Built and rebuilt – Macao Archives reveals the city’s architectural history

8 September 2017

An exhibition at the Macao Archives offers a rare look at the city’s development from the end of the 19th century to present day, and the work of its architects and engineers.

Macao Illustrated – Exhibition of City Plans and Architectural Drawings from the Macao Archives Collection presents a selection of documents illustrating the growth and evolution of Macao, celebrating more than a century of its architectural accomplishments. The exhibition opened on 9th June and runs until 3rd December.

The exhibition is the brainchild of Lui Chak Keong, an architect who specialises in cultural heritage work. He began the project in mid-2016, working with Macao Archives staff to identify and organise the various city plans and architectural drawings.

“It was a pleasure because this is my interest. It allowed me to learn more about the history of the city,” he says. “All the documents are part of the archives. But they were organised under different departments, with only a brief title of the contents.” Lui spent six months at the computer, in the archives or at home, combing through digital copies of the documents to select those that best illustrate the exhibition’s theme.

They include a wide variety of subjects, from drawings of factories and markets to private homes and public buildings, like the façade and library of Leal Senado.

During the 19th century and much of the 20th century, some of the architects working in Macao were Portuguese. The various documents from their works were likewise in Portuguese. This posed no problem for Lui, a Macao native and graduate of the Faculty of Architecture, Universidade Técnica de Lisboa. While in Lisbon, he worked for the famous Portuguese architect, Manuel Vicente, who also had an office in Macao.

Lui also worked for Architecture-Studio, a top design and architecture company in Paris. He completed a specialist study on cultural heritage, on the conservation and reuse of ancient buildings, at the Centre des Hautes Études des Chaillot in Paris, where he obtained the professional qualification of Architecte du Patrimoine in 2005. His command of French served him well in developing the exhibition as the language was also used in some documents in the archives.

Expansion and Modernisation

The story of the exhibition begins in the latter half of the 19th century. The governors wanted to expand the city beyond the city walls, following the example of João Maria Ferreira do Amaral, who arrived in April 1846 with orders to strengthen Portuguese authority over the city and enlarge its territory.

The governors acquired land from farmers in several villages to the north. The documents in the exhibition contain a registry of the names of the owners, the amount of land they owned, and how much they received in compensation.

“The documents tell us how it was done,” Lui explains. “The idea was to modernise and develop the city, with better systems of hygiene, traffic, and other concepts of urbanism. Hong Kong was developing as an important competitor, so Macao had to improve its port.”

The villages became the São Lázaro district, with wide roads laid out in a rectangular fashion and large plots for homes, offices, churches, and public buildings. One document, dated 1902-04, shows the layout of the district.

The push for modernisation extended to the city’s markets, which had been until that time a collection of tightly-packed stalls selling a wide variety of goods. One design, by Tancredo Cabo Casal Ribeiro in 1884, shows the plan for the construction of the Sei Mang Market.

Another design, created by J.M. Carruso in 1904, shows a new municipal market set out in a rectangular shape, with a central atrium and stalls inside and out. Both plans aim to create spaces that are more hygienic, with better flow of air and water, and to give more space to both vendors and consumers.

A third, from 1928, shows the master plan for a market near Rua da Praia do Manduco that combines concrete and steel with a traditional Chinese roof. “This was the work of a local architect who had studied in Europe or the United States,” says Lui. “It is a mixture of western and Chinese techniques, like the mausoleum of Dr. Sun Yat-sen in Nanjing.” Sun died in 1925.

“The Octagonal Pavilion Library of Macao, located opposite the Catholic Centre and close to the Military Club, is another example of this mixture,” he adds.

There is the design for the expansion and renovation of the Cheng Peng Theatre, a venue for traditional Chinese opera, drawn up in 1949 by engineer Aurelio Gutteres Jorge. It shows the replacement of the roof by a metal structure and the addition of a filming room, allowing the space to be used as a cinema as well as for opera. “The front and back have façades in the Art Deco style while the design maintains the Chinese design at the entrance.”

Cheng Peng opened in 1875, the first dedicated theatre in Hong Kong, Macao, and Guangdong. It continued to operate until its closure in 1992, a victim of declining interest in Cantonese opera and a shift away from viewing movies at the cinema.

Recovering from Disaster

In 1874, a great typhoon hit Macao, devastating the city and leaving thousands dead. Several documents in the exhibition detail the work of reconstruction after the typhoon. One shows two proposed plans to repair damage to the Guia Lighthouse, built in 1865. Despite the government selecting one of the plans, the lighthouse did not reopen until June 1910.

The Leal Senado also sustained significant damage in the storm. “The typhoon destroyed a lot of the heritage site. The document shows the plan for a new façade, replacing the original Baroque façade with one in the Neoclassical style. That is the same façade you see today. They had to rebuild the interior, as well. There are documents explaining the project in detail, with a budget, and the reasoning behind it,” says Lui.

There are plans from 1881 for a new Palace of Law and Finance on the Rua da Praia Grande; the building now serves as an office for the chief executive. Another set of plans show a military barracks built in 1910, with Roman arched-windows and doors.

There are drawings of industrial buildings, as well. One shows a glass works designed by Danby & Leigh, a civil engineering firm based in Hong Kong, that includes a metal truss and two large chimneys. Another, a silk factory, owned by wealthy industrialist Chou Iao. It stood near the Portuguese consulate, which was a hospital at the time.

European Influence

The designs for a number of private homes also appear in the exhibition. One notable example is the house of António Maria da Silva on Avenida de Sidónio Pais. Dating from 1929, the three-storey structure was designed by, and for, one of the most important people in the city. Da Silva served as the Macao government’s chief technical officer for Chinese affairs, the Portuguese consul general in Shanghai, and a member of the Portuguese Parliament. He was also an engineer by training, designing a Portuguese-style garden house for his residence in Macao.

The construction plan for Edíficio Rainha D. Leonor on the Avenida D. Joao IV employs a very different architectural style. The design shows the influence of Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier and his modernist concrete Unite d’Habitation in Marseille. Built in 1959, the 12-storey Edíficio Rainha D. Leonor was the tallest building in Macao at the time.

International Ambitions

Much like today, the Macao of a century ago was seeking its place in the world. “It wanted to be a tourism destination in Asia,” Lui explains. “This required land reclamation and the expansion of the port, as well as better transport between Macao and cities in Guangdong province.”

One map shows a planned railway between Macao and Guangzhou. In November 1904, the Portuguese authorities in Macao signed an agreement with the Qing government to build the railway. The project was derailed when the dynasty fell. A hundred years passed before Guangzhou was connected by rail with Zhuhai, Macao’s neighbour.

“We are still asking the same questions today on the role of Macao,” says Lui. “Now it is ‘a World Centre of Tourism and Leisure’ in the Pearl River Delta Greater Bay area.”   (Macao Magazine, by Mark O’Neill, photo by António Sanmarful)