Step into the world of Porto’s paper architect

Step into the world of Porto’s paper architect

Visionary worlds flow from the pen of Ana Aragão, a Portuguese “paper architect” who prefers creating fictional buildings to real ones.


Ana Aragão opens the shutters of two tall windows in her cosy studio in the heart of Porto. Sunlight pours in, revealing the details of a half-finished project lying casually on the wooden floor. It depicts an exquisitely detailed tower – similar to Brueghel’s Tower of Babel – but the black-and-white shading is achieved with an unusual tool: a Bic pen.

The richly imaginative style is reminiscent of Japanese anime director Hayao Miyazaki, particularly the fictional kingdom of Howl’s Moving Castle. The studio is filled with similar drawings of uncanny structures that float in the air, lean at precarious angles, or threaten to collapse against their neighbours.

Ana Aragão’s drawings defy both logic and gravity.

Defying both logic and gravity, these are not the feats of engineering one would expect to see on the drawing board of an architect.

But, then again, Aragão is an architect only “on paper.” In many ways, she carries on the outrageous legacy of great “paper architects” such as Archigram with their neo-futuristic Walking City: Her buildings are grand and wondrous, but utterly unbuildable.

Aragão drifted into studying architecture somewhat by accident. When she was younger, her passions were drawing and literature. “I didn’t really know what architecture was about” – it was in fact her third choice for college. “I enrolled to study it because I thought I would get to do a lot of drawing during the course,” she confesses.

“Artist and illustrator” is perhaps a more fitting professional title for this dreamer of impossible buildings who has never – at least yet – built a real house.

“Maybe if I grew up in a tidy city my drawings would look very different,” says Aragão.

Aragão recently “discovered” the joys of ballpoint during an artistic residency in Macao, China.

Mind maps

A self-professed “outsider,” Aragão does not see herself as purely an artist or architect. Her work is a curious mix of structural rigour and consciously disorganised conceptual deconstruction. “It’s a tidy mess – a contradiction,” she says.

Aragão is currently working on a series of drawings for a forthcoming exhibition opening in Lisbon in October. She estimates that the monumental drawing on the floor will take a month to finish – and certainly more than one Bic pen.

Although Aragão is also known for using different materials and colours, she recently “discovered” the joys of ballpoint during an artistic residency at the Fundação Oriente in the ex-Portuguese colony of Macao, China.

“It was super funny: It was an important discovery – so I’ve been repeating it,” she says.

“I like the chaos, the excess, and the baroque of big cities,” says Aragão.

During her sojourn in Macao, she increased the scale of her drawings. The transition to larger canvases led to yet another eye-opening discovery: The Bic pen’s ability to produce different shades of grey.

Aragão grew up in Porto and has lived there most of her life, but she is unable to pinpoint how this has shaped the content of her art. But the influence “must be there… it must,” she says.

“Maybe if I grew up in a tidy city, my drawings would look very different.”

Text João Canto and Silja Kudel
Photos Jussi Ratilainen