In Lisbon there are almost 1,900 unoccupied buildings, most of them degraded and offering no living conditions whatsoever. In Mouraria, one of the city's historical neighbourhoods, this panorama is no exception. In fact, this area is recognized by the city council as a high priority intervention area, having identified more than 50% of its edifications as being in need of rehabilitation.
Located precisely in the Mouraria neighbourhood, the Manifesto Building proposes a model for urban rehabilitation. The project was developed by Lisbon-based architecture studio Artéria together with non-governmental association Renovar a Mouraria ["Renew Mouraria"]. Recently completed, the renovated building now harbours the Community House of Mouraria, embodying a new cultural and social hub for the neighbourhood.
The story of the Manifesto Building blends itself with the story of Artéria, as it marks their first project as a collective. Conceptually developed by the studio's two partners, architects Ana Jara and Lucinda Correia, it started as a reflection on urban rehabilitation in historical neighbourhoods. The duo's interest in this subject made them develop a manifesto that would reveal itself in the shape of a building, questioning the common assumptions and preconceived notions on rehabilitation — such as it being often considered economically unsustainable. In neighbourhoods such as Mouraria, most of the edifications are what Jara categorizes as "banal buildings," with no special interest to urban promoters, making them cheaper to intervene in, thus partly disproving the "unsustainability" claims.
In Artéria's "script" for the Manifesto Building, they reflected on a model for an integrated urban rehabilitation, encompassing social, cultural and economical interventions. To achieve this holistic approach, the community has to be involved in the process. But also from the architect's perspective, Jara points out that "it's important to understand the dynamics of each area in order to understand what can be the function of the architecture there, and the architect has to establish a connection with the place he or she is designing for."
But this "script" was written even before they had a building to intervene upon. The two-story building at Beco do Rosendo presented itself in 2010 via the Renovar a Mouraria association, that saw in Artéria's manifesto an interesting encounter of perspectives. The building had been abandoned for some time, and was in need of critical rehabilitation. From that point on, they started to work on presenting the project to future partners and sponsors, with events such as an open day in April 2011.
After being granted one of Lisbon city council's BIP-ZIP grants — a grant programme that supports development projects for priority intervention areas within the city — the project's construction process started. To bring the involvement of the community even further Artéria developed activities with children from a local elementary school, who accompanied the building's construction development with weekly activities. "This brought the children into a closer relationship with the project, but also made them aware of notions of preservation in their city," says Correia. It also established a bridge with the parents, who through their children became aware of the way the project progressed. This cultivated the community's critical sense when they were invited to collaborate in the project. Engaging the future users of the space in the process, says Jara, "is the only way to understand what are the needs of the people who will use this building."
Formally, the rehabilitation does not result in spectacular architecture, in a purely formal sense. As Jara and Correia explain, the program and design of the building evolved with time, according to the materials they were able to get sponsorship for. It was actually a real surprise in this difficult economical moment to have so many sponsors from Portuguese companies. "The architecture project was the last thing to be done," they add. On the building's first floor, there's a room with a high ceiling suited for the main activities and workshops. A structure made of Doka wood divides the space vertically and creates a mezzanine, where the offices are located. On the ground floor, which through a wide door opens directly into the street, there is a restaurant, open to the community and the public in general.
The two-storey Building Manifesto opened in December 2012, and since then many activities have been developed. "The space is a generator," says Jara. "To have a location is important for a community, and many things can come from that." Mouraria is probably the most multicultural neighbourhood in Lisbon, where several minorities coexist, and yet lack interaction. Only a month after the opening, the community centre had already accomplished an important goal: to become a common ground. Several people of different nationalities have adopted it as their space, gathering in the Manifesto Building, particularly for the Portuguese language courses.
Following the completion of the Manifesto Building, Artéria are developing other similar projects in other locations in Lisbon. The sustainability of the project should prove itself — the community centre of Mouraria was developed looking towards the future, and the involvement of the community is of major importance for the project's continuation. Still, only time will tell what are the outcomes and real impact of the building in the Mouraria community. Inês Revés (@ines_reves)