The renovated Liceu Passos Manuel in Lisbon, a picture of which has headed this blog for 18 months, has just won a Europa Nostra Award 2013 for European Cultural Heritage. It shows how an old building can be renovated to both preserve an identity but serve a modern context.
Passos Manuel is Portugal’s oldest Liceu, originally designed in 1882 but built a little later and opened in 1911. The Europa Nostra Awards are a prestigious mark of European heritage and Europa Nostra itself is about protecting Europe’s cultural and natural heritage. The award for the conservation work on Passos Manuel is a testament to the painstaking work of its architects, husband and wife team Victor Mestre and Sofia Alexio of VMSA Architects.
I was fortunate to visit it under renovation when I reviewed Portugal’s secondary school building modernisation programme in 2009 for which this school was a pilot project. I saw the careful attention to detail with which the conservation was carried out, and how the matching of materials was achieved.
This though was more than just a building conservation project. This school is important historically as one of the oldest public secondary schools in Europe, if not the world. It marked the turning point in public secondary education in Portugal and today stands as a connection between a modernised education system and the history of education in that country.
As important as its history is, this school has to meet the needs of a modern education system, and therefore this project was about reusing a building in a modern context. So when you visit it you will not see just an old building, you will see carefully inserted modern architecture. The new parts are not hidden behind a pastiche replica of an historical idiom, but are allowed to be visible using modern materials and technologies. The versatility of the architects is quite clear – an ability to work design with both old and new technologies. Some of the modern insertions are obvious: the canteen inserted under the building; the link between the main building and a smaller annex; the separated sports facility; and the little pavilions planted adjacent to the courtyard which are designed to be flexible learning pods for use by students and teachers.
Congratulations should go to Parque Escolar, Portugal’s school building agency set up to manage the modernisation programme and to Teresa Heitor (former Director pf Parque escolar) and Joao Sintra Nunes (former Director General of Parque Escolar) for their vision and determination that such projects should be valued.
See also “Heritage: Between Time and Movement” which charts the history and renovation of the Liceu Passos Manuel and “Designing for Education“ where the school was given an award by an international jury for the OECD’s Compendium of Exemplary Facilities 2011.
Below are some of my own photos of this school: