The second edition of the Lisbon Architecture Triennale, one of the youngest and yet most important festivals for architecture in the Iberian Peninsula, launched on the 20 October with the appropriate festivities; and with names like Sir Peter Cook, Aires Mateus, Alison and Peter Smithson, Ed Ruscha, Elmgreen & Dragset and Pier Vittorio Aureli and Rem Koolhaas (the latter two who both plan to speak at the attached conference this November) in the contributions list, a celebration was very much in order.
The festival was founded in 2007 aiming to provide a much-needed platform for discussion of issues of contemporary architecture both on the microcosm of the particular country as well as the larger, international architecture scale.
This year's theme, curated by Delfim Sardo and a team of co-curators including Jose and Manuel Aires Mateus and Sir Peter Cook, focused on residential architecture; from private houses to big housing schemes and urban planning futures across the country. 'Let's Talk About Houses' explores two main subjects; the increasingly blurred boundaries between art and architecture and the production of new solutions to the question of dwelling.
Following the slightly earlier and substantially art-referencing 2010 Venice Biennale, where Portugal’s participation was produced in collaboration with the Triennale team, this mix of art and architecture certainly felt especially timely.
Naturally, a wealth of Portuguese architects took part in the festival, ranging from younger practices to well-known professionals (such as João Luís Carrilho da Graça, or Miguel Arruda and his Inhabitable Structure installation). The Triennale’s exhibits were presented in two locations, under the umbrella of the overall residential theme.
The central exhibit was impressively housed within the cavernous Museum of Electricity and shows 30 local architects' takes on how to rehouse the inhabitants of Cova da Moura – a North of Lisbon area - without losing the strong social bonds that allow the community to co-exist peacefully.
In a parallel exhibition dozens of maquettes show a similar but smaller project slated for a suburb of Angola's capital Luanda. The two exhibitions side by side make an interesting comparison between two hemispheres with opposing social problems sharing similar cultural values. The aim of the competition is to design a single cost-effective family dwelling for Luanda, a city which is under extreme demographic pressure and is undergoing rapid social transformation. Unfortunately there appears to be little emphasis on sustainability, green space and integrated renewable technology when it comes to either project.
It was not just the home grown talent that shone in Lisbon this autumn. Invited guests include iconic British duo Alison and Peter Smithson who contributed with two projects 'Patio and Pavilion' and 'House'. Meanwhile Sir Peter Cook attempts to reinvent a world where the experience of the city is not just a question of filling in old blocks with new blocks - or even new swirls - but digging between the cosy, exposed, craggy, smooth, voyeuristic, private etc to form a spectrum of experience.
Finally, the 'When Art Speaks Architecture' show, featuring work by artists like Dan Graham and Bruce Nauman, offered an art-orientated creative response to the ‘meaning of dwelling’.
This and the other Triennale’s exhibits will be on display until early 2011.