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The Building

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Museum: deriving from the Latin museum, in turn rooted in the Greek mouseion referring to a site or temple dedicated to the Muses, the divinities that inspired the arts in Greek mythology.
Due to the required availability of means and the bringing together of all the necessary wills, the appearance of a new Museum is a relatively unusual occurrence. For an architect, the opportunity to participate in a program of such importance and uniqueness represents a rare and valuable event. Designing this Museum was a unique chance to contrast the substantive characteristics of space with the intangibility of culture and knowledge.
To reveal this “encounter”, the architect organises space, sets down routes, structures the lighting, exhibits contents and ensures their protection and conservation.


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THE EXISTING SCENARIO
The opportunity to design the new Museu do Oriente was approached as both a privilege and an irrefutable challenge. The objective consisted of how to house a valuable private collection focused on a common theme the Orient across its historical, social, ethnological, anthropological, archaeological and artistic facets within the Edifício Pedro Álvares Cabral, a notable port building dating back to the 1940s and designed by the architect João Simões Antunes.

The Edifício Pedro Álvares Cabral is located on Avenida Brasília, in Alcântara, on a site under the management of the Lisbon Port Authorities and is listed as of Municipal Heritage. Throughout most of its already long existence, the structure was used for the storage of dried cod whose persistent odour did become a cause for some concern in early project phases.

Its extensive surface area and at six-storey high ensures a scope and scale that dominates its section of the city but which also contributes towards its elemental nature and the almost total lack of natural lighting, certainly determined by its functional purpose as a warehouse.

Its longitudinal and symmetrical lay out is structured around a hierarchically referential central body, flanked by two slightly lower wings. In the enclosed area of north-facing elevations, there are two low-relief pieces by the sculptor Barata Feyo. The dense and obsessive robust pillar structures, laid out in squares, extend over various floors with restrictive low ceiling heights and defined the inner reality.



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THE PROJECT – A CHALLENGE
Initially invited to design the layout and the museum public spaces, we were immediately confronted by a challenge: ongoing restructuring work in a high quality building and a partially implemented project that had already established some of the structural aspects organising the building.
Given such a context, it was agreed with both the Fundação Oriente and Rui Francisco, the architect of the aforementioned project, to undertake a more profound study as to how best restructure and rethink the project so as to best incorporate the already irreversible work and demolition carried out while also creating the room for manoeuvre we required for the designing the museum.
Furthermore, and in addition to the natural limitations imposed when installing a museological program in a pre-existing structure, the Edifício Pedro Álvares Cabral posed its own very specific characteristics:
- the low ceiling levels common to the majority of the storeys were poorly adapted to the generous spaces recommendable for a public facility, a situation worsened further by the irreversible replacement of some pillars by horizontal supports,
- simultaneously, the sweeping enclosures of its elevations, while compatible with the requirements for exhibition areas, raised additional difficulties in terms of illuminating and ventilating other areas.
With the objective of conciliating the architectonic identity of the building with its new museological purpose, efforts were undertaken to re-clarify its structure. To this end, particular importance was attributed to redefining vertical access ways, areas open to the public and the functional distribution of each floor.
In addition, the formal definition of the building, conveyed through its apparently simple and adaptable appearance and with features revealing its stylistic genealogy and iconography as belonging to the Estado Novo (New State), impacted in an unexpected manner on the formal and graphic options available throughout this process.

Francisco Freire, architect
(JLCG Arquitectos, Lda.)



Architects:
João Luís Carrilho da Graça | Rui Francisco
Project coordination:
OXALIS, Arquitectura e Congéneres, Lda. (until 2006/02/25) | JLCG Arquitectos, Lda. (as from 2006/02/25)
Museology project:

João Luís Carrilho da Graça | Nuno Gusmão (P-06)
Auditorium architectural project:
OXALIS, Arquitectura e Congéneres, Lda.
Garden:
Arq. Gonçalo Ribeiro Telles