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Revisiting Teatro Capitólio

On March 18, 2014, Citizens for Capitólio visited Teatro Capitólio (1925–1931) to see the progress in the final stages of the building’s repair and renovation, ahead of its much anticipated reopening.

Citizens for Capitólio—a Lisbon-based watchdog group—had campaigned against the demolition of the city’s iconic modernist theatre and cinema, completed in 1931, which was included on the World Monuments Watch in 2006.

Guiding the visit were the current project’s chief architect, Souza Oliveira, Lisbon City Council engineer Pedro de Amorim, and project foreman Amadeu Carvalho, with assistance from other team members.

Despite setbacks in its progress during the past four years, not least due to the country’s financial difficulties, the project has amply demonstrated the co-operation and commitment of all the parties who have played a role in reversing the building’s fate—and securing its future.

In the past four years, Teatro Capitólio has undergone a transformative refurbishment and is now equipped to host a new generation of audiences with updated stage, sound, and screen technology. While keen to stress that the process was not a restoration, architect Souza Oliveira nonetheless has recovered the building’s original form by removing built additions from recent decades. Where possible, interior and exterior features and details have been retained and meticulously repaired, including some flooring, staircase elements, and the building’s striking illuminated signage.

Interior spaces have been partly reconfigured to accommodate new functions and equipment for a new age of entertainment but the modernist spirit of Teatro Capitólio remains intact and mostly undiminished. When it reopens later in 2014, audiences will no doubt experience the same exhilaration as did generations before upon entering its voluminous main auditorium with its original dimensions and the generous expanse of its floor-to-ceiling windows unchanged, and stepping onto the building’s rooftop to watch a film under the stars.

The visit not only gave Citizens for Capitólio the opportunity to see how their efforts to save the building from demolition had paid off, it was also reaffirmation of the significant role the World Monuments Watch played in returning one of Lisbon’s most important twentieth-century buildings to its people.