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New Life for a Portuguese Palace

New Life for a Portuguese Palace

After getting a long-distance introduction to Lisbon’s opulent Palácio Pombal, six graduate students in an advanced studio taught by Assistant Professor of Interior Architecture Eduardo Benamor Duarte traveled to Portugal last week to install site-specific interventions in the national monument themselves. The palace is now home to Carpe Diem – Arte e Pesquisa, a contemporary arts center where TLAD alumna Joana Santos MA 12 directs the education department. At her suggestion, the nonprofit’s founder and current curator Lourenço Egreja invited Duarte, a fellow native of Portugal, to get involved in a project to help breathe new life into the historic palace.

“Those of us who live in Portugal feel a great weight and responsibility when [rehabilitating] this historical landmark,” Santos says. “So it’s refreshing for us to get new perspective on how we can best present the palace.”

This semester students have focused on designing temporary interior interventions meant to highlight key areas of the breathtaking building. “My designs are inspired by the natural motifs painted on the palace walls and are intended to create a serene and contemplative experience,” explains Harshitaa Mocherla MA 14, who believes that wild growth shouldn’t be limited to forests or unruly gardens. Her clusters of white, flower-like sculptures are being installed along the well-worn halls of the palace. “Hopefully the installation will inspire visitors to cultivate a personal relationship with nature,” she says.

Students in the studio – called Layered Worlds – have had ample inspiration to draw upon. Built in the 16th-century, the palace an excellent example of Portugal’s “plain architecture,” a minimalist style that emerged in the 1500s as a counterpoint to Spain’s highly decorative Baroque architecture. In later years, the interior was renovated to reflect the rococo style that followed. After a devastating earthquake razed much of the country in 1775, the palace underwent extensive structural renovations and became one of the first seismically protected buildings in Europe.

While acknowledging the inspiring and complex history of the palace, students have also seen past that to consider the needs of its current occupants. Carpe Diem covered the costs of the students’ lodging so they would have the rare opportunity of seeing the beauty of the palace in person – and also be able to make necessary adjustments to the installations designed to help visitors enjoy the nonprofit’s site-specific art exhibitions, fashion shows, performances, educational lectures, photography workshops and other popular events. The center’s organizers also helped students obtain the materials used to construct the installations and supported the documentation of the residency.

With students in residence from November 18–23, everything was in place for the opening Carpe Diem hosted last Saturday to unveil their installations to Lisbon’s art community. Lily Skoke MA 14 was pleased to show her series of platforms for the outdoor garden area. She envisions the risers as comfortable places for workshop students to exchange ideas and present musical and theatrical performances.

Soomin Lee MA 14 designed a conceptual installation inspired by a fundamental element of nature: light. Using the rays of the sun, she projected images that mimic the unique patterns carved into the palace walls. “I want viewers to think about the layered history of the building – and how their own presence influences the space,” she explains. “I think the passage of time is a poetic concept for anyone to explore.”

Abigail Crocker