Seven Hills

Topographic maps of the seven classic hills of Lisbon, layered in seven large wooden panels painted in matte and glossy red


Seven is also the number of available plastered frames in the room at Liberdade 229 where they now hang, which works great. The way the panels are placed in the room create an interesting effect: as soon as you step into the room, it’s as if you’d be in the center of Lisbon (Baixa) and as you look at the panels, you’ll see each of them in roughly the same direction where the hill would be relative to you. You could call it “the map room”.

The seven hills of Lisbon are (from left to right as you stand in the room):

A sketch of where the hills are on a map, relative to Baixa/the rooms entrance.
A sketch of where the hills are on a map, relative to Baixa/the rooms entrance.

This project was much harder to pull off than I had anticipated. First off I had to get my hands on the topographic curves of downtown Lisbon, which was much harder than I thought. After many requests I took matters into my own hands and found this very niche tutorial.

The process half-way through, before switching to Windows and then back to Mac
The process half-way through, before switching to Windows and then back to Mac

So first I used Google Earth to create a path as dense as possible to sample as many points as possible, then exported it through 4 different programs (2 on Mac and 2 on Windows) to get a vectorial shape in Illustrator.

The resulting topographic map from which the panels were crafted
The resulting topographic map from which the panels were crafted

As you might notice, some curves are missing and some are slightly altered / softened in the final panels, not only for a better aesthetic effect, but also to make sure that all hills, though having different heights, ended up having exactly 9 levels “above ground”, not only to keep my sanity, but also to have a more harmonic final set of panels.

Now it was time to go buy wood. Lots of wood. To be more exact, 300kg worth of wood, between plywood (for the base) and MDF (for the 9 levels above ground). Given the weird dimensions of each level and the lack of time to lay them out perfectly to maximise the usage of wood, a lot of it went unused, with the final panels weighing 25kg each.

Refining the curves
Refining the curves

To cut the layers, I individually drew the lines on each panel, projecting the illustrator curve over it. That’s 63 panels individually marked and cut.

The cutting wasn’t too bad, MDF is cut like butter, and the curves aren’t super exact anyway so rough cuts slightly out of the markings were not an issue, and even welcome since they added to the smoothness. Sanding everything was relatively straightforward, including machine sanding the sides to get all the levels perfectly lined up.

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Glueing was actually one of the most tedious processes. I didn’t have my stapler gun then, which could have made it easier, but either way I wanted to make sure this was all properly glued into place, so each panel was individually glued and left to dry under heavy pressure for half an hour, which quickly adds up to a lot of time and stone lifting.

The painfully slow gluing process
The painfully slow gluing process

Once that was done the steel plates to fixate the panels on the wall were screwed into place. The sections where the hooks would go in were carved into the back, to make sure the panels come as close to the wall as possible. One of the panels saw the screws go through the other side, which was a bit of an annoying accident after all the work. Quickly fixed by sawing the screws shorter. If you look close enough on this panel you can still spot a very subtle imperfection.

Now comes painting. Started of with the primer using spray paint, which worked very well and was quickly done and dried.

After that came red. I started off by using a paintbrush and hand painted two of the panels and it quickly became clear that the strokes were way too visible even after drying. Three coats later and you could still see some of them, which completely destroyed the effect of the layers, since the strokes distracted from their subtlety. Initially I decided to do it by hand because I thought it would be easier to do the two distinct colourings (matte and glossy).

Spray painting with no ventilation necessary

After a few days of grumbling about wether or not repaint those two panels, I’m happy I decided to do so. An improvised open air paint shop was set up to spray paint all the panels in red matte. The two that had been painted before by hand just needed a soft sanding and were ready to get their fourth and fifth coat.

The difference was enormous. A perfectly smooth finish allowed the different levels to really stand out and for the first time I could see the light and shadow plays in full effect.

Once dried all the panels were carefully covered in paper, with only the ground level cut away and taped to the edges. The final glossy paint was also spray painted, allowing for a very smooth finish over the somewhat rougher ground level wood texture.

Covering the area that would remain matte before spraying the glossy red
Covering the area that would remain matte before spraying the glossy red
This one took me half an hour to put up

All being dried, the panels’ edges were protected with foam and loaded on to the car. At this point with each weighing 25kg and no room to mess up the paint, I improvised a strap I could attach to the hinges at the back and around my shoulder, making them much easier and safer to transport.

Putting them up on the high walls with all that weight was no simple task either, but an improvised half-way support using an Ikea module did the trick.

 

Light plays a strong role in how these panels are perceived, so after some days it became clear that the standard room lamp was underwhelming. Some affordable Ikea lamps did the trick and a professional electrician came buy to do a good job hiding all the cabling. The final effect with the individual lamps on top of each panel really brings the panels to life.

Sant'Ana in the center as you come into the room
Sant’Ana in the center as you come into the room
Santa Catarina, Chiado and São Roque on the one side
Santa Catarina, Chiado and São Roque on the one side
Graça, São Jorge and São Vicente on the other
Graça, São Jorge and São Vicente on the other
Close-up
Close-up

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