Porto is a mournful fado. The everlasting rain carries the city’s glorious past towards the banks of Douro, and the most profound Portuguese emotion—the saudade—runs through the streets like a melancholic ghost. The elegant facades of the neighborhood of Santa Catarina reveal the splendor of the city during the 17th century when it began to export its wine. Porto was noble again in the 19th century, when the bourgeois merchants and industrialists who had amassed great riches in India and Brazil settled in Northern Portugal. Today the facades have faded, and many houses look neglected and abandoned. Crisis and nostalgia plague the Iberian Peninsula.
However, when it comes to architecture, the beautiful Porto maintains its pride. For some years, the most populous city in the north of Portugal has been a center of pilgrimage for architects. No other city— with the exception of Basel in Switzerland — has produced two winners of the Pritzker Architecture Award. They are Alvaro Siza Vieira and his disciple Eduardo Souto de Moura, who have achieved enormous success in their homeland and inspired entire generations of architects.
The influence of these memorable masters is palpable in the new headquarters of Vodafone, a block of cement and crystal that simulates movement, created by the Barbosa & Guimarães studio. The symmetry, workmanship , and even the emblematic marble floors, are similar to those of the Serralves Foundation— designed by Siza Vieira. The Serralves Foundation building houses the Museum of Contemporary Art, a vast park, and the institution’s headquarters, which many consider the best example European Art Deco.
Modern architecture follows–mostly–Mies van der Rohe‘s rule: “less is more”. In Porto, local architects prefer to use less material, but of good quality. This feature adds to the characteristic austerity of the region and was a pilar of Rem Koolhaas’s imposing Casa da Música. The avant-garde concrete box should have opened in 2001, the year Porto served as European Cultural Capital but opened four years and one hundred million Euros later.
Porto’s architectural interest extends to neighboring Matosinhos, where modernity arrived in 1957 with Siza Vieira‘s first public works: the houses at Afonso Henriques Avenue. The master`s desire to integrate the architecture into the landscape became an international emblem with the project Casa da Chá (Tea House) in Boa Nova and the Piscinas das Marés. Meanwhile, Souto de Moura designed the seafront of Matosinhos and his famous Courtyard Houses. Five Star Hotels in Oporto
Not everything is dirty or dusty in Porto. On the contrary, beyond the gray and the granite harshness, there is color on the tiles and in the clustered houses that find their reflection on the Douro. Porto’s historic center was declared World Heritage Site by Unesco.
The Old Town boasts notable buildings such as the Cathedral, the Torre dos Clerigos (250 feet of baroque and rococo styles) and the neoclassical Palacio da Bolsa, which housed the stock market until 1990 and includes an Arab Hall of astonishing beauty. The Bolhão Market, across the street from Santa Catarina and the Café Majestic, the Lello bookshop, and São Bento train station, are also exceptional architectural monuments. ■