"The perfect city block: from the types of tree and best places to sit, to the scale of an apartment block and the width of the pavement – what is it that makes the perfect city block? And, who lives there? (...)
Now, this isn't the countryside, we like a little bit of noise and bustle. But the places and pavements of our ideal block are places to linger and spend some time on as well. To chat with neighbors or to relax with the newspaper and a cup of coffee. The perfect city block needs the perfect place to sit down. Lisbon's public spaces have been transformed over the past few years, as a revival in the traditional kiosk has given the customers and passers by handy or idyllic spots for a quick stop or a custard tart on the way to the office. Syma Tariq talks to architecht João Regal, responsible for reviving some of the formerly abandoned structures about why these historic locations make such perfect places to sit.
The kiosks we deal with are lovely structures, urban equipments that at the time were literally falling apart, most of them were around 100 years old and they hadn't been used well and some of them were shut for the last few years or decades. Catarina had pretty much the project in mind, the idea of want she wanted to do and then we developed the whole idea.
Architect João Regal is talking to me about one of his prized projects, reviving four beautiful nineteenth century kiosks that are now mini landmarks in Lisbon's urban environment. Regal, whose practice centres around refurbishing historical sites was invited by entrepreneur Catarina Portas to bring these 4 by 6 metres snack stops, which are big enough to serve coffee, a few selected fortified wines and the odd pastry back to the public.
The first kiosk was installed in the late 18th century and it was an old fashinoable thing imported from France, Paris. They were very elegant, I could almost say sophisticated urban equipment, and people would come to the kiosks to have drinks or buy things. But then gradually, throughout the 20th century, the 1920s, 30s and 40s, the kiosks were not so elegant anymore. Because they are quite small and they were not so clean and well kept, kiosks became a second choice, not a first class thing. I remember when I was a kid, in the 1980s the existing kiosks were all very shabby and dirty and only old people would go there to drink maybe very strong alcoholic drinks and there was nothing proper to eat. Most of the kiosks that survived were not located in the centre of the city, but by the river, in the port authority area, where there were no other shops or caffees, so the kiosks were basically serving people working in the harbour, mostly men and mostly heavy drinkers.
Since João and Catarina opened their kiosks, and with the fifth one being revived opening in the coming spring, a change is coming in the capital's squares, newer kiosks and businesses have been ridding the bandwagon. Some bigger and more modern, with equiped kitchens and bathrooms. Others with live music and DJ sets at the weekend. Clusters of tables around an endearing structure have now become a normal sight and with national products, wine in particualr, lovingly served at affordable prices, the trend has added positively and democratically to the city, as João tells me at one of the original kiosks in Chiado.
Half of what we see right now in the kiosk is was actually new, reconstructed from the original drawings, things that we browsed... We kept most of the original things, the cast iron decorations and the most important features. It's quite small in terms of area but it's quite tall, with an elegant look, and there's this large canvas that makes it look like a big umbrella. It's very nice when it's raining in winter days and people stand underneath the kiosks as if it was a common umbrella. And because the Camões' square is one of the liveliest areas in Lisbon, this is a very lively kiosk, specially with the good weather of course and most of the time, not only at night, during the day, with young people and old people, it's a very popular kiosk.
There is something that I quite like, that it's quite a simple concept, having the tables and chairs that are movable.
Yes, it's not necessarily how we planned it but because we had no shading umbrellas, people tend to move the chairs and tables, also because they're not so heavy, in the summer, to follow the shades of the trees. There are few trees in this square, so it's a very organic layout when it's hot. And when it's not, like today, when it's raining a little bit, people just move wherever they can, the tables and chairs, to avoid the rain, so it's quite organic, as I said.
As markers of some of the city's junctions and meeting points, Lisbon's kiosks are the ideal spot to take a breather and absorb the atmosphere in Portugal's capital. With a glass of Moscatel in hand, of course. For Monocle in Lisbon, I'm Syma Tariq."
The Urbanist, Monocle Radio.