BackStory is an Archinect series that focuses on personal experiences of well-known buildings from those who are closest to them: docents, owners, janitors, occupants, and others. This is the expanded view or the bonus features that we may add to the official documentation of a project. Each entry in this series is a story about the building told from an intensely personal perspective.
Editor's note: Having completed a tour of the Casa Da Musica and then said our goodbyes, I was snapping some pics of the building's lobby when Alvaro, my tour guide, approached me again and whispered, "have your photo time later, follow me!" Knowing that my friend and I were architects, he wanted to show us one more thing: the service elevator. Designed to hold 113 people or a grand piano, it's literally a moving room. The official tour was enthusiastic and informative, but here, in this cavernous elevator and a smile still on his face, I could tell that Alvaro was truly a devotee of the Casa Da Musica. It's alive for him, as it seems to be for many in Porto.
Campo went on to tell us about the difficulties of getting the local police to allow kids to skate on the wavy plaza: the Casa's administration wanted the building to be a second home for those kids but the police saw it as a threat to their long awaited (and very expensive) cultural centerpiece. In the end, the Casa won and its plaza may now be skated freely. What follows is Alvaro Campo's own telling of this tale, the BackStory of Casa Da Musica as the civic heart of Porto.
Ever since the finishing touches of building itself, we’ve been quite aware of what technically goes on inside Casa da Musica. It works. We know the plans by heart, we’ve seen the pics, we’ve dreamt of going up the main staircase and going down the copper elevators…
What most of us aren’t aware is that the Casa also has a heart. It feels us. It beats and twitches when things go right. It sighs when things go wrong. Thankfully, they seldom do.
Since it opened (wide) its doors an intense appropriation of space, both inner and outer has been carried out by most city dwellers.
Its alien crystalline shape was thrust from outer space into the very centre of Oporto’s central business district. Upon landing it created the shock waves that limit the plaza where it’s set. The seemingly barren landing place quickly became a popular playground for skaters, roller bladers and such crowds. The Casa rejoiced. "Here they are at last!"
The intense care that most of the house workers foster for these young crowds has shown its worth. These youngsters consider the Casa an extension of their field of dreams. Talking to them quickly brings you back to that remote memory of your own playground at school… The Casa invites them over for a drink after the odd spin or twelve and they accept gladly. It is after all, their own Casa. They also live there.
After the drink and the chit chat between themselves about this or that maneuver, they take home flyers, they consult the artistic program, they interact with the musical sculptures and installations, they consider coming back that same night and bring their friends to an electro-pop concert… some, braver, even try a classical concert. The Casa giggles. "That’s the spirit!"
The following week we get to see these carefree brothers and sisters holding the hands of their (even) younger siblings over to a workshop, a musical training session, a musical sculpture experiment. The Casa rejoices. "Good…"
A brilliantly designed social approach has eventually captivated the next in line. This is part of its purpose. To induce, entrance and seduce a new generation into the ominous ways of Music. Not the silly, kitschy desire to turn zillions into musicians or composers…just to be the catalyst for their change and let them have a go at it. Just to let them have the tools to feel Music in a denser, more considerate way.
Alvaro Campo is an architect who lives and practices in Oporto, Portugal. He gives tours of the Casa in his free time.
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