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Diogo Seixas Lopes

We have lost Diogo Seixas Lopes. He was a Lisbonner. Born in 1972, he grew up loving that city, experiencing the intensity of its growth, discovering the richness of its world and the people that inhabit it. He was the son of two people that contributed a great deal to the shaping of Portuguese culture over recent years, the journalist Maria João Seixas and the filmmaker Fernando Lopes. He often told me about his childhood memories on different film sets in the most remote areas of Portugal, vivid memories of a country that in the 1980s entered into a rapid change. He became part of that change as a teenager, embracing the vibe of Lisbon’s nightlife, enjoying the most sophisticated music and avant-garde art. I guess his circle of friends was large enough to assimilate the cultivation of his parents’ generation—a unique form of sensing the world, bridging the French Nouvelle Vague with Pina Bausch and Jim Jarmusch—with the irreverence of youth, and in so doing he found and took the best from life.

He became an architect, a well cultivated architect but one who worked hard. He did not hesitate to spend the summer in New York working as an intern for the most avant-garde architects. But he also enjoyed taking the small train to the seaside at Caparica, and there playing in the waves and feeling the fresh water of the ocean, eating simple grilled fish and discussing the tactics of Benfica, his most beloved football club.

Diogo began his professional career by writing. At the turn of the century he found himself working as a naïve young journalist in a long gone newspaper, Já, but soon brought his knowledge to the most meaningful Portuguese architectural magazine, Prototypo. Prototypo was per se a way of learning for him, as it was for me as a reader and many others. There we expanded our architectural ideas through its pages in which a wide range of practices were presented, analyzed, and criticized. It was a space without boundaries. It was learning through action. It was a remarkable cultural contribution to the occasionally self-centered Portuguese scene, and it became a collective enterprise as Diogo always loved things to be. This approach reached its zenith at a lively—and unforgettable— conference at Alfândega do Porto. It was a warm summer and architects from throughout the world flew to Porto. No-one that was there will ever forget that architecture can be serious, and that it is designed by people with ideas and that it is capable of powerful transformations. Diogo loved to see people together, talking together.

I only come to know Diogo later, after he had engaged in a life-partnership with Patrícia Barbas. Together, Barbas Lopes, were summoning up refined ideas and designing them for competitions. They designed the new Thalia theatre that rose from the ashes after one hundred years of oblivion. These were the years of economic crises, and building anything was a challenge, even with Gonçalo Byrne’s partnership. Every day the structure grew, little by little, conquering all before it in a way that made Diogo smile and in a way that we can now feel embodied on the concrete. One day the inscription on the building’s pediment was re-erected Hic mores hominus castigantur, here men’s conduct is chastised. There was an unbreakable link between this ironic inscription and the theatre of Portuguese political crises. This poetic and political sense went along with Diogo’s every gesture, every thought and consideration; a political ethos expressed through a poetic pathos.

Diogo loved to talk, to communicate. That’s why we built this year’s Triennale together. It is why we wrote and did so many things together. I came to know him better in our long conversations. Architecture and Portugal were the starting points for his excursions into the world. He was a Lisbonner, sure, and in its every corner there was a sense of belonging but it was a belonging that gave him pathways to unbelievable, beautiful journeys with his thoughts. And he converted every thought into an action. And every thought, as every action, had a collective meaning. He possessed a generous willingness to share and learn from others. That’s why we were always running, with our friends and with other architects, all over the country. It was then that I learned about his childhood memories in Tràs-os-Montes and that I recovered not only in my own memories but also in films. He had a filmic mindset. His thoughts were like frames, and montage was his process of assembling ideas, bringing such a powerful media into every form and every action. His filmic memories of an atavistic country were also our shared memories of childhood promises of a better country. And we were always willing to fight for these promises. Whoever sees Arabian Nights, the movie by his lifelong close friend Miguel Gomes, will understand what I am not able to write. The world is a cruel place, and building such promises seems an impossible task, is an impossible task, but we should not give up, or let anyone else give up. In this, there can be no concessions. I guess that was one of his drives to communicate so well.

His work was growing internationally, as the foundations of his next building designed with Patrícia Barbas are being laid on Lisbon’s avenues. The puzzle seemed to be fitting together. Suddenly, the gloomy night images of Lisbon’s outskirts he wrote in Cimêncio, alongside with Nuno Cera, has a wider reverberation.

The rebirth of Thalia, his architectural masterpiece, come along with his thesis on Melancholy. How to write a book on loss? Aldo Rossi, and San Cataldo cemetery in Modena, were his architectural companions on that journey. But how to speak today about the tragic death of Aldo Rossi, the very day when Diogo died? Diogo’s book on Melancholy, a powerful and pungent train of thoughts, was a rightly acclaimed construction. It was a demonstration that we can forget about architecture, but we cannot forget about ourselves, we cannot forget our own oblivion. Reality is too cruel and we learn it every day. I also learned from Diogo that we have our friends with whom to share the harshness of life, with whom we can fight to preserve our enjoyment of the beautiful waves of the Atlantic, the joys of life, without ever losing sight of what we are, from where we came, and where we want to go. Always.

André Tavares
February 18, 2016

Diogo Seixas Lopes, Toronto, 2011, Facing Mies van der Rohe