Interview with Professor António Madureira
Professor António Madureira was born in the 25th of November, 1943.
He started as a teacher at Escola de Belas Artes do Porto where he finished his bachelor’s degree in 1969. He was present during the transition of the School of Architecture to the new building – the present building of FAUP – leaving behind the tradition of the Beaux Arts and the classical teaching methods.
He was collaborator and a long-time friend of the architect Álvaro Siza.
He retired three years ago but he keeps a close contact with teachers and students presently at the Faculty of Architecture.
Although original from the city of Barcelos, he’s been living in Porto for the biggest part of his life.
He maintains a constant interest in photography, owning he’s own collection. He photographed and keeps photographing the city of Porto, he’s buildings and buildings of others, students and teachers.
Rotating Editor Porto.: You were a student, an architect and then an Architecture teacher in the city of Porto. How many “Portos” did you meet in this process?
António Madureira.: […] We had those normal journeys, house-faculty, faculty-house or, every once in a while, we’d go out to other places and downtown. […] In the first two years [of Escola de Belas Artes] there was an extremely important change […]: the introduction of scientific subjects, namely Mathematics, Chemistry, Descriptive Geometry […], Physics […]. Because there were no teachers in those areas, the classes were hold at the Faculty of Sciences.[…] With the direction of Carlos Ramos, there was an attempt to change things. In a very ruthless way, he discarded the “old people”. […] My second year was all at Matosinhos, studying housing in the “islands” [Ilhas do Porto] and degraded houses of fisherman from Matosinhos. This gave me immediately a different perspective on things, much more rigorous and interesting about social matters, even political matters – for obvious reasons at the time.
The following year […] [the students] went to study the Barredo neighborhood. Barredo was a degraded area of Porto. It had the highest population density of Europe, at the time. When the Athens Charter generally considered that the ideal population density was of 300 inhabitants per hectare, at Barredo there was 2000. It was crazy! At the same time, [Fernando] Távora had been invited by the Mayor to direct a study on Barredo […] and so he started to spread the idea that it was recoverable, as long as there would be an intelligent political and social intervention. […] The study of the inhabiting conditions of the “islands” was of a huge importance because it launched the School in this attempt to know the city through other means, always through drawing! Everything handmade. I still have some of those drawings, although I usually throw everything away. They were amazing drawings.[…] Porto was almost a dead city. […] We lacked the investment, a huge difference when comparing to Lisbon, for instance. […] Then, some changes started to appear in Escola de Belas Artes; first, there was a really strong reaction to the outline of the syllabus, because of the subjects at the Faculty of Sciences. […] Then, there were internal processes related to a more global phenomenon, namely the 68th May in Paris that obviously had reflexions in the student’s environment. […] They were able to initiate a changing process of the syllabus, but then I left because […] in 1970 I went to the army, and in 71 I went out of Portugal. I came back in 74 and I found really big differences. Porto was different. […] In Luanda, in spite of the war, there was tranquillity in the streets. A fight here and there, but no bigger problem than that. When I came back I noticed big tension among people… a little bit like nowadays, but maybe more serious than now. You see it in people’s faces, you notice it in their reactions. […] After that, came the 25 de Abril [The Portuguese Revolution] and with it a big change: a huge euphoria.
