Project: Lisbon`s Terreiro do Paço in Numbakulla Island

Lisbon had a different story to tell. While there certainly are a few late 19th-century “boulevards” (Avenida da Liberdade, Avenida da República), and lots of new quarters started around 1911 (after Portugal became a republic), urbanism in Lisbon is decidely 18th-century (although a complete 17th-century quarter still exists, the “Bairro Alto”, literally the “High Quarter”). There is a strong reason for this – in 1755, a tremendous earthquake, the largest in recorded history happening in Europe, followed by a tsunami and a fire, completely devastated the capital (except for a few isolated spots). The Marquis of Pombal, at the time Prime Minister, ordered the rebuilding of the city with a very “modern” approach – and did it in an amazingly short time. The city was the capital of an Empire and could not stop.

While several details pf the rebuilt are fascinating historically – like the notion of valuating property by the square meter – the most notable aspect of the Marquis’ plans was the groundwork for a new way to design cities. Thus, instead of small alleys, criss-crossing the landscape to the whim and desire of the land owners, the new Lisbon (nowadays the “Baixa” or “Downtown) was a city not unlike Manhattan in planning: wide streets crossing at right angles, and city blocks becoming administrative units. The citizens of Lisbon at the time despaired with the width of the streets – and the truth is, they are wide enough even for modern traffic – and felt that much “building space” was wasted that way. Nevertheless, the Marquis’ will prevailed.

There is also a very uniform building theme, which we associate nowadays with the “Pombalin style”, and which contrasts fully with the Baroque (highly decorative) style at the epoch. All buildings in downtown Lisbon are 3 stories high, have the same proportions on the façade of each floor, and have similar plans, excepting for a few details. New plazas (like “Rossio”, literally the “Horse Square”; or the “Cais do Sodré”) have additional exterior decorations, but keep the overall design. Thus, the Marquis could be thought of a SL builder who created three or four types of buildings and set up a script to replicate them along the streets 🙂 Differentiation was typically achieved by applying one of only four “typical” colours (pastel green, pink, ochre and cyan) – since so much paint was needed, these were the only ones available – or hand-painted tiles. Even today, most buildings and homes in Portugal use variants of this colouring scheme, and tiles are still used as wall covering and decorative purposes.

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