A year ago we started a public petition called “Salvar os pavilhões do Mercado do Bolhão”. The petition made reference to the renovation project of Porto's public market, the Bolhão, promoted by Porto's City Council. Notwithstanding its promotion as "purposefully conservative", we could guess a radical transformation of the interior space.

In March this year we asked the Council for an update on a public meeting. What we had feared all along was confirmed: the Market Stalls of the Bolhão are set to be demolished and replaced by a contemporary interpretation, which will deeply change the way the market's interior is experienced.
Top: proposed new interior for the Mercado do Bolhão (CMP)
Bottom: Perspective showing what the renovated pavillions could look like (OPS)

Two reasons were given for this: the first, that the planned construction of a technical basement makes their removal a necessity. Reconstruction of the barracas was rejected as being pastiche. The second is the Council's strategic "vision" for the market's new role, which doesn't bode well with keeping the pavilions. The Council, we were told, wants a market which can cater to "modern needs" and "the barracas do not allow it".

As the Council meeting is not a public debate arena, we would like to clarify our opinion here.

Adding a technical basement implies effectively that that which is above has to be removed during construction. Now, this temporary removal does not mean permanent destruction. This is not about "mimicking" the barracas, as we were told in the meeting, but to carefully catalog their recuperable elements, disassemble them, store them and later reassemble in the same position. New elements, matching the originals, would be used if and only when necessary to guarantee a uniform and consistent reading of the pieces.

This technical problem is thus nothing more than that, a technical problem, which has been resolved before without much drama. There are several examples in Porto of buildings where this happened (usually to move them to a different location). The Capela dos Alfaiates, below, is one such example. There is no pastiche, simply a technical process carried out decades ago with more rudimentary means than today.

Left: the Capela dos Alfaiates in its original site (SIPA)
Right: the Chapel in its current location (SIPA)
Undeniably, the pavilions are degraded. The whole market was left to its own for decades by the Council, who couldn't decide on its fate. On a 1992 publication one can still see the interior of the market with beautiful slate shingle roofs and no scaffolding. Lack of maintenance stimulates unkemptness and the pavilions where the first to feel it: alterations, plastic additions and lettering, dirty transparent coverings above the "streets". One can easily immagine how these pavilions gradually became "hay sheds" (as they were described in the council meeting).
Top: the Bolhão circa 1992, with the slate shingle roofing still visible (“Sentir e pensar os Mercados e Feiras do Porto”, ed CMP)
Bottom: The Bolhão today, with all the roofs hidden beneath "temporary" plastic tarpaulins. (OPS)
In the petition we try to explain why it is so important to renovate the interior of the Bolhão, namely its stalls. They are small treasures of 20th c. revival Architecture. Individually designed but part of a cohesive whole, with simple but creative details of windows and doors, roof eaves, dormers, azulejos, ventilation sheds and even classical porticos. They are a minute but important local Beaux Arts legacy, specific to Porto, and effectively its soul as a market experience.
A few details and Architectural features inside the Market, now doomed to disappear.
As we were told, the Council has a "vision", which is really its political goal, of a different kind of market, open and with a larger scale, which doesn't contemplate their keeping. One would only need to see a handful of renovated market halls across Europe and Portugal to realize the typology of the pavilion market adapts easily to the so-called "modern times" Unfortunately the Public Authorities' political will sometimes clashes with the preservation of Architectural Heritage. Obviously this has happened before - one need only remind of 1951, when Porto's Crystal Palace was demolished for the "vision" of hosting the World Roller Hockey Championship.
Top: Porto's own Crystal Palace (SIPA)
Bottom: the Pavilhão dos Desportos, which replaced the Palace in 1952 to host the World Roller Hockey Championship. (SIPA)
The current project for the Bolhão is, in any case, probably the most balanced and sensitive of recent memory. We once again plea to the City Council to turn it into an opportunity to set the example towards the city's Heritage Preservation and integrally renovate its interior with the pavilions. We finally ask all to sign the petition and contribute to the debate. Porto's collective memory is at risk and needs help.
Until quite recently the Bolhão was painted, clean and relatively put together (the photo is from the 1990s). This unique heritage is now in the pipeline to be replaced by a generic experience, similar to anywhere else. (“Sentir e pensar os Mercados e Feiras do Porto”, ed CMP)
This newsletter, dedicated to the Mercado do Bolhão, is a partnership with INTBAU Portugal. INTBAU is an active network of individuals and institutions dedicated to the creation of humane and harmonious buildings and places which respect local traditions. It is sponsored by HRH the Prince of Wales and its headquarters are in London, England.


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