And then, for us architects and for me personally, the change of Government and the creation of SAAL [ Outpatient Service of Local Support] had a big influence. […] Jorge Gigante was named Commissar of the Government […] and he invited me to work with him and Távora in Barredo. We didn’t want to tear down buildings and make new ones. We wanted to improve them! We wanted to maintain their urban character. But how do you keep its urban character with the 2000 people per hectare that used to live there? […] We had to make a brutal reduction in the number of people. We couldn’t go there and say: “ you, you, you – get out of here”. They had to be themselves to organize that and that was a lot of work. Politically speaking, that’s why they got us out of there.[…] Well… this was, so to speak, another Porto that I met more deeply, the Porto that was changing. With all the consequences that it later had, some of them tragic. For instance, the matter of Aleixo neighbourhood. In order to make the works, we need to take people out of the houses. So, we needed to take some families and take them some place else (a relatively comfortable place), do the works and then some families would come back. We needed “flying houses”, right? Well, Aleixo was being finished. It was a municipal social housing and we managed to get a tower from the municipality to serve as a “flying house”. What happened was that a part of the population of Barredo, realizing that, decided to occupy another tower. They simply occupied it. It wasn’t even finished, it had no water, no light, no elevator. […] They were the marginal population. […] Aleixo started like this. So, another Porto I knew. […] Then, I worked in Porto. It wasn’t easy to work within the Municipality of Porto, it was really hard to approve a project. […] I don’t know how things are today. […] I hope they’re not the same as then. Even because I know that the biggest part of the work that there is for architects is the rehabilitation of old buildings, and the legislation for that changed a lot. There are almost no constraints. […] I’ve been seeing some really well made works, really interesting ones. But generally, they aren´t. It’s fundamentally a cultural matter. It’s not a question of competence of the architects and technicians involved; it’s a question of culture. They keep the façades and blow up all the interiors, thank you very much. And on top of everything they put aluminium and PVC frames in the façades. […]
REP.: Do you think that the knowledge produced in universities is observable in the city? Has the city been changing with those contributions?
AM.: In the university milieu the contributions are obvious. Outside those environments, it depends on the city. If you’re talking about the “city” that goes around in buses making unfortunate and chocking comments about what happens around them… It’s really uncomfortable for me to go by bus nowadays.[…] Concerning architecture, it’s notorious that the city has those marks, but the city is also marked by things that have little to do with the knowledge that we wish was produced.
Which architecture marked Porto the most? In housing architecture it was Ferreira dos Santos. He did the Francisco Sá Carneiro Square. […] He has the whole Damião de Góis Street. […] [José Carlos] Loureiro is really important: the Sports Pavilion, the Parnaso building… […] A lot of things marked Porto, and some of them are truly arguable. Like Galiza Square… but they did mark it.
REP.: In the last years, the city of Porto has been changing a lot due to tourism and all the phenomena that comes from there. There’s a Porto that we immediately know (the “postcard” Porto) and other “Portos” that interact in its shadow. For someone like you, who has been living in Porto for so many years, how is it possible to still be a tourist in your own city?
AM.: […] I sometimes walk downtown (“Baixa”) and, even though we are now in November, I can see many “camones” [portuguese slang from the english expression come on] with cameras… a lot of people. From the summer until September there were a lot of young people. I don’t go out at night because I have no patience for it. But I realize it is normally full of people: the Clérigos street and around it. It’s an interesting city. To be a tourist in this city it’s a bit like this.
There are still lots of things we don’t know in Porto.
[…] Once I went to Paris for a trip with Domingos Tavares and we walked through the city almost entirely inside pathways. He [Domingos] knew that kind of places… Always has.[…] There are still many things we don’t know about Porto. I’m sure there are places that you’ve never seen like the top of Santa Catarina Street that descends from Marquês Square. There’s an elevation, which is the Alto da Fontinha, with some streets and old factories that nobody knows.
There are gorgeous things. If you come downwards from Batalha towards the river, by the entrance to the elevator of Guindais, that street is beautiful. A person can get lost in these things.
REP.: Travelling, drawing, photography, the story, etc, they’re all ways to know and communicate a city. From your experience as an architect, in what way does all this becomes a work method?
AM.: I don’t know what to answer here. I have no doubt about photography, drawing… The watercolours of Antonio Cruz, the film “The Painter And The City” (“O Pintor e a Cidade”), they’re important to know the city… and the film “Douro Faina Fluvial”. They are all different ways to experience the city. I do not think it’s a method, I think the knowledge of the city through these ways is important in the sense of a mental training. […] But method? I think the method is always an analysis a posteriori and it is a good job for the theorist but that’s not how it works. When I start working I think about the program… I don’t know… Do I have already a number of ideas that I put on paper? I don’t know… is it like that?
