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Chris Stewart

Collective Architecture's Chris Stewart discusses his overlapping roles as architect and member of the Scottish Ecological Design Association in promoting green design to a wider audience.

Any Porto in a storm

April 11th, 2020

In February 2020, just as Covid 19 had begun its journey and the great bush fires of Australia finally abated, Pedro charted storm Denis across the Atlantic, and behold a window of opportunity opened up on his laptop. Undeterred by a journey involving 4 airports each way, Pedro gathered his troops, stuck two fingers at the apocalypse, and we set off to Portugal’s second city for the annual Stratharch third year field trip.

4 airports passed peacefully enough and we made our way to the hotel. Situated in the University Quarter, we discovered ‘hotel’ is youthful Portuguese slang, for beatnik beach huts in a backcourt overlooking a communal barbecue area. Love it, declared Ayrshire Gordie as he breathed in urban chic and exhaled farmhouse steading, our very own Christmas Island. To avoid facing up to the privacy issues too quickly, the rest of us took refuge in the bar, decorated in skateboards and bamboo. We took it in turns to navigate the hipster landscape and check out our bunks, return and venture out for Portuguese rations in the form of a Mexican restaurant.

Day 1: The architectural siren rang sharp at dawn, ‘this is not a drill, if you see any Souto de Moura or Álvaro Siza fall to your knees in awe, turn your back and shield your eyes’. Pedro rounded the corner in full combat gear, khaki jacket, black polo-neck and clipboard. He marched us quickly through the Cedoffeita District to Bouça - SAAL, Álvaro Siza’s early housing project (1975-77). Pedro handed out tiny round sunglasses and black banderos, essential when glaring at gracefully proportioned facades, climbing challenged staircases and trying to blend into a community scratching its head.

Blinded by the brilliance, we reeled forward and around the massive concrete spiral, Silo Auto by Albertos Pessoa (1961-64), architects love a brutalist car park; across the hilltop Art Deco outpost of the Cinema Batalha by Artur Andrade (1944-47) and descended into the Centro Historico. First stop the wonderfully tiled Sao Bento Station by José Marques da Silva (1900 - 06), with its 20,000 azulejo tiles depicting Portuguese battle scenes. Painted tiles also lay behind the station in a quiet lane, where the entrance wall to a dance club decorated with 3,000 azulejo tiles, asks the question, Quem Es Porto? (2015) which is answered by the anonymous citizens in graphic certainty. Sao Bento is an area in flux, changing its face while continuing to discharge visitors into the city; from this gateway we fought ever downwards through glittering churches and arched bridges to the Douro River. The architecture rained hard that first day in the sun.

Day 2: The architectural siren rang sharp at dawn, we were up early, standing by our bunks, dressed and ready to go, when something rounded the corner in full white garb. The clipboard was a give away, which waved us forward in single file onto the waiting troop carrier. ’Expect a long hard day, no dawdling, no chatting, no smiling, or ….’. Pedro raised his eyes to the sky, tapped his microphone and in a low booming voice informed us ’First stop Alvaro Siza’s Leca Lido (1966), where concrete and nature meld in runic manner, to create a modernist bathing paradise amongst jagged rocks’. We disembarked the carrier to discover that the might of the Atlantic had destroyed Siza’s masterpiece which lay broken and scattered across the beach. We genuflected our way along the coast to Siza’s second youthful masterpiece, the still intact however now exclusive Michelin starred restaurant, The Boa Vista Tea House (1963). Back on the carrier we nursed our bruised knees.

Onto Braga for lunch and a pleasant wander through the town where we replenished our bodies. On our way out of the city a quick visit to Souto de Moura’s extraordinary Municipal Stadium (2003), home of Sporting Braga and carved out of the side of a quarry. We took turns to stand on each others shoulders to peer over the fans stockade at this 21st century miracle, Pedro raised his arms, and it was back on the carrier. History soothed the remainder of day where we took in Bom Jesus do Monte by Carlos Amarante (1811) and climbed the 12 stations of the cross, followed by a whistle stop knee shuffle around the historic town of Guimaraes. Aloe vera eased the bruising but nothing could calm our minds ablaze with architecture.

Day 3: The architectural siren rang sharp at dawn, this time we ringed the hipster courtyard, backs against the wall, all eyes on Pedro’s beach hut. He walked casually out, all smiles and clipboard. “Today is your day, you can do what ever you like, I thought we would start with a quick visit to Matosinhos”. This may be an illusion but reflected on the glass door of the beach hut, an image of Pedro working a console appeared as the door was shut. What else could we do, Robo-tutor held aloft the clipboard, led us to the Metro, conversed with a ticket machine and a few stops later we arrived at the Casa da Architecture by Guilherme Machado Vaz (2013-17). Inside was the most extraordinary gathering of Souto de Moura models and drawings ever assembled. We marvelled at the depth of exploration, the iterations, the study of scale, minds akimbo we danced back into the depths of the Metro, chatted to the ticket machines and emerged at the Casa da Música by OMA (1999-2005).

A faceted lump, Casa da Música settles amongst undulating hard landscape, now adopted as home to middle aged skate board freaks, I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised. We dodged through the skate boards and visited those parts open to the public, mainly the shop. Robo-tutor checked with the till to negotiate some student discount and we left. The day was far from over and arm in arm we sauntered north to the Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art by Álvaro Siza (1989-99), set within a stunning park we whiled away the afternoon while Robo-tutor lay in the sun drinking iced tea and munched miniature custard pies. Before we knew it the sun was dropping and we raced for one last homage to the Faculty of Architecture of the University of Porto, Álvaro Siza (1985-99). A series of sculptural white boxes where students can emulate the master and produce their own sculptural white boxes. We turned to thank Robo-tutor for the tremendous day, but he had wondered off into the sun set.

No siren for our final day, we gathered our bags and headed back to reality. We worked our way through the airports where masked travellers kept their distance and tensions rose. China headlined the news screens, we wondered but we did not realise the sadness coming our way. Today we speak to our students through zoom, discuss screen saved drawings on which we scribble with digital pens and pencils. It’s going well, we laugh, we draw, we move on. We will always have our adventure in Porto.


Thanks to Peter Welsh for the incredible effort he puts in to make the Strath Arch field trips such a success. Thank you also to my fellow tutors for being tremendous company however the biggest thanks of all to the Strath Arch third year students who this year especially were a credit to themselves and the University. This extends to today where students and university have reacted brilliantly, keeping the Architecture course alive through Covid 19. It has been a joy to work with the students, albeit on line, over the last few weeks.

Please keep safe everyone.

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