- SAMUEL TORRES DE CARVALHO
- JOSÉ PEDRO CROFT
- IVA VIANA
- IN SITU
“This is a project that aims at happiness, where we want people to feel exclusive, with quality, history, value and a distinguished aesthetic. A space with a positive aura. It is all there for people to feel happy…”
For an architect, history is something that one can either refuse or accept. The first is a definite choice to replace the past with the future. New aesthetics, current materials, updated living standards. But the latter may come under many forms, from respectful restoration to carefully integrated new design. Ivens Arte is where the new and the old interact in a new life for the building under Samuel Torres de Carvalho’s work.
For the last three centuries, the building endured earthquakes, wars, revolutions and yet survived with remarkable authenticity. After successive alterations and a long period of decay, this late eighteenth century building went through a thorough survey of the existing structure and a selective removal of later additions revealing back its original space and a remarkable historic decoration.
An intricate interior gave way to wider rooms and a new internal organization, accommodating new services while respecting wall-paintings, decorative ceilings and extensive tile panels. Both internally and outside the building, new contemporary volumes – or ‘devices’ - seem to grow upwards or sideways, independent from historic surfaces, challenging preconceived ideas about the old and the new. The Ivens Arte now starts a new life chapter, adding another layer of art, a ‘total art’ form that combines contemporary architecture with selected artistic interventions by renowned ornamental artists.
“The original staircase was the first impact, after entering the building. It was not a grand staircase but it had a special light that flowed through different nuances of grey. The new staircase explores this idea of a module or geometric form that goes on repeating and deforming, rotating and altering its shape and position.”
An art object can be isolated or in context.
It depends on the way it was meant to be perceived. Paintings are often to be interpreted for what they contain, independently from where they hang. That is not always the case with art as an integral part of its surroundings. Maybe it is a question of scale or weight. Can a staircase or an entrance be a sculptured form of art?
Jose Pedro Croft’s artistic intervention at Ivens Arte is. By replacing an existing element with another, one can almost miss the intervention, but its aesthetic quality stands out and something changes in our eyes, imperceptible, through the light, in a very subtle way. In the staircase, the location, the scale, the movement, were all preserved, but the artist’s irreverence takes its place and reveals itself. Ornaments are now replaced by geometry and the challenge is one of extreme exigency.
The effect is larger than expected and the minimal approach fills the room with beauty and elegance. This is perhaps the essence of this work: irreverence and simplicity.
“This intervention has five acts, five phases of contamination by the art of plasterwork that progressively becomes part of and reveals itself in the building. It is like a story being told throughout the building.”
Ornamental plasterwork reached its peak in late nineteenth century interiors and slowly faded away with the emergence of Modern architecture. Less is more became not just the motto for pure, clean design but also a death sentence to decoration of any type.
The same happened with plasterers, artisans of a different level that lent their artistic talent to traditional renders of walls and ceilings, often with elaborate moulds and hand-carved shapes. Working with lime-based renders and thin gypsum finishes also required special technical skills and a manual devotion to the craft. Despite the use of moulds and other tools, ornamental plasterwork remained over the centuries a personal, unique hand-made art.
Through the work of ornamental artist Iva Viana, Ivens Arte brings this art back combining once again the old and the new, with a perfect technical compatibility. Through a process of contamination, original ceilings are blended with new contemporary designs, in a modern interpretation of traditional interiors respecting the same materials and techniques. Little shells, flowers and leaves start to emerge in the old surfaces, almost unnoticed at first, but gradually gaining a more prominent presence, like artistic sculptures in the air. It is a discreet art form that ensures continuity and contemporaneity at the same time.
“As far as wall-paintings are concerned, initially there was nothing worth mentioning. Following initial surveys, we discovered that we had mural paintings in every room and corridors. Original surfaces went through several repaints over time, sometimes overlapping the previous ones. In one room, four distinct painting campaigns were found.”
After the 1755 earthquake, interior decoration in new buildings followed the approved codes for a fast, modular and prefabricated construction system. Decorative arts were standardized following regular types and solutions. Over time, though, some interiors became quite refined, especially during the neoclassic period. The Ivens Arte building was one of such examples. Unfortunately, over the years, the building went through severe changes and its interiors barely survived to the present day.
When In Situ conservation team first visited the building, little was visible of its previous interior decoration. The original historic surfaces were buried beneath centuries of paint. There was a story to be uncovered and a thorough onsite survey was carried out under rigorous conservation principles. Flawless organization was fundamental in this complex process of slow removal of successive paints coats and damaged tiles, following the initial definition of criteria for the future reapplication, together with the architects. Over time, a patient work of cleaning, protecting, tagging and documenting the walls and ceilings revealed some singular historic interiors in the context of Baixa Pombalina. These, in turn, constrained the architect in search of the best integrated solution for each room, each ceiling, and each tile panel. In some cases, they were removed, in other cases they were preserved and protected onsite. In every case, all solutions were carefully discussed with In Situ. Sometimes, history can be a constraint, but in this case it was a clear motivation to do better, to do it right.