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Reimagining Architecture: Lisbon and Portugal Spearhead Innovation

From the museum MAAT to Prata Riverside Village in Marvila –tracing its riverfront, Lisbon pulses with innovation spanning architecture, art, and tech. Yet, it's in the cultural nexus of Beato/Marvila, that this evolution thrives with sharp and entertaining experiences, debates, and collaborations.

Art Installation "Nati Infiniti" by multidisciplinary artist Alessandro Cortini | Sónar Lisboa

Lisbon's docks along Beato / Marvila

“There are no straight lines or sharp corners in nature.

Therefore, buildings must have no straight lines or sharp corners.”

– Antoni Gaudi, Catalan architect (1852 – 1936)

“I call architecture frozen music.”

– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, German writer (1749 – 1832)

The concept of innovation in architecture is evolving. Its new dialogue emphasizes the integration of space with natural environments, favoring organic shapes over angular, vertical, and often ostentatious statements. This represents perhaps the most remarkable shift in architecture today.

Somehow, MAAT in Lisbon – the Museum of Art, Architecture, Technology, designed by Amanda Levete Architects of the British studio AL_A, was prescient of this movement. Since its opening in 2016, MAAT and its oblong shell fully integrated on the riverfront have become a destination for walks and runs along the Rio Tejo (Tagus River). During the golden hours, when the museum’s fish scales are floodlit, the dialogue between architecture and Lisbon’s natural world takes on the shape of a whisper.

Golden hours at MAAT – the Museum of Art, Architecture, Technology by Piet Niemann.

In China, the delicate approach of Japanese architect Ishigami Zaishui has resulted in a similar shape for the Zaishui Art Museum, pushing the challenge even further. The one-kilometer-long serpentine structure stretches along an artificial lake in China's Shandong Province, its diaphanous shape dipping at the edge of the water from one side of the lake to the other.

The water flow submerges the museum floor in a harmonious agreement between human-made design and the ever-changing elements of nature. The 20,000-square-meter linear museum, far from the rhetorical verticality of post-industrial cities, offers a meditative interaction with nature, as if Amphitrite, goddess queen of the sea and wife of Lord Poseidon, had assumed the role of the 'Artist is Present'.

Saudi Arabia’s NEOM

In our blog on innovation, we delved into Saudi Arabia’s NEOM twin line set amidst a desert landscape. 'Future or Fantasy?', titles CNN in its 2022 article on the theme. A slightly sardonic perspective on this gigantic project, which serves as a national anthem for Saudi Arabia. Architecture is where new narratives express, and in that case the shift from reliance on oil to these ambitious cultural statements, is a bold vision by His Royal Highness Mohammed bin Salman, Crown Prince and Chairman of the NEOM Board of Directors. NEOM underscores the significance of space and wealth, which often drive architecture towards its most daring creations.

Prata Riverside Village by Ricardo Oliveira Alves

In Lisbon, the 'Prata Riverside Village' project is taking shape along the Tagus River in the post-industrial zone of Marvila. This endeavor benefits from the same blend of ample space and financial backing, often with 'superstar architects'.

Designed by architect Renzo Piano, this premium residential development comprises five buildings and marks Piano's inaugural project in Portugal. By 2022, 80% of the 350 apartments had already been sold, with prices starting at €295,000 for units ranging from T0 to T3. Notably, 60% of the buyers are Portuguese.

In envisioning a true 'village' atmosphere, plans include provisions for commerce and services. Jeronimo Cafe, already operational, caters to remote workers, while Pilates classes have attracted a predominantly female clientele that night. Last summer, VIC Properties funded a series of live events branded 'So!Prata', curated by local artist Vhils, founder of the renowned Underdogs Gallery. More initiatives in Spring and Summer will attract communities to the architectural compound. In his article dated June 20, 2022, titled 'What does Marvila have that no other place in Lisbon can offer?', José Cabral, a real estate agent and writer, highlights the following:

"Anyone with some capital and a keen eye for investment opportunities, upon analyzing Chart 1 (which shows an 87.9% increase in transaction values between 1Q 2018 and 1Q 2019), would likely feel they missed out on a lucrative investment in Marvila in 2018."

Luis Teixeira, Chief Director of Architecture at the firm Promontorio, operates out of a converted warehouse in Beato/Marvila, where he has been based for 30 years. We met him for a quick chat on the parking lot.

Architecture Partnership Promontorio in Beato since 2000. Portrait: Luis Teixeira, Chief Director of Architecture. Partners: João Luís Ferreira, Pedro Appleton, Paulo Perloiro, João Perloiro and Paulo Martins Barata.

Promontorio epitomizes how architecture evolves alongside shifting human desires, values, and aesthetic preferences. Over the past three decades, the firm's projects have spanned Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and the US, encompassing city planning and sites dedicated to education, heritage and preservation, conservation and commercial pursuits.

While Promontorio was previously renowned for its work in retail and shopping malls, the firm is currently bidding with three other competitors for a 5000sqm surf hotel project in Ericeira. Hospitality and leisure have surged in popularity in Portugal, with five-star hotels, surf resorts, eco-projects, and hybrid co-living spaces flourishing across the country.

To facilitate the realization of these projects, Luis says that investors are often giant conglomerates hailing from the UK, Switzerland, Asia, and the US. In 2019, the world's largest investment fund, BlackRock, alone injected €2 billion into banks, energy-focused corporations, and supermarkets in Portugal.

Teixeira crushes his cigarette underfoot, casting a slightly skeptical glance at Renzo Piano's artificial village sprawling behind the walls of the non-profit venue Fabrica Braço de Prata. "When we first arrived, factories were bustling, and corner cafes were alive with workers. But that era is fading. Next year, we'll have to move, and once again, artists will have to relocate elsewhere”.

