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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.

Fortnightly Blog 10 - Lisbon, skin, knees and toes

March 5th, 2014

Eyes, ears, mouth and nose featured prominently as part of the annual ribbing of an eventful field trip to Lisboa. Fifty three of the best young ambassadors Glasgow could hope for, descended on the city of the seven hills, from the four corners of Europe, to join with six tutors lacking in the hair but long in the tooth.

Dr Barnabas's baton, (now heading up architectural history at Liverpool University) has been picked up by Dr Jonathan and transformed into a series of fascinating cultural anecdotes. These fell thick and fast through the Bacalhau and Super Bock; I now understand Lisbon's rich Muslim heritage running through the tumbling lanes of Alfama; the blood letting of the Reconquista Crusader hired guns who laid siege to the city: and a slave trade history which was the envy of their 'man and brother' merchants lording it in Glasgow, Liverpool and Bristol. The most spine chilling story was delivered on a windswept wet walk into the Praça do Município to examine it's late eighteenth century stone spiral Pelourinho (pillory post). It was here that each of the 12 million slaves who past through Lisbon were gently prepared for their cruise to South America by being whipped into submission.

Body parts grew into anecdotes, a drive past Lisbon Bull Ring prompted a discussion of Georges Batailles "Story of the Eye"; his surreal metaphor hung straight through to historic Sintra where we were met with the bizarre spectacle of the twin metallic conical towers of the National Palace. Royal palaces abound in Sintra and our limited time led us to concentrate on the Palacio Nacional da Pena, a Romanticist pile constructed for the young Emperor of Brazil by Baron Wilhelm Ludwig von Eschwege, a mining engineer come amateur architect. The result was a PoMo feast which would happily grace the set of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, a negative body politic for a mega rich despot.

Filled to the gunnels with history we craved something more contemporary and happily pulled on some Portuguese straight-legs. For a while now I have been fascinated with stylistic differences between the massive overhang (flairs) and the minimal merge of facade to roof (straight legs). Clearly we are enjoying a dominance of the straight-leg, epitomised by the skinny jeans of the hipster, mirrored by minimal architectural style such as the stunning Thalia Theatre (2012) where Goncalo Byrne's mustard cocoon envelops what has past. Senhor Byrne’s students Aires Mateus were next out the changing room, donning sparkling leggings in the form of the Santa Marta Lighthouse Museum in Carcais (2010). Blinded by such an apparition we unfortunately were not enamoured by the ill fitting Paulo Rega Museum by Eduardo De Moura(2009) where a pair of flesh coloured truncated pyramids strangely glorified the cafe and gift shop, perhaps a reference to the dominant metallic cones of Sintra who merely vent the Royal kitchens. Impressed by Portuguese form making I was reminded by Dr Jonathan that the co-joined red walls and red roof of NORD’s Bell Simpson House (2004) predates all we have just seen by 5 years, I never realised we were so hip.

The next morning we caught the Lisboa/Oriente Express for the Parque das Nações embarking at Santiago Calatrava’s extravagant railway station, celebrity engineer come amateur architect. Expo ’98 was not the preferred setting for Dr Jonathan’s cultural studies assignment summed up by the lonely giant green plastic dinosaur dwarfed by the massive sagging concrete roof of Siza’s Portuguese Pavilion. We all persevered and the students introduced me to Pallasmaa's "The Eyes of the Skin" as we wondered the emptiness contemplating the relevance of hand drawing in the digital age. Glasgow had it’s share of Expo’s over the years and there was much debate over these mega events and their relevance; the current riots in Brazil over the cost of the World Cup and having a portrait of Putin on your bedside table in Sochi must give most countries cold feet. For me they are all summed up by the sadness of ‘Happy Street’ the Dutch Pavilion for World Expo 2010 Shanghai.

The human cognition process ranges from the simple to the complex and from the abstract to the concrete. The human body and its structure influence how things can be meaningful for us. It seems that one of the most important objects of knowledge is one's body, you could say that we don't see things as they are; we see things as we are. But before we managed to completely climb up our own nether regions we spent our last night in Lisbon’s smallest bar, where the fifty nine fitted into eighty three square feet, with three musicians, two rice shaking samba dancers and one barman with a smile bigger than his face.


Special thanks to Peter Welsh, all the third year part time / full time tutors and the talented students for a wonderful @stratharch field trip.

SEDA Green Drinks Edinburgh will be held on 13th March at the Edinburgh Centre of Carbon Inovation by Andy Kerr and Annabel Cooper of Malcom Fraser Architects. Dr Jonathan will deliver Glasgow SEDA Green Drinks on 01st May (TBC) at Strathclyde University discussing the ecology of disaster.

For further details on these and all forthcoming SEDA events please check out

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