I went to Lisbon for a long weekend in early December and it was nice.
Such is gist of the following paragraphs, but I encourage you to read on and uncover more detail.
I am hesitant to make declarative statements about places into whose rich cultural waters my toes have only dipped. Nevertheless: Lisbon, Portugal’s capital and largest city (pop: c552,700), feels as though it is in the midst of substantial change.
A prime example of this is the brand new Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology (MAAT), which opened to the public on 5th October this year. Located in Belém on the bank of the river Tagus, the museum comprises two pleasingly dissimilar buildings: one, an otherworldly design by British architect Amanda Levete; the other, a mass of steel and redbrick once home to Lisbon’s thermoelectric power station. Mirroring the undulating water it watches over, Levete’s building swells up from its concrete surroundings to offer panoramic views of the river and Belém behind. But in and around this remarkable structure, the atmosphere was one of anticipation. Inside, the line between sophisticated minimalism and unfinished gallery space was sometimes hazy, and French artist Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster’s installation, Pynchon Park, felt lost in the museum’s cavernous main hall.
But, like those who deal in clichés say of wine and cheese, MAAT can only improve with age. As Lisboans and tourists alike come to know its strengths and ambitions, the museum will begin to feel more at home on this handsome riverbank.
What I have been trying to say is that MAAT is a brilliant addition to Lisbon’s already bountiful cultural offerings: a museum that reaffirms this city as a must-visit for people who like looking at good buildings and other things. Viewed together, MAAT’s two structures offer a condensed version of its city’s historical narrative. A towering monument to Lisbon’s industrial heritage and a glimpse into the future of popular design, they reflect the waves of change that have shaped our European capitals in this century and beyond.
This year has been a dramatic one, they seem to declare to passers-by, but there is promise in our ingenuity.