Design thinking for food culture

Portugal's Capital of the North, Porto, Provides a Vibrant Visual Feast


Portugal is all about the feast. Family and friends coming together noisily and enthusiastically over fresh seafood, roast chicken and handed-down recipes, tomato rice, rustic breads, cheese in piri-piri, all served with wine - lots of wine.

Then the desserts - there is actually no end to the cakes, desserts and puddings devised from what seems like a hundred ways with egg and cinnamon - soft, easy to inhale, and dangerously moreish. 

But what gets us at our very core, is not the food (and don’t get us wrong - we love the food), but the distinctive setting of this colourful and chaotic scene.

Take Porto. A compact jewel of a city in the north of Portugal, its teetering buildings tumble down the hillsides, edged by the crashing Atlantic, and the energy is infectious. As you wander the city, it’s the visual feast you can’t escape - a rich aged aesthetic made up of a mismatch of colour and pattern SO VIBRANT that it kills us every time.

Diverse patterns whisper and shout from the bold azulejos and intricate verandas that adorn most of the proud old buildings - worn blues reminiscent of Willow pattern; minimal mid-century shapes; ornate multi-hued filigrees in painstakingly hand-painted detail. Bold daubs of white, red, green, purple, pink and turquoise line the city’s hills, leading down to the buzzing emerald river which is, more often than not, framed by a bright blue sky.

Offset by a contemporary visual language for transport and urban communication, and a relentless emergence of cool contemporary design stores and world-class architecture such as the Vodaphone Headquarters and the Casa da Musica, Porto is a gentile example of Portugal’s kaleidoscope of old, new, classic, fussy, faded, simple, stylish.

How can you fail to be inspired?