Interview // Discrete architecture. Lisbon’s Triennial of Architecture in preparation

Interview by Marta Jecu in Lisbon // Tuesday, Sep. 03, 2013

Recently divulged, the press release of the 2013 Lisbon Architecture Triennial titled Close, Closer, makes foremost a visual statement, three paper clippings (by the Zak Group designers) confront the viewer with three statements marked in red: “But is it Architecture?”, “The City and You” and “Brave New Now.” The Architecture Triennial questions the borders of the discipline and distills the idea of architecture into that of a vital spatial practice correlated with the quotidian. In order to better grasp the aims and motivations behind this year’s Trienniel I spoke with two of the curators.

Underlying the Triennial, is the imperative that architecture in Portugal needs support in protecting its heritage. In a discussion with Julia Albani, one of this year’s curatorial collaborators, she pointed out that with the Triennial; “what is important is to communicate to the audience what architecture is, when the general public is in the reality of a crises in which many construction processes went down, in which the reality of what we have just been aware of does not exist anymore.” Speaking about Portugal’s particular architecture culture she said:

“In Portugal there is a very interesting architectural history, but there is no architectural museum here, Portugal does not have a true architectural guild, but has a lot of small initiatives that try with a lot of good will and pro bono work to research architecture, but do not have a proper foundation and an institution to address themselves. The triennial cannot take the role of a museum-archiving, collecting and researching-but tries to take the place of an institution, which draws attention that criticism in architecture is strongly under represented in Portugal and to stimulate a critical distance that we would need in 2013 for the reception our events.”

I sat down for a longer interview with Chief Curator, Beatrice Galilee, in the 18th century Palacio de Sinel de Cordes, a long time abandoned villa in the centre of Lisbon, donated this year by the City Council as part of a larger city-wide refunctionalization project. With its luxurious and deserted charm, the palace is meant to be the setting of a creative ‘cluster’: a flexible centre where an interdisciplinary dialogue can take place.

MARTA JECU: The Portuguese architect Manuel Aires Mateus, commenting on a necessary trans-disciplinary vision of architecture, said that we should nevertheless be aware of not confounding architecture with other disciplines. Although there are necessary contaminations and inspirations, architecture should be considered regarding its own identity, it should not dissolve into other domains. Which would be your position and the position that the triennial takes in this regard?

BEATRICE GALILEE: Architects internally consider architecture by reading geography, philosophy, spatial practice, art, while the public thinks architecture is a house, a building. There is this difference between how the discipline internally discusses it and what the public understands from this discipline. And exactly with this gap we are trying to deal in this edition of the Triennial. The discipline has so many possibilities and the education that the architects receive as practitioners can be applied to many other tasks, not just to designing buildings. For this triennial we are rather considering spatial practice than architecture as a discipline. The aim for us is not to try to define architecture, but to see to what architecture can practically apply.

How would you describe your encounter with the specific situation in Lisbon and how did you proceed in your work? How did you react with your curatorial focus to the previous editions of the Triennial and their functions in this city?

This edition of the triennial aims to respond to local economic and architectural conditions, so we are trying to look at the way in which architecture is being conducted as practice, the methods in which people can change the spaces that they live in and the way in which architecture can become more social. We are looking at a more discrete architectural practice. We look upon how an architect can be more a performer than concerned with aesthetics. Whereas the previous editions have set the ground by focusing on Portuguese architects, this gives me a freedom to have a completely different angle and to show an architecture that is not so easily exhibited.

We have a program for any citizen to apply for a 500-2500 Euros grant to make a project in/for the city with civic purpose, so actually instead of reflecting the city through an exhibition, we are trying to see what we can improve in the city, pushing people to make projects and not exhibiting something made by a small number of people in an abstract way. We will have also a competition for students to respond to the theme of the triennial: it could be an installation or a lecture series or event that would be shown in the palace. There is also the guest project section where the organizer should come up with the funding and the locations. We will have also an award for young Portuguese architects. As the last editions of the triennial had a lifetime achievement award, we are more willing to orient to the future and help young Portuguese architects in difficult situations. So we try to invest in the city. We are working now also on a series of e-books, edited by the curators, which should explore in great detail the ideas behind each exhibition.

You have a gallery space for architectural practice in London, Gopher Hole, how does your work in such a space compare in relation to your curatorial approach for an event like an architectural triennial?

The difference is a methodological one, the Gopher Hole is functioning like an open platform and we are working with people that have not had exhibitions before or would not fit into a normal gallery space, as they work cross discipline. We are spontaneous, the exhibitions happen faster. With the triennial we need to be aware of what is happening now but also that it might change until next year, to plan ahead but also not to be to prescriptive at this early stage.

Additional Info

Exhibition: 12 Sep. – Dec. 05, 2013
Lisbon, Portugal

Writer Info

Marta Jecu is presently a researcher at CICANT Institute in Lisbon, and has contributed for various magazines, including E-Flux, Kaleidoscope, Journal of Curatorial Studies, Idea Arta+ Societate, and various critical books, such as Visual Studies, Ed. Jim Elkins.

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