The initially London-based co-working space Village Underground launched in Lisbon in 2014. We talked to co-founder Mariana Duarte Silva about the new creative boom in Portugal’s capital.
Like a Tetris screen come to life, a dozen old shipping containers and scrapped double-decker buses, all painted in bright colors, are stacked crosswise. Above them, like a majestic roof beam, stretches Lisbon’s famous Golden Gate bridge twin, the Ponte 25 de Abril. Welcome to Village Underground Lisboa, a surrealist installation squeezed between the revived Tejo docks and the historic working-class district of Alcântara. As in most metropolises, this culture clash serves as a breeding ground for the brightest ideas. When returning from London, where she worked at the HQ of co-working-space-meets-culture-company Village Underground, Mariana Duarte Silva instantly knew what her hometown needed – and just where to build it.
Mariana, what is the idea behind Village Underground?
Mariana Duarte Silva: Village Underground is two things: a co-working space for creative industries and also a venue for parties, events, and arts performances.
How did you come up with the concept?
Mariana Duarte Silva: I used to be a co-worker at Village Underground in London and that is where I fell in love with the project. And then I decided that I wanted to have something like it in my own city.
And how did you manage to achieve your goal?
Mariana Duarte Silva: In 2011, the municipality of Lisbon, i. e. the mayor and his team, decided to turn Lisbon into a global creative city. They established a department for innovation and entrepreneurship and founded an incubator for new businesses, Startup Lisboa. Then, they issued licenses to people to occupy different spots and really helped them set up their own businesses.
And you were one of these people?
Mariana Duarte Silva: It’s actually quite funny – they discovered my project through a magazine article where I was talking about the Village and wanting do something like it in Lisbon, but that I was still looking for a suitable space. So, the city contacted me, offering to help, and I really wanted to be helped! In the end, I opted for another space since the one they proposed wasn’t quite perfect, but it was really the city that kicked it all off.
Tell us a little bit more about Village Underground. What makes it so special compared to other co-working spaces?
Mariana Duarte Silva: I think it’s the element of parties. Co-workers always want to have a party after work. But it’s also the structure: The containers, for example, are all inter-connected. So it’s easy for people to meet. Furthermore, the entire complex was designed and painted by well known street artists from Lisbon, like AKACORLEONE.
What kind of people come here to work and party?
Mariana Duarte Silva: It’s a good mix of residents: theater and cinema people, designers, architects, and writers, but also lawyers, a sound studio, and advertising agencies. Not to forget the many tourists that find us … they want to come in, have a coffee in our cafeteria – and come to our parties! There are about 40 of us. Some are residents that have been here since the beginning, while others only stay for a week or two.
What do you personally like the most about Lisbon?
Mariana Duarte Silva: Village Underground (laughs)! To be honest, I like everything about Lisbon. I like the fact that I am only 15 minutes away from wonderful beaches. I like the fact that my kids can go to the park after school. Lisbon has a great light, a great vibe, and great food. It is becoming even more interesting now with all the foreigners coming to live here and sharing their experiences with us.
Would you attribute this to the city’s 2011 decision to become a creative hub?
Mariana Duarte Silva: When I left for London, one of the reasons was that I lacked motivation. In Lisbon, I had a 9-to-5 job, but not enough fun or anything. And when I moved to London, it felt like “wow, this is what I want.” Now, in 2015, I can smell a little bit of London here in Lisbon – and also a little bit of Berlin. And I think that this is just the beginning – it is very exciting to be here right now.
Mariana Duarte Silva is an entrepreneur and co-founder of Village Underground Lisboa.
All images incl. header image: broken bloke Production / art: AKACORLEONE