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Art in the Metro

Art as you travel

Ever since the construction of the first stations in the 1950s, it has been  the Lisbon Metro’s goal to make the underground environment more and more friendly to the user. The adoption of this policy was, to a large extent, the achievement of Francisco de Mello e Castro, then President of the company, whose approach revealed an understanding of how public spaces should be managed at a time in which budgets were tighter.

The reference point for the first generation of stations, concerning the overall architectural and artistic concept, are the names of the architect Keil do Amaral and the artist Maria Keil who, despite the financial limitations of the era, accomplished work of outstanding quality and transformed the Lisbon Metro into a classic example of how public spaces should be managed.

Keil do Amaral already had considerable experience in designing public spaces and facilities for transport operators; he had been responsible for the first  terminus building at Lisbon’s Portela Airport (replaced  in the 1970s  for a new one). He designed the prototype station for the Lisbon Metro, which was used with only slight modifications until 1972, when the line extension to Alvalade station was completed.

Maria Keil designed artistic wall coverings for the Lisbon Metro over a period of roughly 25 years – from her first commission in 1957 to her final work in 1982. She provided  designs for a total of 19 stations (practically all stations in construction phases I and II, with the exception of Avenida  which Rogério Ribeiro was responsible for). Her work for the Lisbon Metro is of particular importance in that it marked a turning point in the revival of the Portuguese art of the glazed painted tile or “azulejo”, which had gone through a long period of decline from the 19th century until the first half of the 20th century. Indeed, from the early 1950s onwards Maria Keil became the main driving force in the discovery of new artistic possibilities for the azulejo and thus helped to revive and reinstate many traditional techniques that had long fallen into disuse.

The most important pieces from her remarkable body of work for the  19 stations are the designs for the stations of Intendente (considered by critics to be a masterpiece of contemporary tile art), where she used the “dry cord” technique, Restauradores where antique and contemporary motifs were combined to perfection, and Anjos which featured a revival of Art Nouveau decoration.

In 1988, with the opening of the line extensions Sete Rios – Colégio Militar and Entrecampos – Cidade Universitária, a second generation of stations emerged and, thanks to the efforts of the then Chairman of the Board of Management, Pestana Bastos, the original idea of decorating the public spaces of the transport system using work by renowned artists was revived. Four artists were commissioned for this purpose: Rolando Sá Nogueira, Júlio Pomar, Manuel Cargaleiro and Maria Helena Vieira da Silva, whose works now embellish the stations of Laranjeiras, Alto dos Moinhos, Colégio Militar and Cidade Universitária respectively.

In Laranjeiras station, Rolando Sá Nogueira chose to elaborate on a theme derived from the literal interpretation of the station’s name: orange trees. The Alto do Moinhos station pays homage to four greats of the Portuguese literature (Almada, Bocage, Camões and Pessoa). At Colégio Militar the “azulejo” tradition was revived, and at Cidade Universitária the painted tile panel “Le Métro” forms the central theme for the whole artistic concept.

In 1990, the Network Expansion Plan was approved to remain in force until 1999. In association with this plan, and motivated by the need  for refurbishment of older stations  and general restructuring works (construction of new halls and interfaces) to accommodate the growing need for intermodality among the different means of transport of the city, a renovation program for the stations of phases I and II of construction was put into practice.

The President of the Lisbon Metro at the time was Consiglieri Pedroso, whose term of office left an indelible mark on the expansion of the company. He placed special emphasis, amongst other things, on the intensification and  revitalization of the cultural and artistic aspects of the company operations. The construction of new infrastructures serving the public could never again fail to take the socio-cultural aspect into account. The aesthetic dimension is an indispensable factor, not for art’s sake, but as a motor for more general artistic and cultural vitalization and in view that the embellishment and vitalization of public spaces is also a means of dissuading vandalism and violence, thus contributing to the quality of life in the city.

Entre Campos station was the first to benefit from renovation works, the artist Bartolomeu Cid dos Santos was commissioned a design in engraved stone that pays homage to the Portuguese literature.

At the Jardim Zoológico station (previously known as Sete-Rios), Julio Resende’s artistic concept is  centered on  the theme of tropical fauna and flora.

The artists invited to refurbish Parque station were Françoise Schein and Federica Matta. They interpreted the themes of the Portuguese Discoveries and the Human Rights  in tile and sculpture.

Marquês de Pombal (formerly Rotunda) station underwent extensive restructuring work to accommodate the split of the lines that used to converge at the station into two separate cross-connecting lines. Three artists were commissioned the artistic decoration: João Cutileiro, Menez and Charters de Almeida. The first two elaborated themes  on the historical character who  lends his name to the station; there is also a panel in engraved stone from Charters de Almeida.

In Picoas station, the work of Martins Correia in tile and sculpture takes the city of Lisbon and its people as the main theme.

In Saldanha station,  the artists Jorge Vieira and Luís Filipe de Abreu worked the theme  “The Universal Human Characteristics” in individually distinct tile and stone sculptures.

Francisco Simões created two groups of sculptures in homage to the women of Lisbon and marble panels depicting bullfighting scenes for Campo Pequeno station.

