JOSÉ ADRIÃO . Learning . Part1

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Tell us about your educational background, how was your architecture course, which teachers and situations influenced you the most, and the experiences that you encountered when becoming an architect. 

I got into college in 1984, in Universidade Técnica de Lisboa. I remember perfectly well the first day I started in the Fine Arts School (ESBAL), getting out of the metro station at Rossio and climbing Rua Garrett. Studying in Chiado was a privilege.

In the first three years of college in Lisbon, the learning process was mainly through my colleagues. The environment was very intense. The city was going through incredible times, the 80’s. The Fine Arts School (ESBAL) was a place full of energy; it had, besides architecture, painting, sculpture, design. There were also many musicians, people who made fashion and the architecture students were immerged in this bubbling environment of ideas. “Bairro Alto” was just beginning.

We would investigate, discover, and walk. Our lessons would extend to the streets, to the city and to the outskirts of Lisbon. Then we would search all there was to see: cinema, exhibitions, concerts. We lived the city fully, participating actively – but, however, without being aware of what we were doing – one of the most stimulating times Lisbon has lived in these last few decades.

Afterwards, I asked to be transferred to Oporto. There were only two schools at that time, Lisbon and Oporto. I felt that the people who came from Oporto were better prepared. The course was truly more difficult. The teachers left a mark and transformed students’ lives. There were always talks about “those from Oporto and those from Lisbon”. At the time I thought “I am not having this conversation my whole life!” so I moved to Oporto. I asked to be transferred in my fourth year.


Was architecture a first choice, or was it a progressive discovery?

I wasn’t sure in the beginning that I wanted to be an architect. It wasn’t a revelation in my life. I was about 20 years old. I think what made me choose architecture were the discoveries I started to make at that time. However, I also wished to study cinema. Until moving to Oporto, I always lived in “Alvalade”, the intersection of “Avenida de Roma” with “Avenida Estados Unidos da América”, in José Segurado and Filipe Figueiredo’s buildings (01). Alvalade, back then, was a very active area, with musician groups and many artists. The place where I lived was above the café “Vá-Vá”(02) and I was always surrounded by that energy.


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How was Oporto?

I had many goals when I went to Oporto: the first one was the school itself. I also wanted to live on my own and the only way I could do this would be moving away. And I wanted to be Souto Moura’s student. I went to speak to Souto Moura and told him: “-I would like to be your student.” And he accepted. It was striking having him as a teacher. He’s a very intelligent person and very available. I remember his classes very well. Souto Moura would walk by our drawing boards and speak to each one of us individually about our work, always carrying a thick pencil in his hand. He would scratch over the drawing and make great critics. Usually there were students who participated in his conversations, I was one of them. He had great pleasure in it. I remember he always tried to develop the basis of the projects the students were presenting and a clear interest in almost all of them. He would activate each ones possibilities. He would often say: “- To develop this project you must see this or that, an architect, or Alvar Aalto’s project”. Then he would go to another drawing board and say: “- For this project you must see Mies van derRohe’s project…”. He introduced references and very different architects, which made things interesting and complex. I enjoyed the different directions. He was an extraordinary teacher. He was a key element in my education and, for that only, moving to Oporto was worth it.




And what kind of relationship did you have with the city?

I arrived in Oporto in 1987, and it was an important stage in my life. Firstly, I started to live on my own; then, discovering a city I didn’t know and an extraordinary school, with a very intensive environment. My fourth year classmates had already been together for three years, they had grown and learned together, and I tried to keep up with them. I was fortunate to enter in a class and having colleagues who were really taking advantage of school. I had a great group that year, for instance, Guilherme PárisCouto, Nuno Grande, João Pedro Serôdio and Isabel Furtado from SeródioFurtado & Associados, Francisco Vieira Campos and Cristina Guedes from “Menos é Mais”, Luís Tavares Pereira and Guiomar Rosa, from [A] Ainda Arquitectura, Pedro Mendes, Pedro Cortesão, Paulo Seco and others truly good. On the other hand, I met sophomore students who were also discovering the city, as Rogério Gonçalves with whom latter I started a magazine called “DA -Documentos de Arquitectura” (03) and Pedro Reis. An excellent year, with people who are still today engaged and committed as architects, teachers, critics and citizens.

