On the way back from Belém and MAAT we looked in at Village Underground, a space in the dock area that has been taken over for a new cultural initiative using old containers and buses. It’s under the 25 April bridge and next to the converted warehouses used for creative industries and new businesses.
This is how they describe it:
“Village Underground (VU) is an international platform for culture and creativity, which was created in London in 2007 and reached Lisbon in 2014. It is also a coworking community and a creative events destination.
“Its unique architectural structure is made from shipping containers and double decker buses, recycled into office spaces, a restaurant and conference room.
“A landmark in the Lisbon landscape, Village Underground is home to a new creative community in the city.”
As it was Sunday there wasn’t much going on, but it was an attractive space and I was sorry not to see it in use.
In Belém we visited the new Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology, which brings together artists, designers, architects and visionaries in Amanda Levete’s dramatic, shark-shaped building.
The displays focus on global threats, environmental change and mass population movement.
Tomás Saraceno’s Thermodynamic Imaginary (above) is a sustainable housing future of balloons that draw energy from the sun and the earth’s radiation. The Center for Genomic Gastronomy wrote The National Dish, in which they brought scenario planning to bear on Portuguese food. The Living exhibited mycelium bricks, their energy neutral and biodegradable building materials. Diller Scofido and Renfro presented Exit 2008-2015, a startling summary of the effects on the world population of war, drought and flooding.
I would have liked less apocalypse and more solutions, but this is an unusual and challenging gallery of blue-sky thinking.
In my post on the Vase Mania that swept the country after the discovery of Pompeii and Herculaneum, I mentioned that, as the craze faded away, Wedgwood decided to go down market and to sell his vases more cheaply to the middle classes.
“The Great People have had these Vases in their Palaces long enough for them to be seen and admired to the Middling People,” he said, “which Class we know are vastly, I had almost said, infinitely superior, in numbers to the great, and although a great price was, I believe, at first necessary to make these vases esteemed Ornaments for Palaces, that reason no longer exists, and the middling people would probably buy quantities of them at a reduced price.”
Robin Reilly in his excellent biography explains that Wedgwood’s motives were more complex. Although he had become a hugely successful potter, he never seemed to have any money. Although the business made a profit, he was in debt, and a rumour was going around that he could not pay. He observed that if you lost money you could get it back, but if you lost reputation you would never recover. Up to that point he thought the remedy was better debt collection, but Reilley uncovered the fact that Wedgwood and his partner Tomas Bentley did not understand their business accounts. He was, in fact, under-capitalised, a common shortcoming in rapidly expanding enterprises. Reilley is an ideal biographer because, as well as being a historian, he was a senior manager at Wedgwood for twelve years.
With characteristic energy and resolve, Wedgwood set to analysing his costs, which he had never bothered about too much before. He virtually invented cost accounting and the production of cheaper vases was inspired as much by cost control and the need to improve cash flow as it was by changing fashion.
On a visit to Lisbon I found that the azulejo tradition is not only more deeply rooted in Portugal’s culture than I realised but that it remains alive and is being continually renewed.
The Lisbon metro has been decorated in azulejos over the last twenty years, using modern techniques like screen printing and styles and themes that are completely contemporary. Then, when we were walking past the Pasteleria Alcôa at 37 Rua Garrett, I saw the tiled shop front made by Querubim Lapa in 1960, a beautiful, softly-painted panel in shades of blue.
Lapa, I discovered, was one of Portugal’s principal contemporary ceramic artists. The high esteem in which tile painting is held in this country meant that after a training and early career in easel painting, he was able to concentrate entirety on ceramics.
The shop in Rua Garrett, originally for Casa da Sorte, was a collaboration between architect Francisco Conceição Silva and Lapa. Lapa rated his contribution so highly that he asked for his application for the chair in ceramics at the school of fine arts to be assessed on it alone.
When Casa da Sorte closed, there was concern for the future of this fine ceramic work, but, when Alcôa took over the building in 2015, they undertook not to disturb it.
Josiah Wedgwood acquired the Ridgehouse estate in 1766 for his Etruria factory during a period of commercial expansion, when he had launched his cream-ware and was beginning to get commissions from the upper class. The company traded there until 1940, when they moved to the new factory at Barlaston, and production at Etruria finally stopped in 1950. The estate was demolished in 1960.
In 1966, when I lived at Keele, the site hadn’t been completely cleared and I took a few photos – technically poor, but they give an idea of how it looked then. This (below) is the Round House by the Trent and Mersey Canal with the Shelton Bar steel works in the background. At night, the flames from Shelton Bar lit up the sky like Vesuvius in the other Etruria.
The purpose of the Round Houses – there were two, one at each end of the factory – is unknown, but it’s thought they may have been merely decorative, punctuation marks at each end of the building, “in keeping with the 18th century preference for symmetry in architecture” as the Wedgwood archive put it. “It is possible that the Round Houses were Josiah’s own idea possibly having viewed the elevation of Shugborough Hall (below) the home of his patron Lord Anson which is similarly terminated with circular structures.”
Here is a more recent picture of Wedgwood’s house, Etruria Hall, than the one on the plate in my last post.
Wedgwood called his factory estate Etruria because he was part of the late 18th century vase mania generated by the discovery of Pompeii and Herculaneum. He was directly influenced by Sir William Hamilton’s great Collection of Etruscan Greek and Roman Antiquities (1767), which he owned. He was himself a collector of vases, to the despair of his wife. She wrote, “I am almost afraid he will lay out the price of his estate in vases he makes nothing of giving 5 or 6 guineas for.”
Etruria gave its name to the surrounding district, and anyone like me who spent time in Stoke-on-Trent in the sixties thinks of Etruria as a dirty industrial area in North Staffordshire, not as a place in Italy. (Since the Garden Festival, it is no longer dirty or industrial.)
The house was built about 1770 next to the Wedgwood factory, between Burslem, Hanley and Newcastle-under-Lyme. The enlightened and progressive Wedgwood was a promoter of the Trent and Mersey Canal, which passed by carrying clay and coal to Etruria and finished pottery to the customers.
Etruria Hall was designed by Joseph Pickford of Derby, who worked for several members of the Lunar Society, including Wedgwood, Joseph Wright of Derby, Matthew Boulton and John Whitehurst. The house was extensively remodelled in the 19th century. It’s not an outstanding building and its Grade II listing must be for its historical rather than architectural interest. Only the shell has been preserved and there is nothing original inside. Pickford’s own house in Derby (below) is grander.
I said that there were only a few traditional studio potters in Ceramic Art London last week and that there was more innovation than ever. Not surprisingly, some potters are unhappy about it. Eddie Curtis (above), a potter for forty years, and by no means conservative in his work, just missed selection and has written a long post on Facebook expressing his annoyance. He is leaving the Craft Potters Association (CPA) in protest.