The recent process of the so-called ‘urban regeneration’ implemented by the city councils of Porto and Coimbra allegedly aimed to combat the desertification of the historic centers and prevent their degradation. Yet it has led to the institutionalization of urban gentrification. In Porto, the massive investment into Quarteirão das Cardosas under the pretext of building a luxury hotel resulted in the acquisition and expropriation of houses and shops by the Sociedade de Reabilitação Urbana [Urban Rehabilitation Society]. The former house and business owners had to move to peripheral areas of the city. In other cities, many buildings, once inhabited or occupied, have nowadays emptied.
There have been municipal and private urban redevelopment initiatives that managed to reclaim some buildings. However, their renovating strategies and real estate models often failed to attract housing and business investment. We think that it may be due to the particular notion of ‘heritage’ which overlooks the actual uses that people make of the space, viewing heritage largely as stones, masonry, flooring and roofing. On the other hand, there has been a series of local renovation initiatives promoted by the inhabitants or shop owners themselves who wanted to keep their guesthouses, restaurants, small hotels or local trade in the historic centers. As they act on the small scale and aim to preserve the traditional or innovative trade activities, those initiatives may come to reclaim but a small portion of the otherwise degraded area.
Our course looks into the paradigmatic case of degradation of the historic Centro Comercial Avenida on the Avenida Sá da Bandeira in Coimbra. Built in the mid-1980s, when malls were still constructed in city centres, Centro Comercial Avenida replaced the 1893 building of the Teatro Avenida. After the decades of working as a full scale shopping centre, it has started to lose its appeal since 2000 due to the appearance of the new competitive shopping areas such as the Dolce Vita Shopping Centre and to the proximity of the main shopping street of Rua Ferreira Borges. Nowadays the Centro Comercial Avenida is almost exclusively used by minority groups as a meeting place or a place of worship and specialized shopping.
Given its location which serves as a link between the Avenida Sá da Bandeira and the residential quarters of the Alto da Conchada, the Centro Comercial Avenida (CCA) maintains its high urban and architectural potential. Yet we feel that CCA is even more important for what its latest occupants have discovered – for the intercultural contacts, the provision of services that are no longer available elsewhere, for the budding resistance to the invasion of the top brands, for the active stand against the gradual neglect and forlornness in the surrounding area, and bringing about the renewed historical and social landscapes.
SPACES AND TRANSITIONS: Sharing biographies and projects in the reinvention of the Centro Comercial Avenida is a training course in collaborative research, situated on the interface between the social sciences, architecture and multimedia. It aims to address a set of conceptual and theoretical issues, as well as collaborative research perspectives and techniques, taking the Centro Comercial Avenida (CCA) as its case study. In the course design, issues of sociological, anthropological, methodological, urban and architectural nature will be combined with creating audio, video and photographic materials to be later selected for the documentary of a research project on migrant biographies (“Pesquisa das migrações e abordagem biográfica: construindo um trabalho em colaboração no contexto português”).
We aim to address the following questions:
1. What do the CCA urban regeneration processes mean now and what is the role of architecture for cultural and social inclusion?
2. What kind of poetics can enable the interdisciplinary research to address the urban and social challenges within the project on immigration in Coimbra?
3. How should we design requalification in such a way that it takes into account the multicultural and multiethnic potential of Coimbra?
We hope that answers to those questions can be found in the keynote presentations and in the photo and video materials to be produced by the course participants and by the volunteers of the project on immigration. We believe that multiple spaces and moments of the collaborative research equally represent spaces of debate and convergence, and a possibility to imagine an alternative future where cultural diversity and social integration are part of the daily creative and artistic life of the cities where we live.
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