In the beginning of the year, we thought about, with Paulo Seco’s initiative, renting a work place on “Rua dos Almadas”. Five of us shared the space, which we called “Almadas”: Luís Pereira, Paulo Seco, Pedro Cortesão, Vasco Mendia and I. There was, in another room, a sculpture studio. We made that place our home. We were always there working from since we left classes until dawn. When I went to Oporto, I lived in a bed and breakfast, called “Mondariz”, where I would only go to sleep. Our lives were basically: school, “Almadas” and some nights out, full of energy from studying and being in a new city.

Everyone said: “- You are doing your fourth year in Oporto, which is the most difficult one, it will be impossible” or “- You come from Lisbon, where the school is awful.” I was a little scared. At that time, I was the first student who had asked to transfer from Lisbon to Oporto half way through the course. The opposite was more usual, from Oporto to Lisbon. But it went very well, I had a reasonable grade. Afterwards, I travelled.

I had already the habit of hitch hiking through Europe in the summer. That year, I extended my trip. I went to Switzerland, found a carpentry job, then at an architecture studio and stayed for a few months. I decided not to go back to Oporto and continued to travel for a year and get experience. I believe courses shouldn’t be done as a gust of wind. Each student has its own pace. Back then, I thought I was not mature enough to go back and start my fifth year, even though my fourth year went well. I worked in a studio in Montreux, Switzerland. I had all Central Europe just a few hours away: Italy, Belgium, France, Amsterdam, Berlin – I saw a lot of architecture. I would travel almost every weekend. Then I decided to go to London where I met Teresa Novais and Jorge Carvalho, from aNC, who were already doing there sixth year internship. I sent out my C.V. and found a job. I stayed there for a year.


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When you went back to Oporto, you lost the class you had in the fourth year, which had been really good...

I lost the excellent class I had, but I knew I would see students I had already met and liked. Amongst them was Pedro Pacheco. When I returned, I had a new life experience, and I did my fifth year with Carlos Prata. Many good things happened that year: there was the conference cycle “Discursos sobre Arquitetura” (04), many architects who were cementing there experiences at that time were in Oporto – Herzog, Meuron, Peter Zumthor, and David Chipperfield.

Josep Llinás, from Barcelona, was also there and I was fascinated by him. At the end of the conference, I went up to him and said I would like to work for him. I was already predicting that my sixth year would be a practical experience in a studio. I wanted to go in Barcelona, where I had already been in when travelling around Europe and he agreed. When the fifth year was over, Pedro Pacheco and I went to work in Barcelona with JosepLlinás. We asked Souto Moura to be our internship coordinator and he accepted. Having someone like Souto Moura guiding and advising us was a privilege. He was totally available, with great and attentive critics and guidance.

I spent one year working and living in Barcelona, discovering another city. Barcelona was not what it is today. Before the Olympic Games in 1992, Barcelona was a rough city, with wild ramblas, that had a typical port, sailors and a prostitution environment. The Barcelona we know today has nothing to do with the one we knew at that time. It wasn’t even a desirable city. People knew Madrid quite well, but not Barcelona.

We lived in Borne, near Santa Maria do Mar, which was considered a neighbourhood with a bad reputation, and has now been transformed into an expensive and touristic neighbourhood.

My connection with Barcelona has continued over the years. In 1996, I started my Master’s organized simultaneously between Universit Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC) and Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona (CCCB) coordinated by Manuel de Solà-Morales. This master’s, for several reasons, stopped. Because of this, I enrolled in the Metropolis Master’s, coordinated by Ignasi de Solà-Morales. The teachers were quite good; there were great classes and conferences. Ignasi was an unique character and a brilliant intelectual. He spoke without fear about controversial and delicate matters, such as architecture and politics, and the Basque and Catalan issues. He was brave and had no problems being politically incorrect. The curricular part of the master’s was given at CCCB, so I stayed in the city centre. I was able to see the evolutions made in Barcelona, as we know today, and understand what went on in Barcelona in two decades, from 1992 onwards, that resulted from planning and a lot of work, with great expectations and many architects involved.


