A project such as the one for the new installations of the National Carriages Museum raises two main questions.
Regarding the museology the project adopts a criteria focused on the definitive preservation idea of the collection, to held safe such a unique heritage, like in a treasure chest; from the urban point of view, finding the accurate spatial disposal committed to its integration in a monumental area of the city, framed by the governmental program “Belém Redescoberta”.
In this aspect, one should refer the footbridge, in line with Calçada da Ajuda, crossing the railway and reaching near the harbour. As well as the existing historical neighbourhood along Rua da Junqueira, facing the north side of the plot, and lending a great deal of enchantment to the place.
As the project reveals from itself, the construction is proposed in a dual form: a main Exhibition Pavilion with a lifted hangar and an Annexe building, and strategically integrating in its interior, by a succession of ramps, the footbridge start. The volumes disposal, together with the horizontal line drowned by the footbridge, configures a portico that stages an entrance to the interior courtyard. Here we discover the ancient existing buildings, facing now the redesigned Rua do Cais da Alfândega Velha.
From this point we can imagine what can be the city flows crossing the museum, inside and outside, what will become the new museum as a public place – strictly protected and unpredictably open.
The new courtyard between the museum and the historical city extends itself underneath the two volumes, freely disposed in a unique surface of black granite stone pavement. On the other hand, this contrasts with the small intricate scale of the upper city level, creating a profusion of accessibilities with diversified scales and crossing experiences. Here we can walk freely even at night, in the comfort of the light emanated bellow the buildings, like a suspended illuminated roof.
The Exhibition Pavilion develops one level above the ground and rests on fourteen Ø1.8m concrete pillars. A white parallelepiped with weightless walls, capable of absorbing the movements and dilatations of the steel super structure. Small and insightful openings where subtracted to the white abstract volume, revealing the shape of the steel trusses.
On the ground floor, the museum entrance is located on a glass volume, transparent, enhancing the sights of the exterior public place, and contrasting with the opaque concrete volume where we find the museum private areas and the workshops, from which activity can be observed through the narrowed openings. On the west side of this volume, again a entirely glazed cafeteria opens up towards the gardens.
We choose, besides the necessary fire escapes, that all vertical access should be ensured by lifts. The museum main entrance is achieved by a single story journey on two generous lifts, capable of transporting each one 75 people at a time. As we reach the upper floor, two main hangars are characterized by the continuous polished concrete slab, long white walls and the steel grid of the suspended ceiling, inside which, all infrastructures are kept organized and colour identified. The visit tour is also marked by the upper bridges from where we can see the collection from above and access the exterior veranda and discover again the cityscapes.
The main hangars hold the gallery, each with 125x17m, are intercalated with a central space where we find the access points, temporary exhibitions room, and a daily workshop where a platform lift assures the carriages transportation to the storage on the ground floor level.
The second floor integrates (besides the visitor’s circuit) the educational service, two outdoor patios where much of the technical equipment is located, and a single connection to the Annex building.
The Annexe building is located in the cross between Rua da Junqueira/Praça Afonso de Albuquerque. It is an empty concrete skeleton suspending two glazed volumes: the restaurant and the administration one. Underneath, the auditorium volume also in concrete has a lake on its roof.
Inside the empty concrete structure, several volumes are disposed corresponding to accesses (both public and private) sheltered by a central steel structure skylight.
Although both buildings have their own constructive processes and configuration (steel and concrete, a pure opaque volume and an empty one), some constructive solutions are similar: the concrete floors and the suspended ceilings for instance.
The auditorium was imagined informal, like a covered grandstand in contrast with a more standard room. Two industrial gates allow a carriage to cross the entire interior through the “stage” area. On its upper level, a generous veranda swings over the trams passing by. From this point we can reach Rua da Junqueira or pick the footbridge half way.
Two bridges connect the restaurant and the administration on the second level. Underneath the skylight but yet in the outside space, we can enjoy the dramatic sunlight reflecting on the lake and watch the city passing down bellow. Both restaurant and administration volumes have glazed walls towards east and west. The restaurant is an open space. The administration volume allocates the director and curators offices, a library and the connection to the Exhibition Pavilion through the security central station – a blind white bridge volume, standing between the two buildings.
As for the footbridge, the dichotomy between public and private remains, starting itself as mentioned underneath the Annex building, in a succession of three 35m ramps, crossing all the west side of the Exhibition Pavilion, 7.5m above the railway and getting down near the river side.