Coup in Viseu

‘Coup’ in Viseu?: Confusion and despair as modernists ‘moved in’ to faculty positions

There have been conflicting reports this week from Portugal where an apparently modernist professor and faculty have been installed in the acclaimed Viseu New School of Architecture and Urbanism. There is now widespread concern that the work of the tradition-oriented faculty under José Cornélio da Silva will be lost. Reports from a wide range of sources suggest that the President of the Catholic University of Portugal at Viseu, Professor Passos Morgado and his colleague Antonio Carvalho had “orchestrate[d] a take over”, without consulting existing teaching staff and in the face of the excellent work that has been done in the last 3 years.
Models by 3rd year students at Viseu.

The highly regarded Viseu school appears to have been experiencing difficulty for some time and last year there were complaints that it was unable to obtain basic necessities from the University authorities. . The dispute came to a head at the end of the last academic year with the shock resignation of da Silva. This followed shortly after a successful international conference on architectural education in the 21st century that produced the Council for European Urbanism‘s acclaimed Declaration of Viseu of May 2004.

At the first meeting of the new academic year, faculty report that they were “surprised” to find that they had a new Director of the Architecture school in the person of well-known Portuguese modernist Antonio Reis Cabrita, and a group of 13 new professors all reportedly drawn from Portugal’s modernist architectural establishment. Former Viseu lecturer Lucien Steil describes the take-over as “a real cultural colonisation” by architects from Porto, though he notes that “the people from the Beiras [region] are reputated for their strength and tenacity”. Local figures opposing the move reportedly include President of the local Order of Architects José Esteves, the Mayor and Director of Planning of the City of Viseu, and many other city notables.

The group reportedly arrived with a new curriculum, schedules, and all the bureaucratic work in place. When the new curriculum was rejected by indignant members of the existing faculty, a faculty member reported that the group became “confrontational and argumentative”. A faculty member reports that,. “They told us that they had instructions to change the school in every aspects, from the practical to the philosophical”.

The apparent ‘coup’ is difficult to comprehend as the Portuguese Catholic University is well known for its humanist and free-thinking principles and values. “We could expect this everywhere but at this institution”, a faculty member said.

Traditionalist teaching staff at Viseu have not yet thrown in the towel, but they have appealed for the support of lovers of traditional architecture in what is certain to be a very difficult battle to fight.

“We don’t have any problems with the share of ideas inside the School – that’s healthy – but a radical change like this is a great mistake, as we loose a lot of work already done (and with so [much] success) and the possibility of a new perspective of the way of teaching and doing architecture and urbanism, giving the students and people the possibility of choice – that’s democracy, that’s the civic and cultivated attitude”, says José Baganha, a distinguished architect and member of the INTBAU College of Traditional Practitioners (ICTP).

Further information
The website of the original New School of Viseu has details of the courses run in the first three years.

Supporters of the New School of Architecture & Urbanism in Viseu have asked that you send a fax with your protest to the Dean of the Catholic University of Portugal, Prof. Dr. Manuel Braga da Cruz, at the following address:

Reitor Braga da Cruz
Universidade Catolica Portuguesa
Fax: +351-21-726-05-46

Update 14 October 2011
A protest website set up at http://www.arauto.com/viseu has now disappeared.

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