Manolo Gonzales Potier was born in 1922 into a large family; he had ten siblings. His father, an industrial engineer, was a toy manufacturer at the time. Although he was born in the Ribatejo town of Coruche, Potier’s main childhood memories are of Lisbon, where the family lived. At the age of 13, and now living in Bragança, to where the family moved in the mid-1930s when his father began working for the Junta Autónoma das Estradas [Roads Board], he began to study violin with a private teacher.

 After graduating from the Lisbon College of Fine Arts (ESBAL) in 1951, he began work as an independent architect. Parallel to this he devoted himself to technical teaching in Lisbon. He taught at three industrial designs schools: Afonso Domingues, Machado de Castro and Marquês de Pombal.

In the early 1950s he began a partnership with José de Lima Franco, who was 18 years his senior and had also trained at the Lisbon College of Fine Arts. Lima Franco died in 1970. At the time, Lima Franco was part of a team that included the architects Dário Silva Vieira, who died prematurely in 1956, and Ignácio Perez Fernandez, the future chairman of the National Union of Architects, producing continuity architecture in a modernist language for private developers. It was this design culture that Lima Franco and Potier continued when they began a partnership. Of their output from this period, particularly noteworthy is a group of apartment buildings in Lisbon designed for the property market, where the pair managed, in isolated cases, to introduce certain innovations into the current housing programmes. These alterations were reflected in functional and aesthetic terms. The most prominent examples are the designs from 1953 for the buildings for sites on Avenida António Augusto Aguiar and Avenida Sidónio Pais. As Ricardo Costa Agarez writes in O moderno revisitado: habitação multifamiliar em Lisboa nos anos de 1950 [see JA 240], these buildings changed the profile of occupation in this area of the city, leading to the re-design of the block in the following year. 

Challenging the residential function reserved for this particular part of the city, Potier and Franco prepared their buildings for use as residences or offices, “the skeleton of the construction allowing for the removal of any dividing wall and an increase in surface area […] depending on the […] needs”, as one can read in the design brief cited by Agarez. As these were urban continuity blocks, the external distribution gallery was on the inside of the block. In terms of the urban image, the designs followed an abstract composition with undifferentiated horizontally arranged spans and the introduction of cladding materials such as patterned tiles. The apartments were reduced to the minimum, both in terms of surface area and programme, which consisted of living room, kitchenette, bathroom and only one bedroom. In his study, Agarez highlights the fact that they introduced “a new residential type: the temporary home for singles or expandable office/studios in the heart of the city”. But it was their contribution to changing the image of Lisbon that gave these two projects their decisive relevance. Their importance, as Agarez explains, resides in the fact that they renewed the architectural expression of a central zone of the city – the area around the Marquês de Pombal roundabout – that was hitherto characterised by historicist figurations in the Português Suave [Soft Portuguese] style, which were indeed to be continued by the unbuilt designs Lucínio Cruz had proposed for the same two sites.

An identical programme was proposed for the building in Avenida Visconde de Valmor, also in the Avenidas Novas district, two years later. However, the T-shaped plan, which was designed to exploit the plot as much as possible, did not have the same fate as its predecessor. It was not built, owing to changes in the laws, ruling out occupations depths of more than 12 metres, which the proposed design had. Today in its place stands a building by Victor Palla and Joaquim Bento de Almeida that was designed a short time later and complied with the new regulations.

However, in most of the residential buildings built by Potier and Lima Franco in the consolidated urban fabric of Lisbon the residential programmes were more conventional, less risky. In his study, Agarez highlights the buildings in Rua Ferreira Borges and in Rua Francisco Sanches; at the intersection of Rua Azevedo Gneco and Rua Infantaria Dezasseis (all from 1953); and in (1955) Rua Pascoal de Melo. They are all corner buildings, with the horizontal orientation of the different floors being the prominent feature.

Potier himself would add to the preceding list, as being equally important: the residential complex for the Picheleira neighbourhood (1955-58), in Rua João do Nascimento Costa; and the residential building/garage in Rua Martens Ferrão in the São Sebastião da Pedreira neighbourhood, where the engineer Edgar Cardoso lived. In the Alvalade district – where Lima Franco had already designed buildings, working with Dário Vieira – they designed a number of properties, including the residential buildings (1953) in Rua Dr. Gama Barros. An old client of the firm, the property developer Emídio Pinheiro, commissioned from Potier, when the latter was no longer working with Lima Franco, a new four-storeyed building in Avenida Rio de Janeiro, where Pinheiro already owned several properties.

