A definition of Matosinhos’ DNA departing from Brito Capelo Street

Uma definição do DNA de Matosinhos partindo da Rua Brito Capelo

Carvalho, R.

ESAD - Escola Superior de Artes e Design de Matosinhos

Retirado de: http://convergencias.esart.ipcb.pt

RESUMO: A investigação que se segue centra - se na Rua Brito Capelo, localizada na cidade de Matosinhos, noroeste de Portugal. Matosinhos é uma importante cidade portuária, com um amplo litoral e uma ligação ancestral ao oceano, à pesca e à indústria de conservas de peixe. A Rua Brito Capelo é a sua principal artéria: tendo sofrido uma perda significativa de carácter urbano e de identidade no final do século XX, na última década esta rua foi objecto de um processo de reabilitação desenvolvido dentro da estratégia da Prefeitura para uma nova ênfase no design e arquitectura (Matosinhos é a cidade natal de Álvaro Siza Vieira). Adotando uma metodologia inovadora, valorizamos o ensaio visual, não limitando as possibilidades de pesquisa em design de comunicação à ilustração ou representação visual da análise quantitativa operada. Assim, propomos uma articulação mais efetiva entre observação, inquérito e entrevista semi-estruturada, mantendo a Brito Capelo Street como o centro de nossa pesquisa, utilizando métodos mais próximos aos da antropologia contemporânea, combinados com ferramentas usadas em design relacional e design gráfico (projeto fotográfico E infografia). O projeto apresentado foi desenvolvido no contexto de uma tese de mestrado, avaliada com a nota máxima. Nesta comunicação apresentamos os resultados obtidos.

PALAVRAS-CHAVE: Design de Comunicação, Espaço Público Urbano, Rua Brito Capelo, Design Territorial, Desenho de Identidade.

ABSTRACT: The following research focuses on Brito Capelo Street, located in the town of Matosinhos, northwest of Portugal. Matosinhos is an important harbour town, with a wide coastline and an ancestral connection to the ocean, to fishing and to the fish preserves industry. Brito Capelo Street is its main artery: having suffered a significant loss concerning urban character and identity during the late 20th century, in the last decade this street has been subject to a rehabilitation process developed within the City Hall’s strategy for new emphasis regarding design and architecture (Matosinhos is the hometown of Álvaro Siza Vieira).
Embracing an innovative methodology, we value the visual essay, not limiting the possibilities of research in communication design to the illustration or visual representation of the operated quantitative analysis. We thus propose a more effective articulation between observation, inquiry and semi-structured interview, keeping Brito Capelo Street as the centre of our research, using methods closer to those of contemporary anthropology, combined with tools used in relational design and graphic design (photographic project and infography).
The presented project was developed within the context of a Master’s degree thesis, evaluated with the maximum grade. In this communication we present the obtained results.

KEYWORDS: Communication Design, Urban Public Space, Brito Capelo Street, Territory Design, Identity Design.


“The city leaves its mark on us and we leave our marks on the cities. We should like the cities better so that they would like us (even) better” (Graça Dias, 2006, p.22)

Just like the architect Manuel Graça Dias, we believe that we should like the cities better so that they like us (even) better. This document is a result of a research project developed within the context of a Master degree. Combining a well-considered choice of subject and approach model, we believe this document to be suitable for a communication design project, while unveiling an inclination — to which a deeply subjective dimension is inherent — towards cities in general and, in particular, towards Matosinhos and its most emblematic street: Brito Capelo.

Studying the city, whichever the study’s disciplinary perspective is, constitutes a compelling and demanding task. The fast-paced transformation processes that characterize the contemporary cities produce deep and critical changes within the public space. Diverse spatial profiles, new cultural and demographic realities, and different means of social communication and interaction, all contribute to cause changes regarding the orientation and mobility systems, relation habits, behaviour and participation in the city.


Fig. 1 – Brito Capelo Street


Several interests come together in the public space, emerging from the civil society and local community, private initiative and public powers, administrations and cultural institutions. Culture, leisure, urban development and new forms of commerce and interchange transform cities into communication and relation platforms. Space becomes the inter-relation between places and fluxes.

Before this context, that of the contemporary city, we raise a central question regarding our research: is a places’ identity progressively dependent on the way in which that place communicates and in which the space is equipped with means aimed at informing and orienting passers-by?

From a general approach, the question of the city’s identity evolves into a more particular and contextualized approach: what is the current identity of Brito Capelo Street? Is it possible to identify and represent the street’s DNA? Does the identity of Brito Capelo Street translate the contemporary identity of Matosinhos?

