Casa da Música - The Cultural Landmark

It’s the most modern piece of architecture in Porto. No one can refute this statement. But is it a beautiful building or even is it loved by Porto’s inhabitants? That’s something different.

Statue in Rotunda da BoavistaBoavista, the district where Casa da Música was built, was actually the new 19th century economic center of Porto. Avenida da Boavista, the 5Km traditional avenue that crosses Rotunda da Boavista (picture on the right), is one of the most interesting architectural streets in Porto. It shows a large display of 19th century family palaces that are worth a few pictures. This avenue extends from the Military Hospital to the sea and it is still one of the most important economic areas of the city. So Casa da Música was actually built in an interesting place in Porto but a very traditional one as well. And this was probably what shocked Porto in the first place at the time of its opening. People in general hated the building and wished it was gone.   

Ever since it was built, initially for the 2001 Porto European Capital of Culture, it has had this strange effect on common people. It looks like a huge box landed next to Rotunda da Boavista right after having fallen from outer space. It could actually be a kind of space ship if you look at it from its main entrance. Even the stairs that give access to the main lobby look like they were pulled out from a space ship. But like all the space ships (I assume) the interior is magnificent and intriguing. The guided tours show an endless display of pointy corners, wavy glass walls and stainless steel walls. The stair cases are all different and vertigo like - it is only when you reach the first step of the stair cases that you really see a stair case and feel confident about descending to another floor. Casa da Música was designed with different levels both above and beneath the ground level.

Exterior view of Casa da MusicaRem Koolhass, the Dutch architect behind that angular design, planned a highly functional and flexible space with 2 main auditoriums, which are obviously impressive. Sala Suggia, the main auditorium, even looks cosy and open, in spite of being in the middle of that huge box with only a few windows. And the rest of the building seems to present itself as a spectacular labyrinth of stairs, corridors and pierced walls. The materials  Koolhass used are simple but full of impact: concrete, stainless steel, glass and interestingly enough tiles thus integrating the Portuguese and Dutch tradition of the cobalt blue tile work in the VIP Room (below), which is actually visible from the outside.

From a cultural point of view Casa da Música has brought a healthy diversity of sounds to Porto all concentrated in the same concert hall. It is possible to buy tickets to a classical music concert at the same time as to a Fado or a rock concert. It was meant to be the House of All Music and it is. And it was also meant to have an educational purpose, which also is effective. Casa da Música actually offers children their special experimental music rooms where they can have contact with rudimentary forms of sound thus becoming aware of the raw ways of making music.  

Casa da Música houses 3 orchestras and provides people in Porto with a chance to experience music of all sorts, from classical to contemporary. It holds low cost concerts on Sunday morning for just about 5€.

VIP room in Casa da MusicaCasa da Música also dedicates each year to a country. 2010 was Austria’s and 2011 is the EUA’s year. This means that a great part of its activities will be centered in the American culture in order to give Porto’s inhabitants an overview of a foreign culture without leaving their city. Still under the motto of Porto European Capital of Culture and the city’s leitmotiv - Bridges, Casa da Música goes on extending bridges to other cultures.

So all in all, after the initial shock, Casa da Música has definitely been well integrated in Porto’s daily life, heading probably to a better place in the future in what concerns people’s hearts. It has revived an already bustling part of the city and has considerably increased Porto’s cultural offer.   

One of our teacher guided tours is to Casa da Música as we consider it an important part of the city’s iconography and consequently of its cultural background, which we want to to convey to our students in the most authentic way possible. From our point of view learning Portuguese includes every aspect of the Portuguese culture.

OdP’s Team