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Portuguese Architect Manuel Salgado Talks ‘City-Making’ at Harvard Design School Lecture

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Manuel Salgado, an architect and former head of urban planning on the Lisbon City Council, discussed “city-making” at a Harvard Graduate School of Design lecture Tuesday evening.

A lifelong resident of Lisbon, Portugal, Salgado chronicled the city’s restoration after the fall of the authoritarian Estado Novo regime in 1974.

“I have known several Lisbons,” Salgado said. “The gray one from the dictatorship, the explosive one from the revolution, the proud one from the Expo ’98, the sad one from the IMF bailout, the deserted one from the pandemic, and the cosmopolitan one from the global economy.”

Over his career, Salgado has worked as a town planner, an architect in “large-scale transformative projects,” and Lisbon’s councilor of urbanism, where he was “making the city as a politician.” Still, Salgado said he sees his three roles as interconnected.

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“Those were three different ways of participating in city-making that have been interconnected on a journey of more than 50 years. Three different ways of approaching the same reality, sitting on different sides of the table, with the same social commitment, using the tools that my training as an architect has given me,” he said.

Salgado said running for office is an unorthodox move for an architect, adding that he was the first architect in Lisbon to serve in his role in more than a century.

“I had a portfolio of physical proposals for Lisbon, and the idea that it was possible to approach the city as a big-scale urban project,” Salgado said. “I had a vision for the city, concrete ideas about what was needed and what could be done.”

“I thought it was worth the risk to exchange my architectural career for a political post,” he added.

Salgado served as a councilor for 12 years, twice as long as he had initially planned.

“It was a very different job from what I imagined when I graduated in architecture. But it was also a job where I drew on a lot of the experience I have gained throughout my life,” he said.

But economic circumstances took a swift downturn following Salgado’s election in 2007. Portugal entered a financial crisis from 2010 to 2014, and the country was bailed out by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

“The economic and social consequence of the measures imposed to rescue the country’s finances were violently felt,” he said. “A large proportion of Lisbon residents were experiencing great difficulties, at risk of losing their jobs, and their homes. Therefore, from 2011 onwards, the priority shifted to housing and the economy.”

During Salgado’s time in office, Lisbon launched an initiative to rehabilitate local schools, housing, gardens, and public spaces. The public spaces “improved social cohesion, and at the same time, made the city more attractive,” Salgado said.

The initiative also aimed to provide economic opportunities for businesses recovering from the crisis.

Salgado emphasized the importance of a civic approach to city-making.

“The city-maker’s aspiration is to achieve harmony between the inhabitants and the physical and social-cultural environment in which they live,” he said. “Heritage and the history of cities are the foundations for planning the future.”

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