A conversation with Arch. Tomás Salgado and Arch. Nuno Lourenço


A conversation with Arch. Tomás Salgado and Arch. Nuno Lourenço

'In most of the projects we do, it is difficult to say, in the end, who was the author. Everyone collaborates'

Arch.Tomás Salgado graduated in Lisbon in 1994, did his 5th year in Barcelona and did an internship in Milan. What did each city give you?

TS – Barcelona had, at the time, a cultural strength that Lisbon did not have. An incredible diversity of art shows, restaurants, good architecture, etc. that was very important in my training. Milan was a completely different thing. I participated in projects in a structure with a very different dimension from architecture studios in Portugal, at that time. Gregotti Associati Internacional must have had already about sixty people, it was a very professional structure, and it had that mythical figure that is the architect Vittorio Gregotti, a very charismatic person.

In 1995, you’ve joined the Risco team. How was the workshop’s journey?

TSRisco, until 1988, was a very small structure, composed of my father and two or three other people, that essentially did urban planning and studies. In 1998 it took a big turn, when Vittorio Gregotti won the contest for the Centro Cultural de Belém and Risco started having more than twenty people totally focused on that project. When I went to Milan, Risco was taking the first steps in the EXPO’98 project, which would become the most transformative of this atelier. At that time I joined the team, along with Nuno Lourenço, João Almeida and Jorge Estriga. Carlos Cruz was already here. From that group, Nuno, Carlos and Jorge would take over the coordination of Risco’s projects, after my father left.

Tell us about working together with your father, the arch. Manuel Salgado.

TS – We all worked with him between 1995 and 2007. I think the opinion is general, he was absolutely decisive in what we are today. In the way we look at architecture and urban design, in our ethical posture regarding work, in our relation with customers. He was unquestionably the person who most marked us. Seeing architecture projects as part of the city, and urban projects not just as planning but having a very strong relationship with architecture was perhaps the most important thing we’ve learned from him.

What characteristics distinguish each one?

TS – Nuno is clearly more connected to urban projects because he has a special appetite for that, although at the moment he is coordinating a hospital project, which is a good thing because it means that people don’t get stuck to only what they are more dedicated to; Jorge has an unusual ability to manage more complex teams and pressure situations; Carlos has a talent for drawing that none of us has; and João Almeida is the one who has the greatest attention to detail and the greatest sensitivity to material issues; Cristina Picoto for the interiors, etc.

How do you mobilize the studio for large-scale projects?

TS – I remember that in the CCB project there was a great concern with the urban layout. The base structure is defined by the streets that divide the three modules and by the axis that connects Praça do Império to Torre de Belém. In our large-scale projects, morphology is also, in most cases, generated by urban layouts. In the case of the CCB, there was also great pragmatism regarding the rules of design, geometric rules that were followed until exhaustion. From the interior coatings to the facades. At Estádio do Dragão and Hospital da Luz, although these rules were not so explicit, this discipline also existed. Only then can teams be managed. The key is to leave space to, occasionally, break these design rules…

NL – The teams also mobilize with the complementarity of each other’s talents. Manuel Salgado had the ability to manage the different talents as complementary contributions. This is an element of motivation that I think is still present and that intersects with the discipline that Tomás spoke about. It is a bit like music, where there is an agenda and a metric, so each one can organize himself.

TS – I remember an interview, which I read in your magazine, with a collective of our colleagues, who said that it was perfectly clear who was the internal author of each of the studio’s projects. Here the situation is different; in most of the projects we do, it is difficult to say, in the end, who was the author. Everyone starts to collaborate, at a certain moment, and I, who have a kind of general coordination function, promote this a lot.

Risco is closely linked to Urban Design. Why is it so important?

NL – We call it Desenho Urbano [urban “drawing”]  because “urban design”, outside the Anglo-Saxon context, can be confused with urban equipment or furniture. What we have been doing is conceiving urban spaces in a perspective that is simultaneously urbanistic, in relation to buildings, and architectural, in the conception of the characteristics of collective spaces. This means that drawing the generic limits of space is not independent of knowing how the space between buildings is organized, paved, illuminated or forested. On our own initiative and for the recognition of previous projects, such as EXPO´98 or Cacém Polis, we have bet on this approach which implies a very wide awareness of the procedural complexities that are behind the construction of the city.

TS – I would say that there is a lot of competence in Portuguese architects for the design of public space, in terms of pavements, urban equipment and the integration of landscaping. But urban design, as we understand it, is a little different because it starts at the back. It implies having a very large capacity to interact with political and economic power because, inevitably, cities are designed with those who use them as a business and those who transform them by political will. I think we have the capacity to synthesize the will of these actors with other inputs, no less important, such as environmental issues, mobility, heritage, etc.

Is the connection with BETAR to last?

TS – Without a doubt. It started with the design of the Sky II and Sky Business buildings, which we designed for Angola. We were very connected, in particular to Miguel Villar, who is very sensitive to architecture issues and quickly understands what we want. It has enormous willpower to explore possible, and even impossible solutions, to materialize our options.

This interview is an integral part of Revista Artes & Letras # 52, April 2014
Partially automatic translation from portuguese: some expressions may differ from their actual meaning.

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