What good do shops deliver (4) Chocolate

A chocolate shop just in front of the Madeleine church in Paris

A chocolate shop just in front of the Madeleine church in Paris

Here I use chocolate as well as a direct, factual reference as in a metaphorical way… opening a shop (as any other business) is a display of faith on an idea, in this case a quite public one. Whoever has a blog will easily understand: you have an idea that you prepare, polish and then make public. Then, for reasons you never quite understand, some ideas you thought were not as bright get most of the traffic (or at least that is what wordpress stats say…) while others, brighter at first sight, lag behind. In a blog, the effects of this are usually limited, but in a shop they can mean a difference between earning or loosing substantial money. Sure, mere footfall does not translate into money, but it is usually a precondition to make a product known, and, eventually, to sell something…

A bakery on Rossio Station, Lisbon

A bakery on Rossio Station, Lisbon

The external presence of a shop is essential. A clean, tidy, well-lit showcase is a minimum requirement, but you also need it to be located in a busy place, which implies a cost. To optimize this cost, you have to make attractive as well the premises as the product. Somehow, you have more chances to configure your shop than your product, especially if you are not the maker. Anyway, you have to be different from competitors.

A body care shop in Paris, near the Passage de l'Olympia

A body care shop in Paris, near the Passage de l’Olympia

Sure, shopkeepers want to get clients to see their business; what we get as a collateral effect is a care in the display of some things that configure public space, an aesthetic quality that is sometimes noteworthy. You can sure direct the debate towards consumerism, but it would be missing relevant elements in this situation.

An old hat shop in Rossio Square, Lisbon. Sometimes keeping what you have is the best bet...

An old hat shop in Rossio Square, Lisbon. Sometimes keeping what you have is the best bet…

Where to live with 200.000 €? (4) Lisbon


According to, the offer of homes under 200.000 € in Lisbon is rather large. According to the location and age of the building (few new buildings in this price range), you can reach up to 100 sq m for that price.

71 sq m in central Lisbon (second level, no lift)

71 sq m in central Lisbon (second level, no lift)

Hypothesis 200 m (3)


Most of the coastal metro areas would simply dissapear under water (upper image, Lisbon). For some, the new coastline would be just a handful of islands with no links, but for others (lower image, the Artabrian gulf between La Coruña and Ferrol) the new shore would be even a bit simpler than the existing one. The summits of the coastal hills would remain, not being necesarily the most interesting thing.


Sister cities (4) Bay landscapes

There are ports that profit from a space which can naturally harbour the boats of the moment; Bruges or Ghent were relevant ports in a given time, but larger ships and the silting of their river mouths has changed that situation. And there are ports that are just a result of spectacular bays in which an entire fleet could be moored; when surrounded by a metropolitan area, the result can be simply spectacular in landscape and urban complexity terms. Large bridges with funny layouts (the bridge as the shortest span between two points can be distorted by the presence of a reef or an island on which to have a footing), the rush to occupy flat lands on the seashore (wharfs, airports, factories, infrastructure…) and a complex terrain elevation can be present.

Lisbon is one of the most interesting cities in the Iberian Peninsula and the whole of Europe when it comes to the relation between urban fabric and landscape. It is the sea gate to a watershed that covers a significant part of the central Iberian Peninsula. The Tagus estuary widens in the Straw Sea before going through the Almada- Alcantara straits, creating a gate to the sea that, by its sheer dimension, is at the same time a threshold and a visual opening. The empire is past, but  its built remains are still interesting: Commerce square is an example of quality architecture by the Tagus shore, but it is by no means oppressive.

San Francisco has an even larger bay, formed by the confluence of the Sacramento and San Joaquín rivers. it is the natural outlet of the California central valley. The urban core is near the Golden Gate straits, but the visual link to the open sea is less relevant than in Lisbon. Conversely, the more reduced peninsula allows an urban façade (albeit rather low density and not formal at all) towards the open-sea beaches. There are skyscrapers, but no space seems to have the scenic relevance of Commerce square in Lisbon; the image, as in most American cities, is defined by stacking fragments, not by a unitary architectural project. Some recent projects, as the High Speed Train station, can have a powerful architecture, but not related to the sea. The most relevant recent project on the seashore has been a subtractive one: removing the Embarcadero freeway.

Rio de Janeiro configures an urban landscape of enormous complexity, whose qualities have been recently recognized by UNESCO through its inscription on the World Heritage List. The urban renewal project in Port Maravilha intends, among other ends, to transform  a section of central wharfs, but here the most representative city-water interface is the beach. This does not mean Copacabana is the city core; it is a recognized image and a busy place, but not necessarily the kind of urban core you would assume in other countries. In socioeconomic terms, Rio still suffers after several decades of the impact of loosing its federal capital status to Brasilia.

Domes (1)

Lisbon’s Pantheon

A dome is properly a hemispheric structure, an obsession of western architecture since ancient times, that has no clear advantage but showing that you can build it and make it prominent over a space. Properly speaking, Beijing’s temple is not a dome, but has the same function; geometry. As well as the Maltese church; if you want to see large churches and domes in a reduced space, go to Malta, even if there it was not a matter of imperial power…

A church in a small maltese village

Heaven’s temple in Beijing

Lisbon (3) Portas do Sol

The area as seen in bing maps

A recent bar, associated to a 150 spaces authomatic parking (getting there walking or by eletrico is the option I would take to better enjoy the city) and a new public space on the eastern flank of the Alfama hill. Furniture elements are nearly the only ones visible from the rua Sao Tomé.

