Josep Lluís Mateo: As I see it, urban space can express one of the two sides of the following duality: it´s either the memory, the expression, of pre-existing nature (Carrer Balmes in Barcelona still contains and expresses the movement of water in the former stream: we have all been struck by the sight of raw earth in the holes dug by workmen in the streets) or it is the expression of pure artificiality, a film that converse a more or less sinister underworld where the greed of the contemporary city is directed towards the center of the heart. Here, the urban space has a twofold tension: the atmospheric exterior and the interior magmatic pressure that compresses it into a hard film. Like a tombstone. Naturalistic expression is earlier and more complex, and pure artificiality is abstract and difficult to design.
“When building, I have sometimes the feeling that the work of the architect evokes a strange symmetry with that of the archaeologist. We started by making holes in the ground: foundations and the laying of tubes. We then built structures and walls that looked broken down, unfinished, until, suddenly, something complete and polished appeared. Then we withdrew. Later, the constructions once again fell down and came apart, leaving just the foundations, fields of ruins of history that speak of the past. Castelo Branco never reached the stage of completion. A lack of founds and organization prevented it moving beyond the fragmentation of its construction. Furthermore, Castelo Branco offered something perverse but fascinating: The radical separation between work of extraordinary excellence (for example, the paving of Portuguese setts) and examples of spectacularly poor quality. No middle ground. The project addressed the largest public space in the tow´s historic centre. From the outset, it was very important to define a topography: the large plaza sloping downwards to the centre to collect water and a difference in level where the shops are situated. Higher up came the most actively urban space. The edges are important, too: a green slope continues the street above on one side, and a semi-open pergola offers protection from the street with its heavy traffic on the other. The paving, the constant object of our attention is extraordinary. Some fun street furniture was added (movable seating…). It is much frequented, particularly at night in summer; when the place disappears as a tectonic presence and comes to life as a virtual space, I find it very attractive. It is a though the disappearance of the architecture as a shiny, polished, finished objects allows the town´s residents to appropriate it for themselves, collaborating enthusiastically in its destruction”
Design: Josep Lluís Mateo. Mateo Arquitectura.
Project: Maria Joao Pires Arts Centre and Largo da Devesa City Square / First Prize / Invited Competition.
Design / construction years: 2000-2007
Location: Castelo Branco, Portugal / Parque da Devesa