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  • Writer's pictureFrancisca Gigante, MA

A Brief History of MAAT Museum in Lisbon

What is MAAT?

MAAT, or The Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology, is a museum that was founded in 2016 and that celebrates and interrogates the disciplines of art, architecture and technology.

maat museum

Susanne Nilsson, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology (MAAT)

Here, along the banks of the Tagus, stretches one of the Portuguese capital’s most recognisable landmarks: the sinuous Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology, familiarly known as MAAT. The museum, which belongs to the Portuguese electric utilities company EDP, explores the intersection between the disciplines of contemporary art, architecture and technology. MAAT is composed of two main buildings, old and new, as well as several adjacent outdoor spaces which offer wonderful, unobstructed views of the city of Lisbon and its river.

The new building is the centrepiece of EDP’s artistic campus. Easily recognisable – and impossible to forget – from its whale like shape, it was designed by British architect Amanda Levete and frames the background landscape with its low-slung arch. The project, completed in 2016, drew inspiration from the Portuguese tradition of craftsmanship and ceramics. The architects chose tiles that would reflect the characteristic light of Lisbon; the light articulates with the waves of the riverside area, and changes from white shades to more golden and silver tones depending on the time of day, season, and the position of the sun. The tiles, which are three-dimensional mosaics, came to Lisbon from Barcelona, where they were manufactured by the same company that worked with Antoni Gaudí on the Sagrada Família. The shimmering scales of light they produce are bound to impress you – if you’re here on a sunny day.

The new building holds four exhibition spaces for facilitating and showcasing national and international projects: the Oval Gallery, named for its shape; the all-white Main Gallery; the Project Room for emerging projects or ambitious installations; and the Video Room that gives primacy to film. Together, these carefully co-ordinated spaces promote the creative practice and critical spirit not only of artists, architects, and thinkers, but of the visitors themselves. MAAT reflects on prevailing themes of the present moment, and thrusts forward new ways of thinking.

To the west of the main building, you’ll find Central Tejo, a repurposed power station. Built in 1908, it’s a wonderful example of early-20th-century industrial architecture. Designed by the engineer Lucien Neu and built by Vieillard & Touzet, this monumental iron structure clad in brick was never brutally reduced to function: it reveals on its façade styles ranging from Art Nouveau to Classicism. This former thermoelectric power station was the largest in the country for more than three decades, and in the early 20th century it supplied electricity to the entire city of Lisbon.

In recent years, the power plant was converted into an exhibition space to house art exhibitions and events. This space displays all the original machinery, perfectly preserved. In their absence, the curated machines tell the story of the plant’s workers, and narrate the history of Portuguese electricity, from coal to renewable energy. Spend some time here and you’ll see some unassuming marvels, like the elevators that carried mountains of coal to supply the boilers, and some monumental ones, like the high-pressure boilers that stand at 30 metres high.

These two buildings, separated by more than a hundred years, sit beside a verdant and picturesque garden designed by the Lebanese landscape architect Vladimir Djurovic. They intertwine stories of electricity and contemporary art, and reflect on how the currents of electric energy and modern culture, in all its daring and experimental expression, have always been supplying one another.

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