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What ups the game of Lisbon?

Pedro Gadanho, director of MAAT - Museum of Architecture, Art and Technology, talks about the vibrant and innovative atmosphere in the city

By: Mieke Vullings & Margot van der Kroon

MAAT | photo by Hufton + Crow MAAT | photo by Hufton + Crow

Part 1 - Q&A with Pedro Gadanho

In this Q&A MIMOA founder Mieke Vullings asked MAAT director Pedro Gadanho all about the revamping of Lisbon as a city and the crucial international role of his museum.
Pedro Gadanho | photo by: Pedro Guimaraes
Pedro Gadanho | photo by: Pedro Guimaraes

Lisbon & MAAT: Where technology, architecture and art intersect

In the last two decennia (international) cultural institutions are focussing more and more on the intersection of technology, architecture and the arts; places that facilitate debate, discovery and critical thinking. The MAAT, the Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology, located on the edge of the Tagus River in Lisbon's Belém district, is one of recent additions in this international field and one of most visited in Portugal.

Previously a curator at MoMA in New York, Pedro Gadanho decided to return to his home country Portugal to become the director of the MAAT in 2016. And he is glad to be back! Portugal, and the city of Lisbon in particular, fast renewal in the order of the day. Mieke discusses the effect of the MAAT with Gadanho on these city developments and how internationalization affects the contemporary cityscape.
MAAT | photo by: Francisco Nogueira MAAT | photo by Francisco Nogueira

MV: Obviously we are impressed by the architectural quality of your museum, designed by the London-based AL_A. What makes your museum even more special?

PG: “What the MAAT makes unique is the combination or art, architecture and technology. There was already an electricity museum in place, at the Tejo Power Plant. As the new building is representative of 21st century architecture, this is the equivalent for the early 20th century. Its old machinery is on permanent display in our collection. Second, there is the important art collection of the EDP Foundation, which covers several generations of contemporary Portuguese artists.”

“Finally, this is a museum of contemporary art, in which technology and architecture serve as filters and themes with which artists are working. They use them to understand how society evolves and changes around us.”
MAAT Central Tejo | photo EDP Foundation MAAT Central Tejo | photo EDP Foundation

MV: This is also the theme of your current exhibition on display Utopia- Dystopia?

PG: “We call this exhibition a manifesto, because it perfectly sums up what we are trying to establish here at MAAT. Architects and artists showing work alongside of each other is still quite common, but we are trying to establish a balance and equality between disciplines. Usually you have an art exhibition featuring something of an architect, or the other way around, but not this kind of dialogue going on.”

“And also on a personal level, this exhibition is of great importance. I’m completing a cycle of - which I started earlier at MoMA. There, I first experimented with creating multidisciplinary dialogues from the collections. Being a Curator of Contemporary Architecture at MoMA, I was in the architecture and design department. However, I also had access to the art collection and I started to ‘borrow’ from other colleagues of other departments. Here at MAAT I’m able to work on a larger scale, thus opening up a multitude of possibilities - in New York it was 200 m2, here in Lisbon there are more than 1000 m2 for these interdisciplinary crossings.”
MAAT | photo by Hufton + Crow MAAT | photo by Hufton + Crow

MV: It seems that Lisbon is going through a lot of renewal at the moment. I recently read an article in The Guardian from this April that explored How down-at-heel Lisbon became the new capital of cool. “People are starting to dream again.” Do you recognise these developments?

PG: “Yes, definitely. Starting with the mayor of the city Fernando Medina, he smartly takes advantage of the money that comes in via tourism. There has been a lot of urban renewal, especially across the riverfront.”

“This development also coincides with the understanding of Lisbon as a safe haven. It was this way in the Second World War, and again it happens. With terrorism and feelings of insecurity in other places, good food and a pleasant climate make Lisbon an interesting place to have a pied-a-terre. So many people do not only arrive via tourism, but also via foreign investments. People are buying second homes in Portugal, and are moving here and living here all year round.“

“We’ve seen a lot of French people coming here, and also the Dutch are exploring the Algarve and South coasts of Portugal. But now the city has become increasingly popular, people want to stay in a place that has a two-hour access to other cities in Europe. And, of course, Lisbon has also a youthful and vibrant culture."

