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Lisbon’s New Technology Museum Is a Fine Piece of Sci-Fi Architecture

On a sunny afternoon last month, droves of people lined up in an industrial waterfront area of Lisbon, Portugal. Hundreds of people were lined up at this UFO-like building, which faces the River Tagus. Some climbed up to its rooftop for a view of the city, while others rode their bike to the front glass windows, peering in. All were waiting to be the first to enter the brand new Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology (MAAT), which is the latest piece of sci-fi architecture.

Set in the Belém district of Lisbon, which is a busy tourist hub with nearby museums, including the Presidential Museum, the MAAT could easily be the next set for Star Wars. At least, it could be easily added to the list of the world’s best sci-fi architecture, much like the wildly spiky US Air Force Academy Cadet Chapel in Colorado Springs or the Atomium in Brussels, which is a 335 foot tall molecule.
“It will draw people from the heart of the city to the panoramic views along a riverfront area that has long been neglected, but thanks to MAAT, will become a vibrant new destination within Lisbon,” said António Mexia, chairman of the EDP Foundation, which supports cultural initiatives and funded the new museum.

Inside, it gets weirder. The main, oval-shaped gallery space in the 10,000 square foot space is an installation by French artist Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, which envisions an alien-led lab space. Titled Pynchon Park, this dystopian space is meant to be a station where aliens watch human behaviour. With eerie sounds, beam-me-up type spotlights and grainy videos, you feel like a guinea pig about to get abducted. It’s like walking into a sci-fi novel where Big Brother is watching—dare to touch the fitness balls or walk under the giant sports mesh and you might get caught by some unknown power.
Adding to its weird, sci-fi vibe, in March, an exhibition called “Utopia/Dystopia” will open with works by 20 artists, including the DIS Collective from New York City, who are stock photography enthusiasts, and German artist Hito Steyerl, who is known for creating a documentary on making oneself invisible in the age of social media.

The opening of MAAT coincides with the fourth Lisbon Architecture Triennial which runs until December 11. Built by London-based architecture firm AL_A, the $20m building is a commission of the EDP Foundation, which is working to revitalize the formerly industrial area. Construction doesn’t stop here. They’re building several other additions for the museum’s grand opening in March 2017.

It’s part of the urban revitalization in the district of Belém, a 40,000 square foot site which is growing as a cultural district. “It will be a hub for attracting people who come here to enjoy art and architecture,” said Mexica.

The building is covered in 15,000 glazed, white tiles that are meant to reflect the water, according to Amanda Levete, principal of AL_A. “The waterfront is so essential to the project that the design literally reflects it,” said Levete. “Our design draws on the context of the site, creating both physical and conceptual connections to the waterfront and back to the heart of the city.”

In keeping with the low Lisbon skyline, the wave-shaped MAAT is not an attention-grabbing eyesore. It blends into a promenade with a walking path, mobile cafes, and two bike lanes. In the spring, a park will be designed by Vladimir Djurovic landscape architects alongside a new bridge designed by AL_A that links the waterfront with the sprawling roof. Until then, the highlight remains the rooftop, which Levete said “creates welcome shade used to bounce sunlight off the water and into the main gallery.”

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