It was for this same part of the city that Potier and Lima Franco, while still a partnership, designed the Cinema Alvalade with the collaboration of Filipe Figueiredo. It was opened in 1953 and has since been demolished. The cinema had a mural by the artist Estrela Faria embellishing the interior staircase, reflecting the importance of the inclusion of the fine arts in architecture, a trend that marked this period of Portuguese culture and was debated at the 3rd Congress of the International Union of Architects in Lisbon that same year. The public facilities the pair designed included, amongst other things, the Chão do Loureiro market, commissioned by Lisbon City Council, with access from Rua da Madalena. It was recently converted into a multi-storey car park. 

One can identify in this shared trajectory, and mainly in the public buildings, certain typified solutions and the use of recurrent architectural staples, such as the marking of volumes with the predominance of horizontal lines, obtained on the 
basis of grids that uniformised the more urban façades. The most representative work from this phase is probably the Conde Barão Garage on Avenida 24 de Julho, which was completed in 1957. It achieves an enviable compositional maturity, defined by the functional hierarchy, which makes it possible to dignify and elevate in urban terms a seemingly unattractive programme. The aim was to “produce a model facility”, as Lima Franco stated in an addendum to the final design in July 1952. It was not, therefore, “a pick-up garage”. In the final design, submitted four months earlier, they highlighted that, while the design was based on a commercial enterprise, “it [was] also true that […] it will contribute a great deal to an important improvement that the city has deserved, and been demanding, for some time”. For the top floor they imagined “a spacious terrace and an area for three dwellings to house the garage manager or chief mechanics”, naturally privileged in terms of location and vistas, but they were not built. The building is currently derelict, its fate uncertain.

With this group of projects, Potier and Lima Franco left a strong urban mark on everyday programmes, moulding modernist expression on a “classic” configuration that was more adapted to the conditions of the historic city. The fate of these three latter examples – the cinema, market and garage – which were progressively demolished and/or converted, is similar to that of other buildings of the day that helped to renew the Lisbon streetscape during the 1950s, but whose architectural anonymity rendered them vulnerable to recent changes. Their disappearance, in some cases, or adulteration, in others, extinguishes the presence of an average quality output that was responsible for the new cityscape that emerged in the post-war Portuguese capital.

In Lisbon Potier also designed the Hotel Fénix, located next to Marquês do Pombal roundabout, a project from 1958 in which Carlos Manuel Ramos was the lead designer. He also designed, alone or in partnerships, for other cities, such as Leiria (a garage for the Claras coach company, repeating the housing solution on the top floor, with Lima Franco); Sacavém (six apartment buildings); and Vila Nova de Ourém (market and housing block, with Lima Franco).

He ended his partnership with Lima Franco in 1958 and the following year he left for Luanda at the invitation of Manuel Calvet de Magalhães, to teach at what was then the Salvador Correia grammar school. He remained at the school until 1964, the year in which he opened his own office in Rua António de Oliveira Cadornega. His trajectory in the 1960s and 70s was marked by the works he built in the Angolan capital. Here he continued the same approach of adapting the modern language to the conventional city in urban continuity buildings with diverse programmes, also continuing to produce anonymous architecture. Given his experience in housing matt-ers, in 1960 Luanda City Council commissioned residential buildings for functionaries next to the Kinaxixe market. Two years later he began work on several mixed housing/commercial complexes in Avenida dos Combatentes, helping to give this thoroughfare an image of modernity it still has today. He designed the two buildings at the top of the avenue – following the low building height of Kinaxixe square, contrasting with the verticality of the famous Cuca building – which sit atop a modern-design arcade that renders the tropical climate more agreeable. He also designed other blocks, with elevations featuring grids and deep balconies, one of which he lived in himself with his family until Angola gained independence. The Gago da Graça building, in which he returned to the theme of the external distribution gallery, was built in 1973. He also designed the Tivoli Cinema in the Bairro Azul neighbourhood in the part of Luanda known as Pequena Samba. In the pre-independence years he designed a number of public facilities in various Angolan cities, including the Escola Modelo school (Luanda), the court buildings (in what was then Carmona, now Uíge) and the Industrial School in Novo Lisboa (now Huambo). In the Kinaxixe district he left unfinished a 22-storey tower, the structure of which was occupied by informal dwellings. While still living in Luanda, Potier became the first violin in the Instituto de Angola Orchestra. After his return to Lisbon, in 1975 he began occasional work with the builder José Maria Duarte Júnior in an office in Saldanha square. However, he retired to become a musician for the RDP Light Orchestra (belonging to the public broadcasting corporation). Music became his mainstay after his return to Portugal. He currently lives in Carcavelos. |


*with Ricardo Lima

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