The eastern shore of the Tagus on the foreground

Lisbon (2)

The Baixa and the Straw Sea as seen from Park Eduardo VII. On the right, the upper part of the Santa Justa elevator

The center of Lisbon defines its urban image by a combination of the following elements :

–          The “straw sea”, formed by the wide Tagus estuary, a water surface which has a 23 km width at its widest point, crossed by two large bridges; the view of the center from the 25 de avril bridge is spectacular. As a metropolitan void this space has a special landscape value.

–          A low area with a limited slope between the Restauradores and Comercio squares: Baixa, with a grid layout from the XVIIIth century resulting from the city reconstruction directed by the Marquis of Pombal after de 1755 earthquake and tsunami.

–          Two hills encircling the Baixa: Chiado to the west and Alfama to the east

–          Steep slopes as elements which condition mobility, but also bring wonderful visual opportunities, used during the city history by architects

–          A relevant unity in the building elements, with the logic variations due to age and the social and economic conditions of each neighborhood.

–          The constant use of a limited number of singular elements in the public space, and especially the calçada portuguesa, a traditional paving system for sidewalks with small irregular limestone and basalt elements.

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The Tagus shore has been subject to refurbishment works for the last years, concerning the maritime stations and central quays, and specifically those around the Comercio square; work is still under way to the west, in order to the public spaces on the river shore.

The Baixa is a retail and business centrality area, which today has a more representative role as financial and large corporation headquarters have often moved to more peripheral areas. But it is a living center, which is served by many rail and underground stations and the ferry terminals that connect the central city to the rest of metropolitan cities on the southern shore of the Tagus estuary. It is still the area in which most of the government is, and the Comercio square permeates a certain vision of the relation between political power and public space that can be compared to other examples in Paris or Saint-Petersburg. A relevant part of the streets are pedestrian only, with their spaces occupied by cafés and restaurants. The Rua Augusta, linking Rossio (Pedro IV) and Comercio squares through the Arch of Rua Augusta, is the main pedestrian axis of the area. There is also a retail activity on side streets, more intense in areas near the Chiado. The architecture shows the traces of a uniform building ordinance, visible in the unified geometries.

Chiado and Alfama Hills are two different faces of the city. The first is a space with a certain cultural prestige, linked to the literary reunions in the Café A Brasileira, and has regained a retail function after the 1988 fire. It is linked to the Baixa by a network of narrow and steep streets, that can be avoided by taking the Santa Justa elevator, an iron construction from the end of the XIXth century (whose author was Portuguese architect Raoul Mesnier du Ponsard), managed today by the public transportation system, or by taking the elevators of the retail centre that has substituted the department store where the 1988 fire initiated. As in Alfama, you can also take the eletrico, cable cars that in some steep slope streets are specially adapted. Alfama is, on the other side, a more popular hill, with living conditions that seem less favored. Large belvederes exist, and among them the San Jorge Castle is the most relevant.

The belvederes on the hills are relevant to the nearby residents (flat public spaces are rather scarce on the hills) and for tourists. Even while the conservation conditions of the buildings can sometimes be bad, the visible landscape from those spaces is always interesting. It is not as striking as Porto, which is closer to Piranesi’s drawings, but the combination of the hills and the large water body is very attractive.

Recent buildings in historic areas are usually well integrated in their settings. The old buildings often show ceramic tile façades with bright colors, but also maintenance deficits. This seems more relevant in less favored areas as Alfama.

The coherence of buildings is joined by a feeling of unity due to the quasi-universal presence of the calçada portuguesa on sidewalks. From 1842 its original configuration has evolved, mainly on designs. On one side it can seem uncomfortable, and even slippery due to the bright surface of the small stone elements polished by pedestrian shoes; but it is an element of unity, perhaps more resistant than what seems at first sight, and it is also surprising to see that it is also used in new urban extension areas in many cities in Portugal, which may indicate more reduced handcraft costs than in other parts of Europe. At night the system is quite visible, as the public lighting is reflected.

In this context, the tourism offer is diverse, as well on the cultural and landscape elements as on those concerning restaurants and leisure. The recent introduction of new access elements, as tuk tuk and the improvements in restaurants and hotels, are surely to blame for the good tourism results during the first half of 2012.


Lisbon (1)

Lisbon concentrates on a limited territory many tourism sectors; but for mountains and snow, of lesser importance in Portugal, the metropolitan area has heritage, culture, beaches, events, conventions and nearly any sort of tourism activity in several organizational and economic segments; it is a situation not unlike that of Barcelona.

Lisbon is also the third most populated metropolitan area in the Iberian peninsula after Madrid and Barcelona, and can be proud of one of the most monumental and interesting old cities of Europe.

The fact of having been the capital of a world empire, liquidated by the carnation revolution in 1975, and the traces of that old splendor as seen in a context in which unfortunately decadence is in some areas beyond poetics, marks the city. Old trams have survived in a large measure due to the fact that the city lacked some modernizing waves that were present in other parts of Europe, to become today a tourism asset, and a sustainable mobility one too. The persistence of the traditional paving on sidewalks is in part the result of the resilience of a costs structure in the public works that no longer exists in other areas. On the other side, the 25 de abril bridge as seen from the Praça do Comercio configures an interesting metropolitan landscape.

The Plano Estratégico do Turismo de Lisboa 2007-2010 develops the aims of the national strategy, and has a goal to increase value through modernity, authenticity and experience. The plan proposes three micro-centralities along the Tagus shore: Belem, the historical center and the Parque das Naçoes, where Expo 1998 was held.