MAAT (Lisboa)

Lisboa, Portugal. Who isn't drawn to old power plants? They make good energy museums, and even better contemporary art museums. Usually one or the other. But the Tejo Power Station is both. Art exhibitions share the space with the Museu de Electricidade, which is now part of the Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology.  A fresh drama of old brick and new whiteness along the Tagus river walk.

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The water tower makes a circular billboard venue

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A handsome outdoor vitrine for art exhibitions

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With almost no signage, the building stands on it's own. A subtle ticket office and entry (seen through the window)

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As soon as they enter the electricity museum, visitors are enveloped in a composed musical piece, moody (and catchy) with a rhythmic clang of pipes in the mix. Graphically the museum combines huge red monolith signs with oversize diagrams. 

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Gobo lighting defines the wayfinding signage.

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The only interactive I found here was "accidental", and strange. One control console had a few mysteriously active buttons, one of which activates a dummy figure far above on a catwalk, to call out to his fellow workers.

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A contemporary photo exhibition is slipped into one of the corridors, too tight to view at any distance.

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Simple white Hanging panels catch the shadows of structure

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Interesting use of red photo here makes the alcove feel like a wrinkle in the wall.

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The walls in this interactive Electricity space are backlit. The wall mounted interactives have a retro styling.

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The plump curved shaping is very approachable.

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Did these anthromorphized meters come from another planet?

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Power plants are massive, mind boggling, walk-through living diagrams of themselves. Color coding, specific part lighting and placed labels help make it digestible. But the general awe of a building like this is satisfying in it's own right. Sometimes visitors are on a "mindless" stroll, a valid way to experience museums, after all.

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This event space, is nicely located, visible from a catwalk, with packing crates as part of the furnishings.

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And this activity classroom is located behind the power plant console. A bit of charming old flooring, is left intact.

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Beautiful placement of old photographs among the machinery.

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Including some gorgeous and delicate small photos.

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A dummy figure appears here by surprise, another cause of mixed feelings.

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This cathedral like space of the Turbine Hall, is a perfect art venue for Bai Ming's work from China.

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They make it look easy, their transition to contemporary art spaces

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These are actually very tall green display pedestals, rising from the floor below.

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Stairs double as theater seating in a tight space.

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The MAAT lounge is also in a great location.

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It's a pleasant walk next door to the gradual entry of the new building, designed by Amanda Levete. A gently sloping hill of tile.

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MAAT logo, in animation. I like the reverse overlap in the letterforms.

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A triangular entry desk leads to a central gallery, shaped like an eye, wrapped by a walkway down to the side gallery entries.

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Mirrored doors off the gallery deflect attention and increase the space.

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To be honest, due to depressing world news, I didn't feel up to seeing an exhibition on Utopia/Dystopia. It turned out to be unremarkable, in terms of design. But a stroll on the roof is uplifting!

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I could be anywhere (Lisboa)

Time Out Market occupies about half of the old Mercado da Rebeira.

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It's a crowded, popular food court with a central shared eating area surrounded by food stalls serving food on trays. 

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Everything is uniformly branded with Time Out's black & white identity. 

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It calls itself the best of Lisboa, because "everything in a time out market is chosen, tasted (and tested) by an independent panel of experts: Time Out's journalists and critics. It's a simple rule: if it's good it goes in the magazine. If it's great it goes on to the Market." The space design feels like a fine line between magazine and market.

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To me this raises troubling questions, especially about travelers and designed environments. Do they come here to enjoy good Portuguese food because it's been curated? Or do they come because it's a safe place to get predictable service, without the awkwardness of language barriers or quirky restaurant experiences?

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Along the outer corridor: some upscale counter stalls.

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Upstairs: Time Out Restaurant, and office space.

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Along the inside corridor, between Time Out and the regular market: some stalls feel like hybrids.

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The regular market with it's few remaining side stalls was closed when I was there. The two environments seem separate from each other. Or protected from each other?

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Am I in a travel magazine or a real world destination? Sometimes the tension between design and "authenticity" is palpable. "Realness" is often associated with aesthetic chaos, and uncomfortable surprises.  Designed environments like this reinforce an expectation for controlled ease. At worst, they can be a soulless buffer from the real world. A time out. From the real world. Wherever you are.

