For six months my internship was spent inside a prefabricated second-hand shipping container, set on cement blocks in the muddy grounds of an historical palace undergoing drastic renovation. Inside the container, a simple conference room was used once a week for technical meetings, and a two-computer draft room was our work space – our meaning belonging to myself and the other intern who was working with me as office contacts at the construction site. A simple, white, twelve square meter, cold, and sterile facility was the technical extension of the architect’s office inside the building site. The cement blocks slightly elevated the container, physically separating the space of conception from the site of construction. Only our feet would step on both spaces (white office and muddy site) and a mat would help to keep the interior surfaces clean and isolated.
Outside the container an inhospitable and active environment followed its own course. Construction work had begun a couple of years earlier, and it was now behind schedule and was continually being interrupted in different ways. The reconstruction of the baroque palace had been extensively studied and designed, approved by heritage services and was controlled by different organizations as it was a national monument. Although it had been carefully planned, technical contingency, historical layering and human, or atmospheric, interferences have kept interrupting the work.
A few beautiful baroque tempera paintings by Nicolau Nasoni, the 18thcentury architect, were revealed behind wooden door covers, a surprise that demanded consolidation, recuperation, and, of course, the need to bring in new teams and people. Archeological teams monitored the mechanical movements inside the palace and gardens, as the smallest movement could have unveiled an earlier structure, bringing new information. An old stone duct was found in the garden, former sanitary structures were found behind a wall, a water supply system was found beneath the wooden dance floor, and, as different teams were called on to intervene, fireplaces, old tiles and plenty of stones and historical details appeared.
Over that rainy winter of 2000, the waters softened the layered material of the ground, as the bordering river had flooded a few times and invaded the city and the gardens on which we stepped. The ground was a striated surface: time, soil and a collection of small histories were conjoining and collapsing. As the site, activities and people unearthed new information, this generated conflicts. The muddy, wet and complex half-building kept redirecting and demanding attention. The building site kept inverting the traditional direction of “sketch to building”: the building kept interrupting the construction work, and the site kept producing a building and a construction. The building had to be considered, discussed and accessed, and drawings had to be redesigned.
The disciplinary container distributed black on white blueprints and collected noted and stained documents in order to reprocess them. The interdisciplinary came from the outside, a visible field, and only a certain performativity and dialogic approach to space and to the dissemination of information could begin to clarify the intentions codified in the drawings on the floppy disks and boxes inside the container.
Left column [top, down]: the office, white cardboard model, existing column, stucco decoration
Right column [top, down]: the container, plaster workshop, layered wall, damaged ceiling
Photos by Eduardo Aroso and Inês Moreira
The “container residency,” as I like to recall it, was an internship in an architecture office. It was part of my architectural design education at Faculdade de Arquitectura da Universidade do Porto, and happened from September 2000 to March 2001 at “F. Távora and J.B. Távora, architects,” an influential architecture office in Oporto, Portugal specializing in public buildings, restoration and in the articulation of old/new structures. The internship was made possible with support from the Prodep Scholarship Program.