Go with God
In Lisbon, a divinely inspired typographic facade helps create a new cultural venue.
When the owners of a contemporary art gallery decided to open up shop in an 18th century Portuguese chapel, their first goal was to draw customers down the secluded alley where it’s located and let them know the building had reopened with a new purpose.
Their second was to create a new cultural venue in an historic Lisbon neighborhood already known for such institutions as the Jerónimos Monastery, the Belém Cultural Center, and the Modern and Contemporary Museum. Owner Eduardo Fernandes approached R2 Design by describing his goals with three key words: innovation, intimacy, and challenge. “The rest we left in their hands.”
R2 quickly focused on the gallery’s original function and the duality of divinity and popular culture. That led them to play with how idiomatic expressions that refer to God could be used to dramatize the gallery’s street presence. “We sought out phrases that, by force of repetition, have crystallized in our language, but persist as conscious evocations of the divine,” says Lizá Ramalho, R2 principal.
So the chapel’s façade became the canvas for a typographic composition featuring these expressions, rendered in 10cm to 100cm-high dimensional letters in Knockout type. R2 experimented with various scales and letter depths to create dimension and reinforce key words. Varying volumes established various relationships with the façade’s existing decorative elements, which served as a reference for the letter depths.
R2 left all the original elements of the façade intact, but repainted the yellow wall white. Thick paint mixed with sand was used for both the walls and letters, creating the illusion that the words sprang from the stone. The letters were built from Intasa MDF hydrofuge sheets, an environmentally friendly product recommended for moist environments.
Ramalho’s partner, Artur Rebelo, says that with its multiple volumes, three-dimensional format, and “direct questioning” approach, the façade lends itself to many interpretations, and the phrases are meant to be read—and discovered—little by little.
Fernandes says the feedback has been amazing. “People stop to read the sayings and always react differently,” he says. “Creating that interaction was essential to the success of our project.”
And while there’s a certain melancholy associated with a place of worship no longer being used for its original intent, one of the phrases on the façade offers words of comfort: Deus quando fecha a porta abre a janela: “When God closes a door he always opens a window.”
--By Pat Matson Knapp, segdDESIGN No. 25, 2009
“Very beautiful treatment of a unique idea, in itself an exhibition of language, which is at once modern and exciting, yet respectful of its neighborhood and tradition.”
GO WITH GOD
(Ermida da Nossa Senhora da Conçeicão)
Location: Lisbon, Portugal
Client: Eduardo Fernandes/Ermida da Nossa Senhora da Conceição
Design: R2 Design
Design Team: Lizá Ramalho, Artur Rebelo (principals in charge/designers)
Fabrication: Pedrita (construction), Pavilhão 3 (installation), Hoefler & Frere-Jones (typeface)
Photos: Fernando Guerra