Thursday, March 9, 2017

Amanda Levete's MAAT in Lisbon

Architektur Aktuell has published my report on the addition to the Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology in Lisbon (MAAT), designed by the London-based architect Amanda Levete (not available on line). Here are some excerpts from the article:

"Stretching out along a riverside pedestrian walk, the building is conceived as something like a ripple or a bump in a rug, in which the ground plane gradually rises and falls, climaxing over a grotto-like entry opening. The ramps and stairs on each side of this arch rise to the accessible roof, also slightly arched in two directions, with views over the river at its edge, and finished with a stepped amphitheater and greenscaping."

"The structure thus reads as a long, twisting ribbon along the river bank, clad in custom-designed tiles, which flares out horizontally at its central peak to shade the entry arch, and to reflect dancing river light from its underside, via skylights, into one of the building's underground galleries, which are grouped around the oval hall."

"With its ribbon-like, tile-clad forms, the MAAT is remarkably similar to another recent waterside building in Portugal, Luis Pedro Alves' Porto Cruise Ship Terminal, designed in 2005 and opened in 2015, which features long arms extending along a dock and coiling up into a drum-like central mass. Both designs constitute interesting and valid interpretations of the particular opportunities offered by a waterside site. Both aim to fuse building and landscape, creating contemporary public icons that function at the broad geographic scale of the horizon, establishing points of focus along a sweeping plane of vision that attract our far-off gaze."

Luis Pedro Alves, Porto Cruise Ship Terminal. Photo © Fernando Guerra

Despite its spectacular appearance, I did not come away from my visit without some "quibbles" about the design. The most notable:
  • "The architects describe the central vault as "a gently expressed arch," which may be true when seen from the water, but it can also suggest other readings. Visitors actually approach the building from the riverside walk, with its foreshortened views, in which the vault rears up much more dramatically, suggesting perhaps the open maw of a gigantic shark, or a breaking wave."

  • "Despite this elaborate choreography [around the entry], the archway fails to establish a real sense of connection between the outside world and the main interior spaces. Only the restaurant and shop directly overlook the water – although curatorial reasons may justify this decision."
  • "The access stairs and ramps to the roof on either side of the arch are unexpectedly steep, and feel crowded in by the adjacent buildings on either side; they would seem to want to stretch out more comfortably along the quay. Once up on the roof, the arching ground plane and the abrupt drop in elevation at the rear, all suggest that we are astride a building rather than strolling through a landscaped park as the architects seem to have intended. It's rather uncomfortable, like riding the back of a tortoise."

  • I was also not too convinced by the curving interior spaces, which the architects describe as intended to accommodate "the changing relationship between art and visitors, the growing importance of interaction and performance, and the emergence of a less didactic relationship between museum and public." I comment, "The kuntshalle's curves are not apt for conventional displays of paintings and other dusty stuff, for which the MAAT provides more conventional spaces on the power plant's premises." 

Oval Gallery. Photo © Hufton Crow

Kuntshalle for the MAAT Museum, Lisbon
By AL_A (Amanda Levete)
architektur.aktuell 443, January - February 2017, page 84 - 93

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