
Estonian National Museum, Tartu

In Lisbon the new MAAT museum can be found in Belem, where key cultural sites already pull visitors. Lying low, not far from  Mendes da Rocha’s monumental Coach Museum, the new part added to the MAAT has injected the riverfront with new energy. The fluidity of design has changed the monotonous circulation in this area, bringing new rhythm and breaking the previous order. In a city that is famous for its hills, this waterfront mini-hill that Amanda Levete’s building has created, is a beautiful architectural gesture. The new topography, and the vast space below, are places for the public to enjoy.

MAAT Museum, Lisbon, designed by AL_A Architects, photo ©Hufton+Crow
MAAT Museum, Lisbon, designed by AL_A Architects, photo ©Hufton+Crow
MAAT Museum, Lisbon, designed by AL_A Architects, photo ©Hufton+Crow
MAAT Museum, Lisbon, designed by AL_A Architects, photo ©Hufton+Crow

In their different ways both museums evoke the dynamism of contemporary life. Their presence and structural force seems embedded into their unique environments. They link to the history of local culture and community, bringing hope and inspiration. While EU is going through difficult times, context is ever more significant.

MAAT Museum

Eesti National Museum

Port House in Antwerp, designed by Zaha Hadid Architects, photo ©Danica Kus

The year in Review

By Stephen Smith

A year of beauty and truth, death and collapse, frugality and austerity, exuberance and indulgence, of conceptual wranglings and contextual limitations, of the future and the past, of challenging and exigency. Architecture has always been a prism to perceive the world, and this year offers all the trappings of world in flux, of a world in conceptual misalignment as it comes to the apex point of a social, political and economic entanglement.

However, in many ways it is a year just like any other. We have flux, we have a change, we have peaks of progress and complexities and confusions. Name your year and I’ll show you a battle between two opposing arguments. In 2016, architecture has made us look outwards as well as within.

In this article we explore some of the places, exhibitions and events we’ve seen and enjoyed, and some of the other notable events that have rippled through our world, always with an eye on how it has reflected the world back towards us.

Urgency and Hope at Venice Biennale

Coming at us like a herd of stampeding elephants Alejandro Aravena’s Venice Biennale grappled with the concept of a world in struggle. The theme Reporting from the Front sounds like a battle, and can be pitched as such.

Aravena offered his creation story or founding myth in a true story of the writer Bruce Chatwin coming into contact with the archaeologist Maria Reiche wondering around the Peruvian desert and carrying a large step ladder. She would place the ladder down at intervals and climb up right to the top. From there her view changed dramatically. Standing on the ground one could only see stones, but from the top of the ladder a bird, a jaguar, a flower, all these things came into view. She was of course standing above the famous Nazca lines.

With that, the concept of the front beckons us. Aravena wants us to see the world from a new perspective by bringing the front to us. The concept was solidified in bringing together exhibitions of simple, or simpler materials, and less demanding ideas.

Critical to the spread of international collaboration were the national pavilions. Thirty in all and all beacons of urgency and hope. Creative explorations of themes allowed each national pavilion to speak a story untold, or to retell a story along with a new narrative spin.

Unfinished, the Spanish Pavilion, is an exemplary example of this retelling. It documents the ruins of never-finished building projects in a country that was hit hard by global recession. The metal structures magnify and frame the narrative, in which the derelict buildings were reimagined and built for new purposes.

“These projects have understood the lessons of the recent past and consider architecture to be something unfinished, in a constant state of evolution and truly in the service of humanity”

The British Pavilion drew upon London’s housing crisis, yet with a distinctive international look – perhaps alluding to the idea that it could be any large metropolitan city. Clothes, cleaning products, accessories and other assorted items are centralised and propose communitarian forms of ownership in a world of limited space and limited cash.