To these questions we’ve added yet another, which aims to test the designer’s communication ability while mediator — or maybe even visual ethnographer — with the fundamental objective of understanding and enhancing the identity, culture and tradition of a space that reflects the possible heterogeneity within a globalized society.

The visual essay resulting from the research developed within the Master’s degree synthesizes a long and arduous process during which methodologies of both social sciences and design were articulated. The research process was divided into three major phases:

In a first phase, an exhaustive photographic registry and survey took place in the street, developed under the metaphor of a technic the treat the fish, open in half. In a second phase, questions and inquiries were conducted amongst Brito Capelo’s residents, passers-by and merchants. We intended to find out: Why is Brito Capelo Street deserted? What would make people come back to this street? What do residents think about this? What about passers-by? What about the merchants that make a living from this very street? Which actions could possibly restore life to this street? The projectual character brought up their worries, conducting us to the formulation of some questions aimed at the city’s inhabitants, looking to better discern the issues involved and to achieve a greater understanding of this street.

The result presents itself under the guise of a Visual Essay, developed with the objective of identifying, mapping and interpreting the answers to the surveys conducted in Brito Capelo Street, in an attempt to contribute to the characterization and understanding of a possible DNA of Matosinhos, based on that street.


2. Why do we like cities?

In the “Cities Manual”, Manuel Graça Dias poses a series of questions that cities frequently bring up on us, and which we could take as research questions:

“Why do we like cities? What do we like about them? Why do cities attract us? What do we, on the other hand, dislike about them? What do we dislike in the way in which we continue to grow and evolve? What can we do to keep liking cities, to keep enjoying living within cities?” (Graça Dias, 2006, p. 11)

According to Graça Dias, the delimited territory we identify as the city encompasses several successive spaces but allows us to watch other people’s works, benefit from those works, contribute with our own, find answers to numerous questions and differences and, in the end, to identify it as a collective territory. Nevertheless, Solà-Morales (2008) argues that a city’s explanation is as complex as it is rich in meanings, taking into account the singularities that constitute its identity, whether due to its morphological, social or cultural character, or to its paradigm and deeper structure. Contemporary to Solà-Morales, Fernando Chueca Goitia (2010) claims that cities are a subject too wide and diffuse to study, impossible to understand from a single point of view, taking into account the amount of fields it would need to encompass:

“One may study a city under an infinity of different angles. The historic angle: “universal history is the history of cities”, said Spengler; the geographic angle: “nature prepares the place and man organizes it in order to satisfy his need and desires”, claims Vidal de la Blanche; the economic angle: “there’s no civilization where the life of cities is independent from commerce and industry”; the political angle: the city, according to Aristotle, is a certain amount of citizens; the sociological angle: “the city is the shape and symbol of an integrated social relation” (Mumford); the arts and architecture angle: “the greatness of architecture is connected to that of the city and the soundness of institutions can usually be evaluated by that of the walls which protect them” (Alberti) (Chueca Goitia, 2010, p.9).

The first great difficulty we stumble upon is the very definition of city. According to Massimo Carriari (2009), the term city may assume different meanings: pólis — Greek term that identifies residence, the place where people have their roots, traditions and habits; and civitas — the Latin term understood as a group of people that get together to give life to a city and that submit to its laws. Within the Greek civilization, the city is fundamentally the gathering of people and we can therefore understand the idea of pólis as an organic whole that precedes the idea of citizen. On the other hand, since the very origin of Rome — and according to Rome’s foundation myth of Romulus and Remus — the city is the confluence, the convergence of very diverse people concerning for example religion and ethnicity, that only agree amongst themselves by virtue of the law.

According to the Roman mythology, Romulus and Remus were two twin brothers, sons of Mars, god of war, and the mortal Rhea Silvia. Both brothers were abandoned at birth, next to the Tiber River, and were saved by a female wolf that fed and protected them. Finally, a shepherd took them in and named them Romulus and Remus. When they became adults, Romulus and Remus returned to Alba Longa, where they restored the throne to its legitimate successor, their grandfather Numitor, and were granted permission to found the city of Rome. This permission generated a huge dispute between the two brothers that would result in the death of Remus. After killing his brother, Romulus founded the city of Rome over seven hills and he was its first king. One of his wishes was to populate the city eclectically, with different kinds of people who ranged from shepherds to bandits, slaves and fugitives, and he created the Capitol, which would become a refuge for debtors, assassins and adventurers. The Roman city model is the one that comes closer to the city as we currently know it.