The Sacavém Crockery Factory and industrial plant.

Teixeira hints that Sacavém could be their next destination. This post-industrial enclave, with its untapped potential, lies along the old military road connecting Lisbon to Mérida. Established as a parish in 1191, Sacavém derives its name from the Arabic term "sagahi" or "sagabi," meaning 'close to,' reflecting its proximity to Lisbon.

Since 1856, the Sacavém Crockery Factory has shaped both the human and geographical landscape of the parish. By 1930, nearly the entire population of Sacavém was employed by the factory. A testament to the workers and their craft, the Ceramics Museum stands as a tribute to the era. Read more on the History of the Fabrica Loica in Sacavém.

Countless tiles scattered throughout the town bear witness to the influence of the Pottery Factory on the local community. There's even a proposal for the historic core of Sacavém to be granted municipal protection, aimed at fostering urban regeneration.

Could Sacavém be to Lisbon what Bushwick was to Williamsburg?

As the Brooklyn riverfront became crowded with real estate projects, Bushwick remained idle, biding its time. It was a risky gamble in the early 2000s, but eventually, it paid off.

Meanwhile, what lies ahead for Hub Criativo do Beato / Marvila and the Prata Riverside Village?

According to Stephanie Rees, a British expert in strategic planning in large-scale architecture, 'top-down' (or artificial) architectural complexes like this don't always thrive as intended. She argues that cities should develop more organically, through genuine relationships between people and space, cultivated over time.

Hub Criativo do Beato, the 'Unicorn Factory.'

Some even suggest that Hub Criativo do Beato, the aspiring hub for startups, faced similar challenges as a top-down project that failed to fully materialize.

Yet, on March 14, 2024, people spill out of the WebSummit offices, adjusting their headphones, while the restaurant/delicatessen Praça hosts a private event for Randstad Portugal, a global human resources service with the tagline 'Human Forward'.

Hub Criativo do Beato, the 'Unicorn Factory.'

As a ray of sun finally breaks through the moody sky, the giant sign painted in blue and yellow shouts, 'Lisboa European Capital of Innovation'. EU Startups highlights "10 super promising Portuguese startups to watch in 2024 and beyond," including Rauva, featured in our previous blog post.

The city of seven unicorns, Lisbon, has also been chosen by Microsoft to launch its new Artificial Intelligence Innovation Factory, in partnership with Accenture, Avanade, and Unicorn Factory Lisboa.

In Beato/Marvila, the landscape is ever-changing, blending work and leisure, AI with cocktails, while many key players maintain their fiercely independent spirit.

Inside Hub Criativo do Beato, you got Duro de Matar [Hard to Kill]—a neon-drenched taqueria run by the Mexican/Italian maverick duo of Foodriders. They're spinning the illest DJ sets in Lisbon, and this week hosting a tattoo workshop. And they care for their food and drinks to cater to all budgets. Who else is still serving the classic Portuguese Cristal Beer—the brew of the working class since 1890?

Duro de Matar [Hard to Kill] – A Taqueria with DJ and visual art performances.

For some of the best art curation in Lisbon and way beyond, swing by Galeria Franscico Fino. The next exhibit 'Em Frente da Porta do Lado de Fora' by Pedro Paiva, is opening March 19th at 10 pm.

At Palacio do Grilo, waiters are setting up Dadaist dinner scenes with the felt footsteps of a black cat. And at 8 Marvila, the 22,000m2 converted space into boots and experiences around culture, art and commerce, lovebirds get cozy in the dimly lit space, while other just land on site via Uber or Bolt. The night is young. Drinks and food until midnight.

The weekend of March 23rd–24th, Praça Fest will be turning the square into a fun party with workshops, DJs, and Portuguese brands in the mix.

It's tough to keep up with all the action in this neighborhood! Best move? Live here, O' Course!

If you find yourself stifled by the uniformity of ready-made habitats à la Renzo Piano, take a tour past the Palacio do Grilo and ascend the street toward Rua da Marvila. At 113, two imposing twin buildings, each with three floors, and seven apartments, are for sale –with views of the Rio Tejo. Are you feeling the heritage of the quinta [the farming productions of Portugal]?

The houses are tall, quirky, and gangly like a pop band. Birds are squatting in the space. The houses have that everything-is-possible narrative valued by artists. A garden stretching beyond the courtyard. It's a place with great potential, to re-think entirely for the productive creative of our remote work era. A way to trigger your own community, system, and vision.

The pale yellow houses for sale at Rua da Marvila 113. Find out more: property details.

Rua da Marvila at Twilight. March 2024.

Walk down the street. 

The sky has blushed pink. It's like stepping onto a movie set. A cool bus stop with the Tejo as a backdrop. That could be your own bus-limo to the city. And if Biggie has his mural on the corner of Bedford Avenue and Quincy Street in BedStuy, Rua da Marvila has its giant Jungle King signed by okudart

Mural 'Jungle King' signed by okudart. Rua da Marvila at Twilight. March 2024.

There is nothing artificial in that hood. Each house tells its tale – some retain history, others embrace modernity. Housing renovations is often a passion thriving on imagination, and imagination is the cornerstone of innovation.

“You can put down a bad book; you can avoid listening to bad music; but you cannot miss the ugly tower block opposite your house.”  –Renzo Piano, Italian architect

“I like ruins because what remains is not the total design, but the clarity of thought, the naked structure, the spirit of the thing.”  –Tadao Ando, Japanese architect Mojo Real Estate Solutions is an international team of experts helping you find your ideal property in Portugal and renting it short or long-term fully furnished via concierge services.

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