With the theme so richly layered into every unit, every structure, every form and fibre of this sprawling event, it’s no wonder Venice Biennale President Paulo Baratta said ““the exhibitions speak the language of urgency and hope”. Read full write-up here of the 2016 Biennale

Extensive summer of architecture at Serpentine

This year’s Serpentine Pavilion, located at London’s Kensington Gardens, found beauty in the void and in the space between objects. Bjarke Ingels and his firm BIG played effortlessly with scale and materials to create a structure filled with light and feeling like it was made from light itself. For the pavilion concept, entitled ‘Unzipped Wall’, the BIG team explored previous Summer Pavilion designs, and you can sense a kind of genealogy between Gehry’s deconstructed form with heavy Douglas Fir and Fujimoto’s light orthogonal grid.

Beyond BIG’s Unzipped Wall, Kensington Gardens became a playing field for mini-pavilions created by Kunlé Adeyemi, Barkow Leibinger, Asif Khan and Yona Friedman, a climax to the architecture programme introduced by the retiring director Julia Peyton-Jones. Built a few steps from Queen Caroline’s Temple these pavilions intertwined with its classical style.

There was space, and space within space, compositions of smooth sandstone, ephemerality of lightly intersecting lines, dappled sunlight finding pathways through fence-like structures, form peering out of the void. Read the full write-up of 2016 Serpentine Pavilions

Zaha Hadid’s stunning solution in Antwerp

Early this year we lost Zaha Hadid, a great visionary and renowned talent. But we didn’t have to wait long to get another glimpse of her audacious genius.

Port House, inaugurated in September, is a stunning work that achieves the goal of unifying Antwerp port’s 500 staff. While reusing and renovating the redundant fire station it sits above, reflecting the fluidity of the surrounding city, the Scheldt river and the busy working environment of the port. With a mix of transparent and opaque triangular facets, the vast extension looks like a leviathan lurching from the water with its scales shooting off streams of light back towards the port. The fire station is an imposing building with elements of Hanseatic design and it’s renovation has allowed the retention of the old with the new firmly seated above it.

Port House by Zaha Hadid Architects, photo ©Danica Kus
Port House by Zaha Hadid Architects, photo ©Danica Kus


View from Port House over the River Scheldt, photo ©Danica Kus
View from Port House over the River Scheldt, photo ©Danica Kus

Retaining the old is important for us as humans. It’s a link to the past, a link back to the values and culture that’s embedded within our internal narrative, the story of ourselves.

And just as individuals have to build stories about themselves to survive, so do cities, and Antwerp is no exception. Marc Van Peel, president of the Port of Antwerp, links the new building’s vast adornment to the original building’s cultural antecedents, Antwerp’s 16th century golden age, saying “above this original, a contemporary structure in shining glass has been built, which I am sure, represents a new golden century for Antwerp.”

Futuro at London Festival of Architecture

As one of the many London Festival of Architecture events Grand Tour Magazine hosted a talk, held within a rescued and restored Futuro House. Stationed on the roof of Central Saint Martins in London, the original 1960s house is on loan from artist Craig Barnes, who was one of the panellists alongside Ruth Lang and Andreas Lang from the university’s architecture department. Experimental forms (circular spaces encourage interaction. How apt!) and 1960s ideas, enabled by today’s technology, were discussed in that very special and intimate space introduced by Marianna Wahlsten.

New models and alternatives

The Lisbon Architecture Triennale was curated by Grand Tour contributor André Tavares and Diogo Seixas Lopes. Their theme The Form of Form echoed with the beautiful new MAAT museum, which opened in Lisbon at the same time and housed some of the Triennale events. Tavares sees form (public infrastructure) as the way to move beyond austerity, opining ‘The way to overcome is to build’.

At the IABR (International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam), chief curator Maarten Hajer set out the idea of the energetic society – a society which focuses not on what the state can do for its people, but what people can do for themselves.

With a theme titled The Next Economy the context surrounding the Biennale was an invitation for citizens to become owners of the urban realm. Part of the curatorial team, Michiel van Iersel wanted to highlight alternative organisational models, stating that “It’s not about showing the best practices or the shiniest projects, it’s more about providing role models.” Read our report on IABR 2016 here

Alternative models were on the radar throughout 2016, and the most infamous moment from this year was Patrik Schumacher’s eight-point plan at Berlin’s World Architecture Festival. His target, London’s creaking housing sector, came under sustained attack, including the suggestion that even Hyde Park could become a new city under the privatisation of public space. The most widespread outraged surfaced from this comment on second home ownership.

