Follow the artists. When it comes to identifying up-and-coming areas to invest in property, this is a good rule of thumb. Since the dawn of gentrification, creatives have been stumbling upon the next up-and-coming areas in their quest for affordable rents and gritty subcultures. Then they make them cool, the cafés and delis pile in, and developers are soon hot on their heels.
But what happens when the artists descend on a grand scale? With a world exclusive launch event, a landmark new building and an opening exhibition set to draw crowds in their droves? The answers to these questions will become clearer next month when the new Museum for Art, Architecture and Technology opens on Lisbon’s riverfront.
The modern space, designed by Amanda Levete’s London-based architecture practice AL_A, will anchor a 409,000 sq ft cultural hub – including the existing red brick Tejo Power Station electricity museum – when it opens to the public in early October. And that is just the tip of the iceberg. So much more than a museum launch, this is all part the “perfect storm” currently fuelling a cult-like following for all things Lisbon by delivering an arts scene to match, says MAAT director Pedro Gadanho.
With renowned French artist Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster opening the exhibition, when it comes to following the creatives, it doesn’t get much bigger than this. But does the opening of one new museum have the power to kick-start the cultural development – and, by default, the investment potential – of an entire city?
David Rosen certainly thinks so. The founder of specialist agent Pilcher Hershman says the MAAT could put Lisbon on the cultural map.
“This new landmark could do for Lisbon what Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim building did for Bilbao,” he says. “And by that I mean it will be a significant step for the city’s cultural scene.”
Gadanho says Levete’s striking new development will do two major things for Lisbon: attract a new crowd, and open up the city’s valuable riverfront district.
“MAAT will bring new visitors to the city,” he says. “A worldwide cultural crowd. Added to the rush we are already seeing from overseas investors to buy residential town houses in Lisbon and double-digit tourist growth, and that’s quite a renaissance for Lisbon.
“The city is becoming so popular and, until now, it has had only a peripheral art scene. Finally we have the opportunity to open that up to the world with something international. Lisbon needs that and so everything is really coming together at the perfect time.”
Research by local agent Worx predicts that Lisbon’s riverside district is to become one of the hottest new areas in 2017 with new occupiers expressing interest in the area.
“Lisbon has historically faced away from the river,” says MAAT’s communications manager Filipa Sanchez on a tour of the site earlier this summer. “This new building faces out over it.”
Gadanho adds that the river has traditionally been hard to access as the port authority owns so much of the adjacent land and there is a train line running along the entire length.
“This has all created a bit of a gap between the centre of the city and the riverfront area,” he says. “Slowly, that space is being returned to the city and a building as high-profile as MAAT should help to accelerate that process.”
Drawing them in
As for the power of an international cultural centre to attract yet more investment into Lisbon, Rosen explains that a thriving arts scene will help. “This will absolutely help to fuel investment. It is all part of this bigger picture of Lisbon being the new, hot place to be. A reputation, in part, off the back of this iconic Amanda Levete building,” says Rosen.
And if the old adage holds true, and everyone – including the money – follows the artists, then the arrival of some of the world’s best-known, most critically acclaimed creatives and exhibitors on the banks of Lisbon’s rundown riverbank can only be a good thing.