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Spiritual Interactives

As well as museums, I've visited many temples. Except for the most sacred chambers, the public is normally invited to visit, as they would any museum. This creates an interesting dynamic between museum and spiritual practice. There are usually opportunities to engage in a ritual, such as bell ringing, candle or incense lighting, wishes, offerings, divinations, and blessing rituals. With all due respect for all religions, I've been wondering... how they might be similar to museum interactives?

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At the Jeronimos Monastery, in Lisboa, Portugal, you can buy your candle and light it "virtually." The text says "Light a real candle remotely via the CANDLA APP" which can be downloaded by a QR code in the upper corner. I kept wondering if there really was a wax candle being lit in another room? Where the smoke won't damage the building? The prayer is multi lingual, in 5 languages. 

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Many temple activities require instruction or mediation to do it "correctly"  but there are always people winging it. In museum education, making is thinking. We make meaning by interacting. At the temple, you could say that making is setting the intention spiritually. 

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Museu Nacional dos Coches (Lisboa)

Lisboa, Portugal. This is a brutal beast of a building, a massive raised cement garage that houses ornate and golden coaches, like Cinderella's but for real. From the outside, you'd never guess what it contains.

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Could be the largest restroom icon in the world?

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The huge elevators are closed, and after walking up some drab side stairs the visitors enter immediately into a great hall of coaches. Unceremoniously.

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Some are more restored than others. The views between carriages and wheels adds a little interest along the wide corridor.

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The coaches are bordered by a floor railing with text. Angled side displays.

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For many, this is a dream come true. 

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Massive side walls allowed for huge projections with sound, which is much needed in the stark space. But the long silent, blank gaps between the video segments were disturbing, as if the whole experience was stopping and starting again.

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The effect was like standing on a quiet road, watching a dramatic coach with horses ride by, and then disappear again. But I don't think this was the intention.

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People actually rode around in these objects, pulled by animals!

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When you leave the building, your own coach awaits.

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Or you can cross the street to the original coach museum, which looks like this. An ornate building with the more neglected coaches, and bad lighting.

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A temporary exhibition honors the history of fighting fire by horse drawn coaches.

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Every large banner image, has a small scale whole image set into it.

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MNAA (Lisboa)

Lisboa, Portugal. At the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga store, I was tempted to buy one of these "sweet" little figurines. They're from one of Jheronymus (their spelling) Bosch's triptychs, "Temptations of Santo Antao."

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I love the use of typography in 15th century paintings. Could this be the earliest form of comic strip art? The message comes from the hands as a ribbon, rather than from the mouth as a bubble. Here the message is partially hidden as is curls out like smoke. 

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It's a wonderful expression of how words, not only written but spoken become a thing...

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something we carry with us.

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Chair covers! This is truly the "fancy" living room nobody is allowed to use, especially visitors.

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Historical placemat at the museum cafe.

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Street Art (Porto)

Porto, Portugal. The streets were papered with series of artists' work. Such as Helena Rocio's collage.

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Porto is full of portraits, like these bearded ones by Arte Sem Dono.

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And Berri Blue:

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Figures by Excercito Ana

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or disembodied

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In a bandshell

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Another series, devils.

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Seagulls rule Porto!

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and my favorite (unique) Porto portrait.

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Porto Transit (Porto)

Porto, Portugal. Porto has every imaginable type of transport from funicular to little ferry boats. Here is the logo for the metro system.

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The metro uses ColorADD, a color system designed by Portuguese graphic designer Miguel Neiva for colorblind users. Symbols are used for each color, combined in pairs to represent secondary or mixed colors, based on subtractive primaries. This system is used in Portuguese hospitals, schools, traffic lights, packaging, etc.

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The transit card matches this design

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A modular fan fold poster system in the stations with a split image poster design.

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The Centro da Mobilidade, in Sao Bento station, is a ticket agency for all forms of transportation, with a three petaled logo.

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Photo cropping using the shape.

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Semillas (Porto)

Porto, Portugal. What is charming? We can learn something from this venerable seed store, which is the real deal, not a modern store with an intentionally old fashioned design. The store is low key and unpretentious, in fact it wasn't even open when I found it.

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There is something about same sized packages, with simple (beautiful) images that form a grid, that feels honest.

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There's something about repeating the same items that feels humble. Less really is more.

