Mise-en-Scène do Mercado

This is a visual journal of photographs from a practice-based PhD undertaken in the School of Architecture at the Royal College of Art by Dan Brackenbury. 

The enquiry was situated within the context of three urban markets in Portugal, each experiencing different aspects of renewal: Mercado de Arroios in Lisbon, Mercado do Bolhão in Porto and Mercado dos Lavradores in Funchal. The purpose of the project was to survey and catalogue the uniqueness of these places before they altered forever. Extensive photographic explorations of the sites, involving numerous investigative photo-walks, took place over a period of three years.

Gordon Cullen’s Townscape (1961) was initially used as a map of signifiers to guide this evaluative process and to help locate details which contributed towards the ‘character’ of these locations. Cullen proposes a set of visual precedents that contribute to the meaning of an urban landscape and arranged these features under the headings of Place, Content and Functional Tradition. The photo-essay presented here is intended to expand-upon and compliment Cullen’s ‘casebook’ of urban details.

The title of this project is Mise-en-Scène do Mercado. Mise-en-scène is a French term that first originated in the world of theatre and translates to English as ‘putting on stage’. The term denotes the objects and features that might be collectively arranged within a production to create the scenery. In the twentieth century the term was adopted by cinema theorists, such as the writers of the French New Wave film journal Cahiers du Cinéma, to refer to the staging of a shot. These theorists were interested in the physical elements, such as architecture, props and lighting, that are contained within a film frame and the often-unconscious messages that they might convey.

The photographic material in Mise-en-Scène do Mercado attempts to capture occurrences of natural or incidental staging within each of the markets and which resulted in a sense of organic drama in the landscape. The photographs thus explore accidental incidents of theatrically and performance that emerged within the sites and which were subtly integral to their underlying character.
Curtain raise

A threshold beckoning us forth, like a velvet curtain that is slightly
open. A muffled hubbub can be heard drifting out, summoning the
pedestrian to peer inside and explore the commotion unfolding within.


A chance moment of naturally occurring tension. Such events
materialise frequently in cities but often happen just out of sight,
concealed and unacknowledged.


A vivid setting that adds a context, narrative and humanity to a scene,
often appreciated best when the players have stepped aside.


A sense of fear or apprehension that something bad might happen.
This is a heightened awareness of what is around us and the danger
that those elements may pose.


The quiet, discerning deftness of an expert connoisseur who can gladly
explain the specific qualities of goods on offer as well as their intrinsic
values and significance.

Imminent reveal

The moment where an important object is about to appear, entering
the narrative and altering the course of events moving forward.


An elegant movement and grace that can be observed when a skilled
craftsperson is carefully absorbed in their task at hand.


The concise arrangement of one or two objects within a space that
epigrammatically indicate a commotion has recently occurred.


The moment when a lead character steps into a quiet nearby nook,
where they can candidly express their views of the current situation in
hushed tones.


A scene within a scene or a set within a set. An arrangement of
prudently organised items that result in a contained locale which exists
independently of its wider surroundings.


A calm through-way that is pleasantly confined and hemmed in,
tempering the cadence of human movement and slowing things down,
fleetingly at least.


An eye-catching surrounding that diverts you off-course into an
unforeseen recess where a new set of orientations, routes and bearings
are set out before you.


A momentary intermission that will pass very soon. When the
encroaching bustle and buzz return, they will change the dynamic of
this sleepy mood beyond recognition.


An environment which, in its current form, is so blocked-out and sealed
shut that nothing noteworthy can transpire nearby. A complete full-


Markets are often a hive of interactions and exchanges, many of them
jovial and informal. These happy interactions are what enliven such
urban spaces, providing the bartering and beckoning of a community
in conversation.


This is the candid emptiness that occurs when people are absent from
a setting that should be occupied. The action is clearly happening
elsewhere and this austere scene provokes us to go and look for it.


A set of movements and actions that are almost musical in the way that
they are performed. We, the audience, can observe without feeling
inhibited and reflect upon the precision of the expertise on display.


A sight that hints at a broader narrative, which might perhaps become
more intelligible upon further investigation.


Sometimes a busy environment can open up in such a way that space
collapses and we may find ourselves catching the eye of a distant
stranger directly in our line of sight. It is as if the architecture itself has
made the introduction.


The act of clearing out the scenery. Usually empty retail units are
boarded up or covered with material to keep the light out.
Occasionally there is a gap in this coverage, inviting us to peep in and
take a quick glance at the vacant space, perhaps imagining how it once
was, or how it might one day be inhabited.


A type of chance peacefulness, creating a sense of expectation and
helping to set the scene for what is about to happen.


The serendipitous arrangement of various framing elements that
create a tunnel-like view from one environment into a tonally
contrasting place. The perspective through these windows reveals the
main character from an overheard anecdote told just out of earshot.


A strange illusory alcove in a recess beyond. A hypothetical and
anomalous place, somewhat detached from time.


The act of looking down from above, surveying the action unfolding
below in a commanding manner where the broad view, along with
our agency and imagination, provide the opportunity to call the shots
on what takes place before us.


A thing that is clearly significant to someone because it contains or
refers to a story from the past.

The coax of a corner not yet turned.