“Second to that, there has been a lot of effort to attract tech start-ups. That’s what brought in the International Websummit, being held in November of this year. That is an extra impulse for culture and tourism here, it brings along people from San Francisco, Silicon Valley and all around the world. We can expect that 8000 people will invade Lisbon this year and create an atmosphere of creativity!“

“Naturally, the fact that tourists from all over the world are now flocking here, from America to Asia, also brings problems. People are talking a lot about gentrification. We have been reading about these problems for 20 years, but now we see it arriving here. But because we have seen so many examples already, we are able to anticipate discussions on it – and that is positive. That means that the public debate is happening from very early on, in neighbourhoods and newspapers, and that enables for political decisions to be taken swiftly.”

“The downside of all this seem to be that some early comers state that they will not visit ‘The Havana of Europe’ anymore… In general, however, I think it has been a very optimistic and positive climate - with the city undergoing many quick and impressive transformations. It is amazing to see how hotels and facilities are put up. These things are what coming back to my home country made very special and exciting indeed.”

MV: For you that was great change as well?

PG: “Before I went to the MoMA in New York I used to teach at the faculty of architecture in Porto, but I was living in Lisbon. I kept my apartment, and when I returned two years ago, with my children, we came back home to a climate that was very optimistic. A change after America, with Trump coming in - it was a relief to come back to Europe.“
MAAT | photo by Piet Niemann MAAT, located on the edge of the Tagus River | photo by Piet Niemann

MV: MAAT as an institution also has it’s share in these enormous upgrade of Lisbon as ‘the city of cool’ and as international hotspot. We’re all familiar with the Bilbao-effect. Do you think MAAT will cause a similar positive effect on Lisbon? Or do you perhaps prefer not to be compared with the Guggenheim?

PG: “It is an interesting subject and comparison, but Lisbon does not really need the Bilbao-effect. Lisbon is growing because of all the factors mentioned in the previous question, not because of one museum. “

“The museum is just a vehicle that adds to the mix. For Bilbao – previously a decaying industrial city - the placement of a Guggenheim museum truly made difference in revamping. Yet I must say that for the museum itself, we are enjoying a ‘mini-Bilbao effect’. Contemporary art may not be the great magnet to draw city visitors in, and with Amanda Levete’s building we have an extra incentive for people to come and visit us.”

“In this case, it’s the architecture that pushes the envelope, the driving force behind the Museum’s success - it is the building that attracts people and helps people explore and discover the contents of the museum. This project could have had a very difficult start, if we did not make strategic use of our assets, like the attractive location, the interest of first time visitors, to the addition of the cultural experience as a whole."

MV: The museum is an overwhelming success so far, with a skyrocketing numbers of visitors, higher than projected - especially in the beginning. With long queues! How will it be when I visit the MAAT tomorrow?

PG: “We have been very lucky in the beginning! The queues will be gone. The rush due to massive campaigning to raise awareness came down. Firstly, we focused on the Portuguese people. We went on television, we had the Portuguese President at the opening and the media covered it in the night news. But simultaneously, we also run an international campaign to bring in opinion makers and build up and an international audience.“
MAAT | photo by EDP Foundation MAAT Central Tejo | photo by EDP Foundation

“Yet, we also went from being a museum that was free of charge to being a museum that is supported by ticketing. First we attracted 250.000 people a year, at least 1/3 of these visitors numbers were children visiting the power station and visit the science parts of the exhibit. But we had to introduce charge, because of the enhanced program and the costs of the new building.“

“Unfortunately, this development can also create a barrier for locals to visit. Although we’ve seen many economical improvements through tourism, people from here do not always have enough money in their pockets to afford the entrance fee. In compensation, we have a constant increase of international visitors.”