Ortega y Gasset considers that the city par excellence is the classical and Mediterranean city, where the fundamental element is the square:

“The city — he claims — is, above all, the following: square, agora, place to talk, to debate, eloquence, politics. The classical city didn’t actually need houses but only enough façades as to delimit a square, an artificial scene that the political animal withdraws from the rural space” (Ortega y Gasset, 2004, according to Chueca Goitia, 2010, p.11).

Although one may achieve a polyssemic analysis, the task of boiling so many different approaches down to a single definition becomes very difficult. It doesn’t surprise us then that several authors seem to contradict themselves: what actually happens is that in each of them there is a dominant perspective: Graça Dias as collective territory; Solà-Morales as richness of singularities that constitute a city’s identity; Chueca Goitia as impossibility of electing a single point of view; Carriari as the origin of his definition Polis and Civitas; and Ortega y Gasset as classical and Mediterranean city where the square is the primordial element. According to Spengler, “what distinguishes the city from the village is not the extension, nor the size, but the presence of a soul of the city…” (Spengler, 2007, according to Goitia Chueca, 2010, p.17). The true miracle therefore happens when the soul of the city is born. We identify the city as a macro scale of territory and, by opposition, its micro scale constituted by the street, its buildings and the architecture that punctuates it. The way in which we take ownership of these spaces makes them permanently reinventable, constantly impregnating them with new perspectives. We uncover ways and secrets base on the knowledge, on the stories that the city has to tell us about its inhabitants and their idiosyncrasies, which blend in the urban landscape. To feel the city is to redraw it according to the opposition that each of us occupies (Antunes, 201, p.138). In this sense, it is vital to recognize the importance of Brito Capelo Street as one of Matosinhos’ most important arteries. This coincides with Ortega y Gasset and Spengler’s idea that people are what make cities different from other spaces, the ways in which they experience the territory, in which they take ownership besides daily life, their civic participation, their active look, the way they listen, feel, create, intervene, vent, debate: these are the mottos for that invisible lever that may bring the city closer to such a desired future.


3. The city’s DNA

Human geography from the late 20th Century gave progressive attention to the analysis of the city space’s syntax. In his essay The Common Language of Space, Bill Hillier summarized the essential arguments proposed until that time:

“The idea proposed here is that the city’s ‘generative logic’ essentially concerns space: more precisely it concerns the way in which an either patched or structured collection of buildings creates a continuous spatial pattern that connects these buildings within a system and, while doing it, constitutes, by itself, the essential structure of the city (Soja, 2005, p.308).

Identified by an analysis of its syntax, the “essential structure of the city” allowed for a measurable, quantifiable, and objectify analysis. Although it was interesting enough as to legitimate a scientific perspective of the city, not only did it limit the “common spatial language” to a set of tangible elements, but it also tended to not identify the divergent elements, the dissonant languages in which the city space is also rich.

In the present research we wish to consider the syntax of the city but to reach beyond it. Beyond a physical conception of space, we wish to observe how space is inhabited, gone through, experienced: we wish to represent the city as a living organism.

The city as a living organism exists without apparent easiness and without artificial happiness: a generous dose of work may be equated to the reality experienced daily. This realization allows for specific questions in the field of communication design: How can the communication designer, with his tools, register a city’s elements concerning its identity? Which of the communication design’s tools can be useful to the representation and analysis of a place’s DNA?

The employment of the biological metaphor of the DNA to the study of a city isn’t new. The study developed by Anne Mikoleit and Moritz Pürckhauer (2010) gathered in the book Urban Code: 100 Lessons for Understanding the City explores this metaphor, developing a methodology that proved to be very important to the research process. In this book the authors assume that cities speak, and that it was always necessary to understand their language. The appropriation of public space by passers-by is seminal in their study. The point of view of the town planner is joined by the point of view of the attentive observer and storyteller, who tries to learn and identify relational patterns between people and the urban environment. The relations that emerge allow for the development of a discourse, sometimes a narrative discourse, where the discovery of what is behind or beyond the syntax of the scenes that constitute the city is a departure point but also an arrival point.

In an essay published in the mid-20th century, Robert E. Park (1967), one of the pioneers of Urban Sociology, defended the importance of taking the city as the very analysis laboratory of society. Nevertheless, as noticed by Edward Soja, the arguments of urban sociology ended up “articulating around a physical conception of space as something exterior to society, a naturalized environment, a mere container or scenario” (Soja, 2005, p. 301-309). The intention of achieving a scientific look over the city progressively conducted to a distanced perspective and to a loss of understanding regarding elements that could only be recognized through involvement and experience. In the turn of the century this acknowledgement resulted, in the city truly becoming a “laboratory” that one goes through, that one interacts with and with which the researcher gets involved. The Stalker collective’s work regarding these issues is very interesting: their projects begin with a workshop in which the initial experience of a city is obtained by walking and by registering this discovery process. The registry of this process is precisely what constitutes the first narrative regarding the city (Stalker / Osservatorio Nomade, 1995).