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There is something about the simplicity of just one kind of thing, a plain functional place without a lot of accessories, or signage, that feels calming. This was the only sign, taped in the window.

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Outside In (Porto)

Porto, Portugal. A whole field of rye was specially reserved and grown for this installation by Portuguese artist Alberto Carneiro. Bringing the raw force of nature into a museum is a powerful gesture.

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The receptionist, who was sneezing and weeping a bit, pointed to the asthma and allergy warning by the entry. The atrium was densely sensual, dusty and aromatic, hushed by the muffled crunch of thick pillowy cut grass underfoot.

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Porto City (Porto)

Porto, Portugal. The city is famous for it's blue and white tiles, and so is it's logo, a system of blue & white icons. They each represent a landmark or aspect of the city, used alone or "tiled" into patterns or landscapes. The effect is sometimes busy but always festive. The period after the city name has a touch of pride, a kind of "so there".

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Guimares Castle (Guimares)

Guimares, Portugal. Climbing around castle ramparts, most visitors are looking for a chance to "act out". Kids will do it anywhere, with or without props. Here at the interpretative center, in the castle tower, adults get one modest opportunity.

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Plywood panels stand out from the stone walls. Text in Portuguese and English.

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With dimensional cut outs.

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Red banners follow the timeline. The space is surrounded by a stairway spiraling upwards, to 2 more levels.

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Some plywood panels have unmarked handles and open like cabinets for more information.

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Finally the chance to "act out", with restrictions. The sword slides at a fixed angle between two chords, close to the wall and too high for young children.

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Why is the alluring uppermost stairway always closed?

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It's a narrow bridge back out to the ramparts.

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Misericordia (Porto)

Porto, Portugal. Founded in 1499, the Holy House of our Lady of Mercy cared for the poor and sick in Porto for 500 years. The building is now the Museu da Misericordia do Porto (MMIPO) , which includes the beautiful church next door. There are various types of design drama here. The first is between the modern exhibition design and the old architecture, art and artifacts. Ribbons strung across the Rua das Flores announce the museum's entry.

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The centerpiece of the museum is the "Fons Vitae" painting, depicting christ's blood as the fountain of life. A touch screen to the side allows visitors to enlarge details of the painting

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"My Blood is Your Blood" by contemporary sculptor Rui Chafe, is a thick black artery that passes through the upstairs wall of the room, and drips blood onto the street below.

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A tapered tube aiming out the window points to an important church on the next hill

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The second contrast is between the small white rooms and the black display structures that fill them. The alcoves are tight and convoluted in places to maximize space along narrow walk ways. Unfortunately numbers are used as titles.

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Many of the paintings are large but can't be seen from a distance. It's only possible to see parts of them, up close, or the whole painting at an awkward angle.

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This effect is the third drama, contrast of scale, which they fully embraced, exaggerating the contrast by blowing up some of the painting details on walls here and there. 

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The fourth drama is the uncentered displays, with angled panels to insets or vitrines. 

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The fifth drama is the lighting, using side spots and delicate vertical tubes.

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They host modern art installations in the central atrium, itself an airy contrast to the small rooms.

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The museum opens directly into the church balcony above and visitors can loop through the church below

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Casa da Musica (Porto)

Porto, Portugal. This building (and skateboard park), designed by Rem Kohlhaas, is difficult to capture in one photo. Walking around it is a constantly close view, with neck straining views upward at the angled planes.

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I came to pay my respects to the logo designed by Sagmeister & Walsh for the Casa da Musica. Based on the building's shape, which looks different from every angle, the logo can rotate freely, like the "roll of the dice."

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It was designed so that subidentities can pick up on various angles, image colors, typography or textures, in almost endless ways.

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I admire the sophistication and versatility of the logo and I was hoping to see it in action, on the building and on different printed materials. In all it's glory. But first I noticed, along with the lower case logo font, what seemed like an odd mix of other font treatments.

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The mirrored logo at the entry was promising.

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But then I started to worry that the logo concept, with its shaping and rotational motion, had been tampered with. It seemed incorrect, flattened, and frozen, especially when used as a pattern.

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Branding is about creating beautiful order. A versatile logo like this can only work if it is applied in the way it was intended, conceptually. I'm sure there's a good story here, about why it went astray. But I left feeling sad.  

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