CARLOS MARREIROS, ARCHITECT, TOWN PLANNER AND CULTURAL MANAGER – “Baby Jesus is central to Christmas, not Santa Claus”

Marco Carvalho

A Catholic temple, flooded with light, preferably in Coloane. Amongst the professional challenges that Carlos Marreiros has not yet managed to fulfill is the conception of a Church. The architect and cultural manager tells O Clarim about the memories he keeps from his childhood Christmases and addresses the contribution of the long-waited new Urban Master Plan to the economic development of Macau.

Christmas is just around the corner and this is a very important time for the Macanese community. What sort of memories do you still keep of your childhood Christmases? Is it still an important celebration for you?

The memories of my childhood Christmas are still very strong, very sweet and deeply characterized by a certain nostalgia. Back then, the preponderant figure was my maternal grandfather, José Maria. He was the family patriarch. He had ten children, three of whom returned to Macau after they finished their studies in Portugal. He also had a daughter, in Porto, who remained there and is still there today. She never returned to Macau. When we got together – the nine uncles and aunts, their respective families and mine –there were enough of us to make two football teams. Of course, we wouldn’t all get together at the same time very often. My uncles would visit my grandfather at different times on Christmas Day. My parents, me, my brother Victor, together with four of my aunts, we would usually spend Christmas Eve at my grandparent’s house and we would return for lunch on Christmas day. Those were always very exciting days. A few days before Christmas I would help my grandfather to build the Nativity scene. I remember that my grandfather used to tell me that baby Jesus was central to Christmas, not Santa Claus. Baby Jesus and the Nativity scene were the things we should keep about Christmas. The Christmas tree would be there as well, but it was little more than a symbol of modernity. That was my grandfather’s perception and when I grew up I understood exactly what he meant. There used to be presents underneath the Christmas tree, but the most important gifts were around and under the Nativity scene. After he disappeared, Christmases no longer had the same strength, the same affection, the same magic that we used to feel when we were children.

It is also a special celebration for Albergue SCM, which opens its doors to the local community and promotes a Christmas Market every year. Is this an important aspect of the Albergue’s modus operandi?

It is, indeed. In addition to being a cultural, artistic and pedagogic space, it is also a space that keeps its doors open to everybody in Macau. Due to the pandemic, the Christmas decorations in our beautiful patio are not as rich as they used to be, but they still attract many local visitors and a few tourists. We always have exhibitions on display and they can be visited “eight days a week,” as the Beatles used to sing. We opened a beautiful exhibition of Chinese calligraphy recently and on December 23rd we will host Yao Jingming’s first exhibition. Yao Jingming, as you surely know, is best known as the poet Yao Feng.

Albergue SCM is also a co-organizer of one of the most audacious artistic events organized in Macau in recent years, ARTFEM. The second edition of the Biennial ended recently. What is your assessment of the initiative?

The results exceeded my best expectations. ARTFEM 2020, with all the risks that we faced because of the Covid-19 pandemic, has been tremendously successful. Almost a hundred artists from all over the world contributed with more than 120 artworks that were exhibited in four different galleries in Macau, in a clear process of decentralization. Our aim was to bring to the local public artistic messages exclusively from female artists from all over the world. ARTFEM is one of those projects that are worth pursuing, despite logistical and budgetary difficulties, as it is currently the only biennial of exclusively female artists in the entire world.

The Government introduced, in early September, the Urban Master Plan for Macau for the coming twenty years. How does this Master Plan, which defines the guidelines for the development of the SAR until 2040, constitute an opportunity, but also a challenge for the local architects?

It’s obviously a challenge. A Master Plan is always a tool of urban management and control, both in terms of construction and demographic expansion, but also in terms of the corresponding economic and social activities and, therefore, it should also be seen as a tool in terms of strategic planning. As such – and I had the opportunity to convey my opinion on this for several times – it must be a generalist, but rigorous tool, followed by the corresponding legislation. Now, the Government needs to implement the detailed plans for the 18 operational planning and management units that were introduced in the public consultation. Architects, urban planners and other relevant agents in the act of “thinking the city” will have to seize this opportunity, advance the proposals and execute their respective plans. No one knows Macau, its socio-economic and cultural identity, as best as they do.

You have designed more than two hundred projects around the world, but if I am not wrong, you have never conceived a Church. Is it the kind of structure that entices you? Would it be a challenge to design a building of this nature?

I designed a Protestant Church together with a colleague and partner from Mainland China. The project was built in Shandong province, in a fairly big city. The project was conceived in 2017 and its construction was completed in March 2019 and it was inaugurated soon after it was finished. However, I would love to design a Christian temple, preferably Catholic:  very modern, with a natural, powerful light to carve and sculpt all spatial richness that this type of construction generally allows. If it could be in Macau, particularly in Coloane, it would be the icing on the cake. There’s not a single architect that wouldn’t like to design a Church. A Church is a very specific reality in terms of vocabulary and discourse. It is a very specific creation in terms of architecture’s spatial discourse: the discernment of spaces, crossed and flooded by a very special light, a light that comes both from the zenith of the Church and from lateral openings. Good details would allow the creation of the kind of mystique that the temples must have when they are well designed. In my opinion, it is the sort of challenge that any architect would like to fulfill. It’s a dream. I myself would love to do something of this kind.

An architect, an illustrator, an artist, cultural manager and much more. In addition to ARTFEM and the direction of Albergue SCM, what other projects do you have in hands at the moment?

Many. However, I would like to be able to dedicate myself more to family, friends and to environmental protection, in addition to keep doing other things that I really like to do, such as heritage protection, architecture or art itself. I would like to wish all the readers of O Clarim a Merry Christmas, full of fraternity, humanity and peace. Peace for all and for the whole world.