In this project we intend to build what could be called a synesthesic visual narrative. Although this narrative is presented in two dimensions and fundamentally explores visualization tools, the information over which one works ranges from the spatial syntax to the aspects identified in a pragmatic relation with the place: passers-by, movements, sounds, emotions, colours, smells, flavours, vents and conversations. The core of the present research is very concrete and diverse from the majority of projects developed either in the field of urban sociology or in the field of communication design that has its starting point in the city or is directed towards the city. We wish to produce a document that is able to propose a visual representation of Brito Capelo Street and that is therefore deeply contextualized and specific, while simultaneously flexible enough in order to adapt to the characterization of other urban spaces. This approach reveals itself in the guise of a case study, chosen for its identity and set of differentiating characteristics, and for its representative character and further possibilities of extrapolation to other Portuguese cities. We believe that this space is representative of what happens in numerous other Portuguese towns, not only regarding the territories replete with incongruences, naked, without any clothes or make-up, but also regarding the spaces filled with memories, where it is crucial to understand the territory via its inhabitants.

The construction of a synesthesic visual narrative of a passing through space that is profoundly connected to commerce — in direct opposition to statistic data — was the departure point for the research project that was developed along the concept of Doing Sensory Ethnography (Pink, 2009), a method that in the past years has valued the processes of registry, in a progressively more detailed and multi-sensorial fashion, aimed at learning, understanding and representing the life of others as central and fundamental piece regarding the application of human sciences to a practical and ambitious approach that wishes to find new forms of critical though in Communication Design. Communication Design was thus combined with other fields such as Urban Sociology, Semiotics and Infography, with a focus on subjects connected to the desertification of one of Matosinhos’ main commercial arteries ­— Brito Capelo Street.


4. Memory as an epigraph

The genesis of the Master’s degree research resides in the project of the Matosinhos’ Coastline, requested to the Communication and Projects Department of ESAD in 2007 by Matosinhos City Hall, where several questions regarding the city’s positioning were raised, such as: Where are we? What do we want? How are we going to achieve it? How are we going to do it? “Transforming a city into a space that can offer quality of life to all citizens and organizations is an achievable goal for all cities, including the most depressed ones. The problem is not the money: the solution resides rather in the civic and political will, and in a vision of a shared future” (Puig, 2013, free translation).

The “city” brand is a concept created by Toni Puig, specialist in cultural management and governmental communication. Puig was one of the main propellers of the reinvention of the city of Barcelona. In communicats B comunica, Puig (2003) claims that the brand is the city, that it’s necessary to think about it, build it and use it and, in that sense, we enumerate various objectives on which we decided to put our efforts. The accomplishment of these objectives asked for a projectual development in several phases. The first phase of the project demanded a thorough research, registry and analysis process of diverse maters — involving from toponymic to ergonomic issues — which was fundamental in order to allow for an exhaustive knowledge of each beach and its integration within a unified plan of the desired coastline. The specifics of each place translated into particular challenges regarding the project, and the attempt to achieve a global coherence of the project was one of its determining aspects. The whole project would be unconceivable without a close communication with citizens, without understanding their needs, their problems, their anxieties and their desires. Departing from the will to create a desired city, with a healthy and qualified lifestyle, where people would want to live, the designer was elevated to the role of mediator regarding the projectual process, and design was taken as a way of feeling and building, giving voice to the people and allowing the emergence of reinvigorated dialogues and renewed possibilities of experience between the Coastline’s dazzling space and its prospect users. Besides a creative lab, this project also constituted a laboratory of projectual methodologies, where fieldwork was fundamental.

“Finding the way is not an innate gift reserved to a few. It is rather a precondition for life itself. Our approach to all kind of environments is part of our existence. To live with our own ways of navigating is a basic premise for our liberty and self-confidence. To know where I am, to know my location is a previous condition to know where I have to go to, regardless of the destiny.” (Aicher, 1994, frome Uebelle, 2007, p.7 free translation).

Based on “Signage Systems & Information Graphics - A Professional Sourcebook”, by Andreas Uebelle (2007) and in the light of Otl Aicher, for each one of the beaches we developed: (1) an identity study; (2) an analysis of reality and implementations, as well as denomination (and in some cases denominations); (3) a survey on the means of institutional communication and promotion operated by that time for each case, followed by the implementation; (4) an operative organisation chart regarding the registry and analysis of all the communication materials, including empirical investigations about the acceptance of brandings.

