Malcolm Millais, author of the explosive Exploding the Myths of Modern Architecture (2009) sends sad news from Portugal. Lisbon’s delightful and elegant Coach Museum, long the nation’s most popular museum, had been housed in a perfectly lovely building of impeccable royal lineage. It has now been relocated into a typical abomination of modern architecture, designed specifically to fly in the face of all that is Portugal.
Malcolm says he has no idea why they made the switch, but he and I can speculate with relative security. Leaders in Lisbon wanted to get on the celebrity-architect gravy train. I am not suggesting any sort of peculation – though I have no proof it did not take place. I posit only corruption of the soul. For what can be worse than the modern architect who brazenly plops an icon of ugliness in a beloved place but the elected leader who permits such a crime to happen in his own beloved city?
Malcolm also says he has no idea why the Coach Museum of old was so popular. I would go beyond suggesting that it was in a beautiful building: I imagine it was popular because people who own cars today are probably fascinated by the transportation types used by the celebrities of Portugal’s history, including monarchs and aristocrats.
Like the building they occupied for so long, the coaches of Portugal were built by generations of proud artists established in a grand craft that has now disappeared. As the craft of automaking declines, it must be a heady experience to nose around among the ornate carriages whose raison d’etre disappeared so suddenly – along with the buggy-whip factory – leaving an entire industry without enough time to decline and moulder into the sort of pathetic excuse for craftmanship that we see in so many industries today, not excluding that of automobile manufacture.
I wrote a blog post in 2013 about the multiplicity of idiocies involved in the betrayal of the Coach Museum. Malcolm says its director opposed the change – but apparently not strenuously enough to resign, as she is still its director now that the new facility has opened.
Wish I could reprint that post, but the Journal, after laying me off last year, refused to save or give me access to my hundreds of posts written for the Journal version of the blog, which was instituted in 2009. But here is the opening passage of the raspberry I gave to Lisbon for that year:
• A raspberry to Lisbon for planning to move its beloved coach museum, the Museu Nacional dos Coches, from its graceful home at a 1787 royal palace to what looks like a parking garage. One mustn’t blame the pathetic architect, Paulo Mendes da Rocha (a Pritzker Prize winner, naturally). He is a hired gun. The… [here’s where the Journal’s archive summary leaves off, where I went on to say it was those who hired him who are the real villains here.]