Between modernity and history: Lusitanian style is back in fashion
There are those who dare to say that Portugal can become the California of Europe: a place that combines ultra-modern buildings with history and culture, as well as tourist spots, the sea, excellent cuisine and unlimited prospects for the future. In this article we will talk about the renaissance of Portugal as it enjoys the most thriving moment of its journey which also embraces architecture and design.
An economy restored to health in the space of 5 years
Just over 5 years have passed since Portugal was at risk of economic collapse and was forced to ask for help from the Troika to avoid a bankruptcy that would have jeopardised the stability, not only of the country itself, but of the whole of Europe. Today, the turnaround of the Portuguese nation is very much a reality, and the most significant macroeconomic indicators testify to that: steadily rising GDP, unemployment at historic lows compared to the last 15 years, real estate prices in the capital, Lisbon, up 5% in the last 12 months and public deficit at its lowest point since the ’70s.
This renaissance of Portugal is confirmed by a bird’s eye view of Lisbon. Dozens of construction sites, new buildings ready to emerge, houses under renovation, buildings and shopping centres being completed show us a city in total ferment, a mirror of an entire nation that has mustered the strength needed and, above all, a huge desire to play once more on the world scene.
It is natural, then, that the newfound health of the Portuguese economic fabric has triggered a series of favourable situations. To name two, the tourist boom that Portugal has recently been enjoying and the strengthening of the “Made in Portugal” label, with an export of Portuguese agricultural products approaching a 20% growth.
Multinationals speak Portuguese
Recently, quite a few multinational companies have decided to place their bets on Portugal, with investments that have proved to be crucial in this period of growth. The list of companies is long and very varied in terms of origin and sector: from the German Daimler company (owned by Mercedes) that has opened a branch with 100 employees for the development of digital products and technologies, to the Asian Fujitsu and Huawei, up to the giants Microsoft and Google, which will inaugurate an enormous technological centre in Oeiras (a city to the west of Lisbon) where over 500 engineers will be working for the European, African and Middle Eastern markets.
Uber, Zalando, Renault, Bosch and Siemens also deserve a mention in this list, as they have opened new offices in Portugal for a variety of reasons, both for the market and for research and development.
A final striking example of investments coming from multinational companies and confirming Portugal’s period of grace is the university campus that is taking shape between Lisbon and Cascais. Funded by multinational giants such as Microsoft, Cisco and Nestlè, the new campus will host over 600 students from all over the world and will explore issues related to new digital technologies and the role they can play in the global economy.
A renaissance of aesthetics too – with Lisbon as the example
Lisbon is undoubtedly the flag-bearer for the Portuguese renaissance: in 2017 it won the award as the best city for a city break with the World Travel Award, it was elected Ibero-American Capital of Culture 2017 and won the Wallpaper Design Award 2017. The Portuguese capital offers architectural works both historical and modern, museums of architecture and designer installations, all in the hands of genuine international starchitects.
Lisbon’s MAAT by starchitect Amanda Levete
The architectural work that stands out from the others is the MAAT – Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology – inaugurated in the historic Belém quarter of the city. This dramatic structure was designed by the star architect Amanda Levete who created a wave-shaped building covered with 15 thousand tiles in calçada – a typical material used to produce azulejos, ceramic decorations characteristic of the Iberian peninsula – that reflect the waters of the Tagus river flowing past the foot of the museum.
The building, which offers a panoramic view of the city to those taking a walk on the roof, is located in an area that has undergone significant restyling in recent years. An example is the nearby former power station that houses the Museo de Electricidade (Electricity Museum), a red brick building that fits in well with the modern context of the area.
Lisbon is also the city of the Museum of Design and Fashion, the MUDE, which is temporarily undergoing a total renovation but which, despite its closure, offers numerous designer installations throughout the city: 2017 ended with an interesting exhibition on Brazilian design (read the article on the Campana Brothers’ Brazilian design HERE), while currently one can still see the exhibition “Tanto Mar. Fluxos Transatlânticos do Design” curated by two designers, one Portuguese, Bárbara Coutinho, and the other a Brazilian, Adélia Borges.
Staying with the subject of great architectural works under construction, the redevelopment of the Baixa seafront promenade continues, with the construction of the new Cruise Terminal, a work by architect João Luís Carrilho da Graça.
A renewal that also encompasses the most historic areas of the capital, particularly La Baixa, in the heart of Lisbon, it sees new sales outlets and stores for emerging designers opening alongside the traditional historical shops.
The design world celebrates the return of Portugal
A Lusitanian wind that also breathes on some of the major design magazines confirms the explosion of the “Made in Portugal” label. Consider that in its February 2018 issue, the well-known magazine INTERNI – which covers interior and contemporary design – dedicated two articles to Portuguese design: an article on the historical Vista Alegre, a porcelain manufacturer which, through the designer Sam Baron, has looked after the creative and furnishing side of a new luxury hotel built on the outskirts of Lisbon; and another about the famous designer Emmanuel Babled, of French origin, who decided, after Amsterdam, Milan and Paris, to open a studio in Portugal, in Lisbon, the city that the designer himself described as “stimulating and representing the right compromise between a European capital and a small, open, progressive and non-violent city”.
In AD too – an international magazine of furniture design and architecture – you come across designer objects called “Lusitanian Fantasies” and, in “Iberian Geniuses”, confirmation that for the next few years the world of design will be “invaded” by the inspiration and the vitality of a nation that, after the dark years, is firmly back on its feet and ready to (re)establish itself on the European and world stage.
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