So with that, we look not backwards but forwards, to a 2017 that offers new solutions, new ways of thinking and new ways of addressing the challenging complexity of the modern world.

We hope that you’ll stay to join us on this journey.

Rio Maravilha, LX Factory

LX Factory, Lisbon’s industrial district saved from developers

Cobbled streets lined with artists studios, shops, great bars and restaurants – LX Factory exemplifies local creative culture at its best

By Marianna Wahlsten and Sofia Andrews

Lisbon has become one of the new creative hubs in the EU. Already before the Brexit vote tech entrepreneurs had been lured by financial incentives and a liberal attitude. The economic situation has been tough (for example many architects have been forced to move abroad or take up alternative creative work), but there is a flourishing start-up scene underpinned by positive synergy. And the situation also shows how difficulties and economic scarcity can inspire great individual creativity, something missing in the larger capital cities, such as London, where the state and big corporations seem to have the power.

Lx Factory, The Dorm
View from the entrance of The Dorm hostel, opened in September

In Lisbon spontaneity and authenticity are allowed to exist. About ten years ago artists and designers took up studios around the industrial zone of the Alcântara district located by the 25 de Abril suspension bridge. The old textile turned printing factory complex built in the 1840’s was meant to be demolished in order to pave way for new development. In light of the economic crisis, plans were pushed back and an investment group proposed a temporary occupation of the complex, giving birth to LX Factory (an ode to Warhol’s Factory in 1960’s NYC). Ever since people in the arts, fashion, media, design, photography and small companies have occupied the abandoned, derelict buildings and their vast industrial spaces.

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New heights: my flight up the new BAi360

BAi360, Brighton
BAi360 reaching up opposite the remains of the historic pier, image British Airways

A triumph of high-tech engineering on East Sussex coastline, designed by Marks Barfield

by Harri Närhi

In many ways, going up the i360 in Brighton, or the world’s tallest moving observation tower, is akin to flying. The whole experience is heavily mediated by the idea of air travel, visitors are greeted onto their ‘flight’ by British Airways staff acting as if to take you on a faraway journey, and indeed the view itself is something achieved only by an impressively high vantage point. i360 architects David Marks and Julia Barfield, creators of the world-renowned London Eye, have managed to deliver an experience so awe-inspiring it leaves you craving for more than your afforded 20-minute slot. The i360 might have taken a total of 12 years to conceive, but there’s a sense that it’s here to stay, and will ascend to the front stage of successful 21st century British landmarks.

i360, Brighton
The seafront by the BAi360 has been renovated and improved, photo: Harri Närhi

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Löyly Sauna by Avanto Architects, photo ©Ḳuvio

Helsinki waterfront hotspot – Löyly Sauna

A new take on a favourite summer ritual – the most spectacular public sauna by Avanto Architects

Löyly sauna by Avanto Architects
Wooden terrace constructed over the water, photo ©Kuvio

During high summer, from mid-June to mid-July, sun hardly sets down in the Finnish capital. Many locals escape to their waterside cottages to enjoy the long days. But now there is one more reason for staying in the city. The latest architectural hotspot is Löyly, a public sauna with a bar and restaurant designed by Avanto Architects on the Southern waterfront – literally the hottest meeting place this summer.

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Magic in brick – new Tate Modern extension

The new extension of Tate Modern, designed by Herzog de Meuron, is now open to the public. In twenty years the museum became so popular more space was needed. The extension tower, which cost £260m, fits there beautifully .

“We did not set out to build an iconic building”, Tate director Nicholas Serota states before the opening of the new extension. But of course it will be. It is designed by Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, the Swiss architects who had already transformed the derelict power station into Tate Modern. It has since become the world’s most visited museum for modern and contemporary art, making London a global cultural centre.

Switch House extension, Tate Modern
Close-up of façade, built with sheets of brick panels

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