MV: Do you still have a children's programme at the MAAT? Or what are you doing to keep in touch with your ‘old visitors’?

PG: “Of course, we still have a class programme which is easily affordable. But we also have a membership card with which a local can visit the museum for 10 euro’s all year round. A regular single visitor pays 9 euro per ticket. Anyway, I think we now have laid a great base to grow a steady audience.”

MV: What exhibitions are you in particular excited about to be coming up in the next year?

PG: “We have an exhibition coming up, called Tension and Conflict, starting September 13, 2017. This is actually a show entirely based on video-art, and how this expression has engaged politically with the aftermath of the financial crisis in 2008.“

“The films are impressive! I have seen of course all of them, there are 22 younger artists, with 22 films from all over Europe, Latin America, from the Middle East. It is quite demanding for the public, because if you see all the films - it takes up three hours. But I promise, it will be a mind-boggling experience!“
Still of Video Cosmic Death by Francisco Queirós Still of Video Cosmic Death by Francisco Queirós

Part 2 - Three Lisbon favorites by Pedro Gadanho, director of MAAT

Of course, MAAT director Pedro Gadanho did not leave us high and dry when it comes to sights to check out! Earlier he shared his insights on Lisbon and the role of contemporary architecture in the city, as our selected MIMOA mayor. In the second part of his Q&A with Mieke, Gadanho shares three of his favourite spots in the city.

1. Galeto

“I’ve been doing interiors for a long time, and I have even put my work of Orange House on MIMOA. Because of that I would recommend to go, to this cafeteria with this classic 60’s /70’s design interior Galeto’s. You can grab a steak there even around 2 in the morning, and check out the people from the nightlife. Galeto is perfect, if you want to immerse yourself in a retro atmosphere!’

Galeto is located in the city’s Saldanha district near Campo Pequeno. A long bar with swivels snakes across the floor, or sit in one the booths while you’re there. Galeto is around for nearly fifty years and a bit off the tourist trails - so this one is for the true city dwellers.

2. Parque das Nasçõas - The ‘98 world expo site

For a ‘huge concentration of architectural gems’ you absolutely need to go to the ’98 world expo site’, tells Pedro. “You have the Pavilion of Portugal by Siza Vieira, you have Ciência Viva, the Pavilion of Knowledge by Carrilho da Graça. And I also have to mention the Gare do Oriente Station, by Calatrava. There are just so many things to see here!”

“Expo terrains can look a like vacant, empty places when not being re-developed properly, this sight is a good example of an expo that turned into a vibrant village within the city itself”.
Expo '98

3. Restaurante Panoramico de Monsanto

“This place is surely worth to rediscover!” tells Pedro Gadanho and it even upholds a special memory to him. “It’s a sort of lost architecture, it’s abandoned since the 70’s - it’s UFO architecture.”

“In the early 00’s we briefly blasted life into the place with the Experimenta Design biennale. We turned it into an instant disco for one night. It was amazing, 3000 to 4000 people came. Unfortunately, the fire department came - declared that the building was not safe for usage - and cleared it out, until today.”
The round building of the Restaurante Panoramico is sitting at the top of a hill, in the forests of Monsanto, just before Lisbon and the largest green patch in the city. “The location is amazing, because you have an absolute view of all of Lisbon. The Restaurant Panoramico now looks like a weird ruin, a misplaced form of Eastern European architecture. Except that this building rather has Facist origins, rather than Communist.”
Restaurante Panoramico de Monsanto

As of this month, the Restaurante Panoramico is re-opened to the public.

Mi destinations: exploring beyond the obvious cultural sights

This interview is produced within the concept of Mi destinations. Every month a new city around the globe is highlighted. Discover the must-see sights for you as cultural traveler, provided and curated by the MIMOA community and team, accompanied by the local stories our MIMOA mayors and guides.
Read here more about Mi destinations >>

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