The blog Old Portuguese Stuff is crusading to save the interior of the Mercado do Bolhäo, in Porto, one of Portugal’s most storied cities. It is home to the British architect and engineer Malcolm Millais, author of Exploding the Myths of Modern Architecture. As you see from the photo above, Porto retains much of its beauty, but like all cities everywhere is under modernist attack.
In this case, city officials have not gone so bonkers as to place the market’s exterior, built in 1915, at risk, but plans are afoot to gut the interior in the name of renovation, replacing the elegant old market kiosks, or barracas, with a modernist “reinterpretation.”
The Old Portuguese Stuff post, written (it seems) from the point of view of the market itself (and signed as such), was actually written by architects Alexandre Gamelas and Caterina Santos. Here is how they describes the current plan:
It has the merits of restoring all the original features of the building, cleaning it up without in-your-face modernist additions. That is, for the façades facing the streets; inside, as you can see, all the lovely Barracas which we’ve been documenting will be gone in favor of a generic, standard-looking “modern reinterpretation.”
Readers should sign the petition against wrecking the market’s interior. The text in English is supplied toward the bottom. Experienced hands at INTBAU – the International Network for Traditional Building, Architecture & Urbanism – are helping.
OPS proposes restoring the barracas instead of replacing them with skinny, cheesy, glassy skeletons “symbolizing” past beauty with the spartan anorexia the world sees all too often. Curiously, OPS urges also that the two main barracas “would be perfectly compatible with a permanent, beautiful and contemporary glass and steel cover in-between.”
The illustration on their blog indicates something that might fade sweetly into the background – a feigned possibility that modernists frequently use to sell a concept they realize most people will not like. Maybe. I think a better idea would be to leave the “contemporary glass and steel cover” to moulder on its drawing board. A glass roof between the barracas with elegant iron framing would work better. Do I quibble? Yes! That’s my job!
I salute the moxie of Old Portuguese Stuff in trying to save a cherished landmark in their city almost in its entirety. But I also applaud Porto for refusing what must have been great pressure to tear the whole lovely thing down, as is the conventional practice. (And if there was no such pressure, then Porto deserves even more acclaim for having maintained a sanity in their city that is rare almost everyplace around the world.)