When you were studying, Europe was by far the destination of many Portuguese young people. Nowadays, we are watching a new type of journey made outside the Continent. There are other types of interest…

The journey, at that time, was a very important thing. My generation, in the 80’s, went through an interesting stage of discovery. After 25 of April things started to change very quickly. We would read books like Jack Kerouac, “On the road”, watch movies like “Subway Riders”, from Amos Poe, and “Stranger than Paradise”, from Jim Jarmush. There was an apeal to travel. In Europe, near the cities’ exits there was a crowd of young people catching a ride. I remember once, at an exit outside Paris, we were almost one hundred. There were people who really travelled naturally and with pleasure, and appreciated that freedom. We didn’t have a planned destination when we travelled. We would just travel, for the sake of it, with little money and the longer we stayed the better. We would stop to make some money and continue our journey, but the main purpose was to travel. Now, there is a different way of travelling. Back then, it was unthinkable to catch a plane, because it was too expensive. We travelled by train. But, sometimes, to save some money, and also because it was fun, we would hitch hike

In Lisboa, when I was sixteen or seventeen years old, we would hitch hike to the beach. People would go to “Praça de Espanha” and easily catch a ride. Not anymore, now kids go when they have a car. There is a safety problem – which sometimes is more fiction than real. What I mean is, we all faced moments of real danger, but knew how to deal with it.


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Travelling is a direct complement of true training. Architects have a need to go see things. When Souto Moura said “Go see this project”, you really wanted to go and look, didn’t you?

Of course! We went to see Adolf Loos, in the most peripheral neighbourhood in Prague, or J.P.Oud, in the suburbs of Amsterdam. We were able to get there: we had gone and seen it. This experience, for us, was very important. I believe it is necessary to see where things are, understand the relation with its surrounding, and understand the smell and the texture. Later on, Ricardo Carvalho and I (mostly Ricardo) started to organize trips with groups of students, architect teachers and friends. We were twenty or thirty, and made memorable trips. We did one which, for me, was crucial. We went to Brasilia, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Porto Alegre, in twelve days. Everyday was programmed – of course these trips are completely different from the others – these trips have a very specific goal, which is to see architecture, and there are situations that if they are not planned, they can not be done.

One day we saw Marquise, from Oscar Niemeyer, the SESC Pompeia, from Lina Bo Bardi, the FAUUSP, from Vilanova Artigas and the MUB, from Paulo Mendes da Rocha. It was crucial. I already knew Lina Bo Bardi’s work from publications, but the work (as with many) can not be understood if they are not experienced. Things like this I had never seen or felt. I knew there was a way of doing architecture, but I had never seen it built. Vilanova Artigas talks about “spatialization of democracy and freedom, where all activities are legal”. In fact, when arriving at FAUUSP, you understand that the building has a strategy and a very clear perspective of building architecture. After entering the campus university you arrive at this building which is the architecture school. It has no entrance doors. It literally does not have doors. There is a giant hall, with natural light that accesses to these huge ramps that lead to the class rooms, and without going through a single door. These are spaces that connect amongst them. It is very powerful.

There is something I find fascinating in Brazilian’s architecture in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s which is the programmatic construction of liberty and democracy. The buildings are very generous, very easy to use and very simple. The Marquise from Niemeyer is exactly that: a big shield that protects you from the sun and rain and where you can do many things. You can be under the Marquise on a sunny day, and all of a sudden it starts raining, as it often happens in Brazil, and people stop and stay there watching the rain… then, the shield is a giant cover with gargoyles that hold the rain water. When it stops raining, the gargoyles continue to release the water that was kept in the cover. People start riding skates and cycle and walk around and water still comes out pouring from the cover by the gargoyles, to specific points of the park and garden. When architecture is able to make very simple things, very clear, this poetic intensity is truly emotional.