Designed in 1952 by Cristino da Silva, the National Overseas Bank matches the scale and detailing of the surrounding Neoclassical facades, which date primarily from the Marquis de Pombal’s reconstruction efforts following the earthquake of 1755. But Silva’s main banking floor, finished in exotic marbles, stainless-steel columns, and stucco ceilings with a glazed central dome, recalled late-19th and early-20th-century Viennese interiors. “Think of Otto Wagner, of Josef Hoffmann,” says Carvalho. All that survives of this splendor is a continuous, green-marble counter that rings the former banking floor. It originally separated staff from customers, but now provides the organizing element for the new installation.
Starting with this base, the architects’ interventions were guided by two goals: to dematerialize the mutilated walls with new surfaces of light, and to accomplish this with a limited palette of materials deployed in unexpected ways. In their first move, they covered the building’s central core and the inside of the banking counter with a seamless, elastic-copolymer film produced for commercial suspended ceilings. “You can find it in big Las Vegas casinos, but it gets lost with everything else going on,” says Carvalho. Backed by banks of fluorescent lamps, the glowing membrane is the space’s primary light source.
Other materials come from the realm of the construction site, underlining the temporary nature of the project. The architects hid the exterior window walls behind a curtain made of five layers of the textiles usually used as safety fencing on European construction sites, but here colored white instead of bright orange. Also backed by fluorescent lighting, the curtains reduce the windows to faint glowing blurs amid the shadows, and double as screens for the projected images that form part of the exhibitions. Following the construction motif, Carvalho and Vilhena set the objects on display on white-painted-wood pallets, and finished the floor inside the banking counter with luminous highway paint. They grouped wiring for spotlights in metal-mesh trays under the pockmarked stucco ceilings, and placed freestanding mechanical units along the perimeter for temperature and humidity control.
The installation includes part of the second floor, with a rather cramped space for visiting exhibitions and a round auditorium area, which the architects defined with a curtain of the fabric fencing and unupholstered foam cubes for seating. Presiding over the ground-floor cafeteria is a single continuous table of solid cork, designed by the architects to promote Portugal’s troubled cork industry.
Vilhena and Carvalho see their design as a challenge to the typical “white cube” exhibition space, citing the P.S.1 museum in New York, and Donald Judd’s center in Marfa, Texas, as precedents for MUDE. In fact, they surpass these examples in provocatively embracing the dilapidated state of the original banking floor. As members of a generation that has returned from the suburbs to live in the long-neglected historic city center, their project can be read as both a denunciation of Lisbon’s abandonment by their elders and a celebration of its ongoing revival. Owner: MUDE. Museum of Design and Fashion of Lisbon.Lisbon City Council
Gross square footage:
2 634,00 m2
Total construction cost:
Completion Date: May 2009
Ricardo Carvalho + Joana Vilhena Arquitectos
Rua do Norte, 14-1º - 1200-286 - Lisboa - Portugal
tel: +351 21 347 52 48 fax: +351 21 346 95 50 www.rcjv.com firstname.lastname@example.org