I am convinced that it’s like this that Siza does: he has an image in mind and he sets the picture and then he makes things work. It’s a process like any other. But it’s vital to have an immense background knowledge, even if unconsciously.
REP.: The way we position ourselves in the city changes according to the type of register we take of it. Do you think that new technologies changed significantly the way we know cities and the way we make projects for them?
AM.: New technologies provoked, without any doubt, a huge change not only in the method but fundamentally in the way we work. It has some problems, for example in the matter of time… I think we need time to project, to think about things. Notice what happens: when I work with my hands I draw… I used ink. I used a specific method. I sketch first with a pencil and then I draw over it with ink. Sometimes I erase the pencil traces a bit and sometimes not. Well… But it all used to take a long time! We had time to light up a cigarette, to pass it over the ink so it would dry faster. We could step away from the drawing and look at it, think about it, discuss it with the other collaborators, exchange points of view… From the moment you reduce your working angle to a computer monitor, at the same time, the effort in focusing is much higher. Time acquires a greater importance. I turn on the computer and if it doesn’t reply fast enough I immediately protest. Isn’t it so? If it takes me a longer while to process an image, I get angry. […] And on the other hand, from a social point of view, when we started using the computer […] we transformed our work in a lonely kind of work. In any case, we have now a powerful tool. We are talking about perspective; we are talking about measurements of things that are much more powerful. The knowledge of the terrain, the knowledge of the context is much larger, much easier, right? So… things have changed significantly, I think so – for sure! I just don’t know if we’re completely in line with that.
Now there are also some inventions called BIM [laughs]!
REP.: You made projects in Porto in collaboration with Siza and also as an independent architect. You did it in different contexts and times. What’s different between projecting for the Porto of yesterday and today?
AM.: I suppose there is a huge difference in what concerns the Legislation. The current Legislation is a complex and brutal requirement. On the other hand, our job is now (much more than before) completely undervaluing, especially if we compare the appreciation of our work with the one of an invented new entity called Project Manager, something that has to exist. It’s the law, there must be one! They are all tasks gained by engineers (engineers have much more power than us, they’re a lot more, they have much more power) and, in this moment, in spite of being much more unappreciated, our responsibilities are much bigger, […] and criminal!
Let’s talk about another issue that is also important to realize: the question of the fees. It was created a chart to regulate the fees for projects. It was established in 1972 and revised in 1986. It’s a regressive chart, that is, the more expensive the construction is, the lower’s the construction’s percentage that goes to the fees. They are calculated from the percentage of the cost of the work. If the work is expensive, it has a low percentage, of course. What happened then…? Inflation, which always exists… It makes the cost of the work go up every year, which means that the percentage of fees goes down every year. Well, since 1986 until now, the charts were never reviewed. Right now, if the chart was applied, we would be earning much less than half of what we earned in 86. And if you look carefully at ateliers you know, almost no one follows the chart’s values. Or then they make a discount of 20% to the chart, I don’t know… I learned the other day that a colleague makes up to 90% discounts to the chart. This means we’re gaining much more responsibility and work than before. Just think about the amount of engineers involved in the projects – electrician, structures, foundations, acoustics, hydraulics… everybody. The responsibility falls on us, ok? And the truth is, from the work’s owner point of view, this is all very good. Because, in his perspective, the architect is the guy who’s there to make him spend money and the supervisors and the coordinators are the ones who make him save money. This is the actual picture!
REP.: It’s sad, because it’s the class itself that exploits its young people with problems that come from before.
AM.: But it has always been like that! The one who has power is the one who uses it. Power is something used by the people who own it. And as good old Lenine would say, power is probably the only human institution that is not divisible. The ones who have it won’t share it with nobody.
Author: Rotating Editor Porto