EST. 2009

December 11, 2015

That Centre for the Unknown

WHERE IT SITS, AT THE INTERSECTION OF THE TAGUS RIVER AND ATLANTIC OCEAN, is where fifteenth-century navigators like Vasco da Gama set off on expeditions. The center itself, a biomedical research facility, is dedicated to discoveries in oncology, neuroscience and vision. It also gathers thinkers, humanists and Nobel Laureates in discussing such topics as planetary colonization, live-organ 3D printing and intelligent machines.

The Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown is steeped in symbolism. Architect Charles Correa describes the project as "a perfect metaphor for the discoveries of contemporary science today." The wide open monochrome suggests an uncharted space, like a limbo to get lost in. Windows feature prominently in the construction, as if prompting one to peer in. To one side, oblique ovals reveal cluttered clinics. To the other, a square-framed view of serene waters. If such themes of vastness and investigation weren't intentional, consider me inspired to have observed them on my own.

Housing the Fundação Champalimaud, which awards the world's highest monetary prizes in the field of vision, the center is a vision in itself. Aesthetically pleasing as it is, Correa points out that "it is not a museum of modern art. On the contrary, it uses the highest levels of contemporary science and medicine to help people grappling with real problems; cancer, brain damage, going blind."

With 50% of the area accessible to the public, foundation president Leonor Beleza stresses the center's aim of being "a bridge between science and the public." It's no historical icon or tourist attraction like the neighboring Bélem Tower, but it says a few things about contemporary Lisbon; how it continues to journey to the unknown, how it works to extend frontiers, that there is more to the city than its golden past. Or its golden egg tarts at that.

The center may not be a museum of modern art, as Correa so humorously asserted. It does however fulfill its design of "Architecture as sculpture. Architecture as beauty. Beauty as therapy." So let me sit here for a while, surrounded by symbolism, discovery, science and geometry, long after the boyfriend has walked on ahead. Sailboats and seabirds are so gloriously idling about. Wish I brought egg tarts.

Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown, Lisbon. by Charles Correa Associates. Photos by Lady San Pedro and Jaime Sese.