Originally we had planned to stop by Clara briefly on our way south, but our time with Mariana and Diogo became so valuable to us that we were about to extend it to a group lunch after being welcomed to their home close-by, until we realised we were once again running late. The Clara premises were already impressive from afar, the large red chimney rising high into the clear blue Alentejo sky. Below it, large brick sheds spanned across the length of the lot, reminiscent of another time when factory workers moved for labour to the bleak countryside, supporting their families across Portugal. The wind blowing between the dilapidated but nevertheless strong brick structures caressed our faces, as we carried our cameras and microphones in awe. We couldn’t stop looking to every angle, marvelling at the old furnace, the partially repaired wooden roof structure, the spontaneously installed light bulbs dangling from above. The air of something unfinished, full of history and yet unwritten surrounded our every step. Mariana and Diogo explained Clara’s story to us and spoke openly about the difficulties they were facing along the way. The tents and infrastructure they built in 2019 already suggest a subtle and careful coexistence next to the old structures, which Project Earth wants to maintain and extend. One could feel that knowledge can be passed on easily within these structures and we remain curious to see how this project will develop in the future, hopefully supporting the rural community like it so keenly plans to do.
Mariana and Diogo spoke to us about Project Earth’s ambitions, the necessity to re-think the countryside, collective intelligence and ambition and the beauty paired with the difficulty when making a historic and somewhat desolate space come alive again.
Clara Lab is conceived and run by Project Earth, a non-profit association of cultural and environmental interest, composed of 29 members. Among them are also Mariana and Diogo Dias Coutinho, who moved their family and home close to the Clara grounds in Odemira. Clara is a research and innovation center for rural sustainable development in the southern Alentejo region of Portugal, aimed at sharing, discussing and passing on knowledge regarding various fields linked to re-thinking a rural future.