The design for Martim Moniz station (formerly known as Socorro) also features two artistic concepts.  While the area’s typical fusion of cultures inspired the tile work of Gracinda Candeias, José João Brito used Lisbon’s  Christian reconquest  and the death of Martim Moniz as the theme for his sculptures.

Campo Grande station  opened in 1993. Its walls are covered in painted tiles by Eduardo Nery, whose work  interprets the typical 18th century tile motifs known as figuras de convite or welcoming figures.

The stations of Carnide, Pontinha and Rato  opened in 1997. In Carnide, José de Guimarães integrated tiles, Byzantine mosaic and neon lighting in his artistic composition. At Pontinha station, Jacinto Luís chose to place his own oil paintings in niches along the walls of the two platforms. Rato station features two painted tile panels by Arpad Szènés and Vieira da Silva which also serve a reminder to visit the nearby museum of the Arpad Szènés-Vieira da Silva Foundation for which the station is the most convenient stop.

In 1998, 500 years after,  Vasco da Gama’s voyage to India, this was one of the many celebrations marking the Oceans themed World Exhibition of Lisbon – Expo ‘98. For the first time since its inauguration,  the Lisbon Metro opened a new  independent  line – the Oriente line.  With seven new stations, this line was the main  gateway to the Expo ’98 site and, more importantly, constituted an important element in the rehabilitation of the eastern part of the city. Once again, special attention was given to the public art of this line. Requiring a complete overhaul due to the damage caused by the 1997 fire, the Alameda station was also converted into a double station to enable the transfer between the Green (“Caravela”) and Red (“Oriente”) lines.The original ceramic tiles  by Maria Keil were kept  for the new station  along with  contributions of four other artists. Costa Pinheiro, with a series of ceramic tiles named “Navegadores” (navigators), Noronha da Costa with an unusual set of paintings on stone slabs; Alberto Carneiro brought Nature to the underground environment with his sculptures depicting trees, while Juhana Bloomstedt produced a floor pattern made of different coloured marble.

Olaias station bears, apart from the contribution of the architect Tomás Taveira,  the sculptures of Pedro Cabrita Reis and Rui Sanches and the wall coverings of Graça Pereira Coutinho and Pedro Calapez.

For the Bela Vista station, Querubim Lapa created  wall coverings using ceramic tiles in geometric patterns using special tile formats and layouts.

At Chelas station,  the perfect fit between architecture (Ana Nascimento) and artistic design (Jorge Martins) with brightly coloured, three-dimensional ceramic wall coverings creates an almost scenic atmosphere.

The Olivais station theme depicts the surroundings’ original environment  (“olivais” –olive grove ) along the walls of the station  designed by Nuno Siqueira and Cecília de Sousa.

 For the Cabo Ruivo station, David de Almeida created stone engravings with a pre-historic  influence.

The Oriente metro station is part of the  Lisbon Transport Interchange Complex which served the abovementioned World Exhibition of Lisbon – Expo ’98. The universality of this exhibition’s theme, “The Oceans”, determined  the artistic choice for the metro station. Internationally renowned artists representing the five continents were invited to participate – five Europeans, three Asians, one African, one American and one Australian. From Portugal, Joaquim Rodrigo with a ceramic tile panel named “Praia do Vau”; from Austria, Hundertwasser with a ceramic tile panel named “Submersão Atlântida”; Yayoi Kusama from Japan, also with a ceramic tile panel covering the North wall of the station; from India, Raza with a panel named “Les Océans”; from Iceland, Errö with a ceramic tile panel mixing real and imaginary episodes from History and maritime Mythology; from Argentine, António Ségui with a panel covering the South wall of the station providing a detailed description of sea elements; Zao Wou Ki from China, with his ceramic tile panel conveys the serenity of the immense oceans; Abdoulaye Konaté from Mali, revels his understanding of the sea based on his stylistic traditional roots; Sean Scully from Ireland, presents a work with abstract components; from Australia, Arthur Boyd with a ceramic tile panel representing a maritime view in soft tones and subtle strokes; and from Poland, Magdalena Abakanowicz with a large sculpture in brass named “Fish”.

The investment in art in the public spaces was therefore a clear statement of the company’s Senior Management, thus also contributing to increase the system’s profitability.

Two further areas of activity linked with the above strategic goal must also be highlighted:

policy of cultural exchange between metros was developed within the International Association of Public Transport (UITP) ­ of which the Lisbon Metro is a long-standing member­ providing the background and acting as linking factor. This policy is mainly based on the exchange of artistic work. The Lisbon Metro has received several artworks from abroad and, in turn, has offered various pieces by Portuguese artists, thus contributing to take the Portuguese art and culture to several metro networks around the world, such as Brazil, France, Canada, Australia, among many others;  artworks have been gifted to the city of Lisbon with a view to increase the value of its cultural heritage. These gifts relate to important dates and events of the Lisbon Metro history, such as the celebration of its 30th anniversary and the arrival of this transport mode to the riverbanks of Cais do Sodré and Ribeira das Naus.


© 2017 Metropolitano de Lisboa, EPE