LISBON | Interviews | Pedro Ravara
We almost don’t find the BAIXA Atelier office, unmarked doors becoming one of the themes of our Lisbon trip. Walking up and down Rua das Chagas in the Bairro Alto, we happen to meet someone entering the building who is able to lead us to Pedro Belo Ravara’s studio on the third floor.
Pedro is more interested in talking about the state of architecture in general than about promoting his own firm, which he established in 1993 with Nuno Vidigal. His dedication to architectural discourse is reflected in the active role he has taken in various public positions; in addition to practice, Pedro teaches at the Faculty of Architecture Technical University of Lisbon (FAUTL) as an Auxiliary Professor, is a member of the National Board of the Portuguese Chamber of Architects, and acts as the Head of the Delegation for Portugal for the Architects' Council of Europe.
On exporting Portuguese architecture in the wake of the economic crisis: What captured the world’s attention about Portuguese architects was its regionalism, but it is this regionalism that makes it very difficult to export. The world believes that Portuguese architecture should be exportable because it is so beautiful, but it is not so simple. To get work in emerging markets like Angola or Mozambique, you have to bring a project, a developer, a contractor, and an investor in order to have your building realized.
On the number of architects in Portugal: In Portugal being an architect is seen as a coveted and worthy pursuit, not just a profession. After Italy and Denmark, Portugal has the greatest number of architects per capita with 1.6 for every 1000 people. At one point during the boom, Portugal also had over 20 architecture schools, producing more than 2000 graduates a year. This density, coupled with the crippling effects of the economic crisis, has led to architects seeking work outside of the country as well as the emergence of countless micro firms in the country, changing the traditional landscape of what architectural practice looks like in Lisbon.
On the relationship between practice and teaching: In Portugal there remains a very strong connection between practice and teaching, but a shift towards a more academic approach in the University environment is becoming more apparent. The push for professors to have PhDs and publish papers has started to effect the tradition of practitioners teaching, as it is extremely challenging for principals to achieve all of these things while still running their business.
On Siza: When asked for his perspective on Siza, who we tend to see as the leading example of Portugal’s architectural aesthetic, Pedro said:
“Siza is a unique example. We’re lucky he was born in Portugal.”
At the end of our meeting with Pedro, he showed us a number of town planning models that BAIXA Atelier had completed or were in the process of designing – while they were all at an urban scale, they had the clear mark of an architect’s talent for space creation. We left Pedro’s office knowing that he will work tirelessly to find a way to continue practicing the tradition of architecture in Portugal.