The identity of places is progressively dependant on the way in which they communicate with us, on the way in which the space is equipped with means aimed at informing and orienting users, allowing for that place to be truly inhabitable. The construction of the visual identity proved to be as necessary as demanding. The obvious need for this construction — it was the informative organization of space that allowed for its ideal usage — was joined by the seductive difficulty of creating an identity language and a communication system for a space that is territorially as vast and diversified. Part of the solution was to explore elements that take into account the way in which the beach and the ocean are usually perceived. The need to integrate an abstract and universal language resulted in the creation of an information system based on the international signalling flags code, which granted a chromatic matrix transversal to the whole project.

The project needs demanded for the assemblage of a multidisciplinary team, involving diverse agents — graphic designer, illustrators, industrial designers, architects, environmental engineers, amongst others — who equipped the renewed space of the Coastline with new communicative dimensions, allowing for new forms of dialogue and numerous interaction possibilities.

The experience of working on the Coastline project was of high importance to understand the methodological process that could be applied to other contexts and other deprived areas of the city, such as Brito Capelo Street, one of the most emblematic streets of Matosinhos.


5. Final Remarks

The present work intended, from the beginning, to translate our commitment regarding the expansion of knowledge on the theme it proposes to explore. The study of the city and, in particular of the town of Matosinhos and its most emblematic street: Brito Capelo. In this project we can find awareness regarding the need to rethink the public space, to develop within the projectual context, to create new processes and methodologies, to approach the contemporary condition of the diverse spatial contours. Recognizing that many important and valuable studies were conducted about the street, taking into account numerous parameters and numbers, we nevertheless believe that this project perspectives the Street in a more empirical and emotional fashion.

In a first moment we’ve focused on cities as our main theme and the urgency of knowing more about their dynamics, in which we detected a living organism — The City — which goes much beyond its physical representation of the space: it’s an inhabited space, a walked and experienced space. In a second moment, the memory of Matosinhos and its evolution, the importance of Brito Capelo Street, its growth, designation and transformation processes. After working on the two previous issues we understood that the production of a questionnaire despite empirical, would help us to better listen to the city core. It actually proved to be of huge importance and we were very positively surprised by everyone’s will to help us out, to participate and to tell their own stories, each of them replete with meaning and sharing. Countless times were we overwhelmed by this feeling of sharing, almost as if we were part of the family.

The will to bring life back to Brito Capelo Street is immeasurable. We believe that this can be done through Design: that Design will be able to boost the Street and that this study will be able to boost Design. With this study we intend to go further, and we believe that the analysis of the Street may boost design in Matosinhos and, in particular, in Brito Capelo Street. We also hope that this project may be a mean of promoting a change of paradigm. This study makes a difference concerning the creation of a mediation between the people who inhabit and give life to the Street, whom we recognize as the charisma of the place, for future projects in this area, such as the urban project “Quadra Marítima” — the area delimited by Álvaro Castel Street. Through a partnership between Matosinhos City Hall and ESAD — College of Arts and Design Matosinhos, we intend to create a functional plan of the urban centre dedicated to design, called “Quadra Design District”. In the near future the challenge will be to apply to Unesco’s Capital of Design. Matosinhos gathers all the conditions to host and to be a “Quadra Design District” and to apply to be recognized by Unesco as a “Design City” (cities that promote the development of the creative industries).

As a conclusion we can even acknowledge that this project (watch the following images) responded to a possible attempt of identifying, mapping and interpreting the answers given to the questionnaire developed in the Street, aimed at contributing to the characterization and comprehension of a possible DNA of Matosinhos based on Brito Capelo Street through Communication Design and taking into deep account the premise of Sensorial Ethnography. Leaving aside the eventual resistance to change, we hope in the next five years to witness an inversion of the desertification curve, and to witness the Street being renewed by the passion that moves it, hosting many more stories yet to be told. After all, Brito Capelo is the “Queen of the Streets of Matosinhos”.


Fig. 2


Fig. 3



This paper was presented at Regional Helix 2016, and published exclusively at Convergences.



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Reference According to APA Style, 5th edition:
Carvalho, R. ; (2017) A definition of Matosinhos’ DNA departing from Brito Capelo Street. Convergências - Revista de Investigação e Ensino das Artes , VOL X (19) Retrieved from journal URL: http://convergencias.ipcb.pt