Museum of Medicine - Architectural project

Museu de Medicina da Faculdade de Medicina da Universidade de Lisboa
Museum of Medicine of the Faculty of Medicine, University of Lisbon
Projecto de arquitectura: aproximações, ligações e contaminações
Architectural project: approximations, links and contaminations

Manuel Vicente, Projecto Museu de Medicina da Faculdade de Medicina da Universidade de Lisboa:
perspectiva do espaço de entrada com escada dupla-hélice (inspirada na estrutura do ADN) e vazio (quádruplo pé-direito), desenho, 2004
Manuel Vicente, Project of the Museum of Medicine of the Faculty of Medicine, University of Lisbon:
view of entrance space with double helix staircase (inspired on DNA structure) anf of the space (quadruple height), drawing, 2004
Anteprojecto de arquitectura do Museu de Medicina [2004] Preliminary project of Museum of Medicine's architecture [2004]
Manuel Vicente 

Colaboradores Collaborators
Inês Seixas Pinto, António Damásio, Mafalda Pacheco e Sérgio Xavier

Perspectivas, cortes e plantas do projecto de arquitectura do Museu de Medicina da Faculdade de Medicina da Universidade de Lisboa. Atelier Manuel Vicente  Views, sections and plans of the arquitecture project of the Museum of Medicine of the Faculty of Medicine, University of Lisbon. Manuel Vicente Atelier 

All architecture is based on two principles, in which one is positive and the other arbitrary. The positive foundation is the use and the useful and necessary end for which a building is made, such as solidity, salubriousness and comfort. The foundation I am calling arbitrary is beauty, which depends on authority and habituation.

Claude Perrault [Notes (N. 13, Ch. II, L.I) to the translation of De architectura by Vitruvius. Paris: 1684].

I have written many times about the work of the architect Manuel Vicente (MV). A relationship of friendship, which I greatly esteem, brought me to his work almost thirty years ago (since 1976), as well as to his personality and his methods. Every time I consider or reflect on his work there is a (fascinating) issue I deal with, try to precise, to understand better, to put into perspective and to discover the whys of – my positivist or puritan side (another way of being the same), seeking out the comfort that gives us reasonability, that cushion we accept so that radicalisation of doubt does not hurt us --: how does MV make his projects? Why does the way he reads and responds to the real always seem so chaotic? How does he combine and underline his referents? How does all of this reach the design that then builds his works? Where does he get his motivation and will from?

MV projects through approximations, leadings and impulses. He knows and feels that his accumulated experience gives him the authority to be almost only a sort of resonance (a vehicle, an interpreter) of the desires, places, problems, forms, numbers, expectations and wounds that make up a programme and a place and a client and a budget – the material facts of each cause.

His derivation and his invention (which, with frank generosity of character he shares with those close to him out of the simple pleasure of illustrating – through dividing with others – a diary of events, possibilities and ideas that might prove useful) include whole pieces or just pieces of memories, as is to be expected or is normal, but above all and mainly unexpected methods of operating, collating, conjugating, coinciding or assembling these memories and collections. They are pieces of space (sometimes direct and simple; other times nebulous) that are left over from journeys, from films, from books and from the most powerful thing that a city provides its inhabitants with. [And, for MV, if the architect himself is a gaze that chooses and shows, the city is the proud and complex sum that is given out with the inexhaustible capacity of always provoking new combinations].

MV’s most recent work, the Lisbon Faculty of Medicine Museum of Medicine, is a good example of this method or system – or simply process, because it is less premeditated than a category proposed to us by its author.

It is a study, still at the beginning, through which we realise, in the meantime and now, the chosen themes, the incredible sense that a less than orthodox approach is capable of, and of the cultural, urban and architectural advantages that the work will contain in being built and founded on that site.

A contemporary museum is above all a space left open, a support and a container, in which specialists and curators may record points of view, organisations of their own and signifying assemblies. Thus a place that is strongly prepared and is neutral. But it also is the place to receive these proposals of reading and knowledge on the part of the public. A place that must be comfortable, supported on the expressive nature of architecture in order for it itself to stand as a memory, a lesson and a desire to go back. A marked place, full of the expressiveness of sun and light, of worthwhile things, and at the same time a place of screening, where other different visions will be deposited over time.

This museum will be located on the inside face of the Hospital de Santa Maria, between this great building and another more recent and lighter one (the Lisbon Faculty of Medicine), a slightly undulating work that is articulated with and is seen among the trees, with its front side towards the Avenida das Forças Armadas. An inner road borders the hospital, serving the faculty and making a U-shaped distribution. Motor vehicles, chaotically parked in the shade of the trees, are the most constant landscape in this sort of open public space.

One might say that the main theme chosen is perhaps a certain desire for discreet approximation/contamination. But discretion is not mimesis, and the object will appear visible, although dark, from the colour of the schist slabs that will obsessively line it on the outside. And then surprisingly, it will accept the crossing of motor vehicles, the inclusion of the harsh city: the building positions itself and settles in, granting meaning, strength, shelter and construction to what was already existing, but in the manner of an almost domestic animal curling up close to its master, it “forgets itself” and steps onto the roadway surrounding the hospital.

This stepping onto the street is resolved by opening it in a tunnel inside a part of the museum, with one gesture making the building, the serious institution, something more mundane, banal and friendly.

On the inside, the also neutral exhibition areas will follow on from each other like containers of varying heights providing orthogonal and uniform space (only variable in height) to the spread-out places, leaving the most strongly architectural marks to the places of the possibility of foreseeing wider use and activities.

After going through the tunnel, which is also dark from the use of schist, and possibly glassed over some room in the museum, we come across the entrance, delicately set back to one side.

The atrium/reception area, first, with its high dual ceilings and the galleries that rise above them the cafeteria on a mirror of water that shows an auditorium existing below; the triangular shop and the spaces given life by the ramped movements that border those zones.

Or now in the basement, when the (logical and natural) connection to the neighbouring building opposite is the pretext for a hypostyle effort, a long patio with trees along it, the passage and the link between the museum and the faculty being guaranteed just with this will, among the pillars that remain in the subsoil of the existing construction.

A second enormous atrium full of vertical light, in a corner, may also serve the exhibition areas, making us do down/go up through mechanical, interlaced twisting staircases, like some materialised spiral of a hypothetical DNA chain (which began as one of the starting points for this work), as the main themes have now been established and the true essence of the work has been touched and brought to the surface.

"It is impossible for two things to be united in a beautiful way without mediating a third one, because there has to be a connection to link them. This mission may achieve it in proportion".
Plato. Timaeus

Out of the coming together of simple and almost banal gestures (a stony bulk, a tunnel, cars, a lateral entrance, a cafeteria over a lake, a connection to the built construction through archaeologically exposed foundations, some ramped galleries and orthogonal containing rooms) there is the making, through the unforeseen sponge of proportion, connection and assembly, of the writing of the truly new and exceptional."

Manuel Graça Dias, "Through the Connection", in Manuel Valente Alves; António Barbosa (editores). Circulação/ Circulation, Lisboa: Museu de Medicina da Faculdade de Medicina da Universidade de Lisboa, 2005, pp. 314-327.