Sea baths, Lourinhã
LOURINHÃ (PT) - Two years ago Carlos Mourão Pereira became blind. Since then, Universal Design has become a priority in his work.
It sometimes seems as if architects are incapable of designing anything without putting their own creative needs first, an approach that all too often results in aesthetically pleasing but dysfunctional results. Architectural design is supposed to resolve problems but often ends up creating additional ones for people who already have some kind of difficulty – from motor handicaps, visual impairment, psychological problems to something as ordinary as a broken leg, a mother with a young child or an elderly person experiencing the physical deterioration of ageing. We know how difficult it is to bring a baby stroller up the stairs; we know the risks our grandparents face in a seemingly simple walk down the street. Yet when it comes to architectural design, a general lack of empathy with the users of contemporary architecture has often resulted in an uncongenial mix of over-design and no-design.
Luckily, this is not the case with Carlos Mourão Pereira or his Sea Baths at Lourinhã, a coastal village in the Lisbon district. For a start, the location is very special. The seashore is a dynamic area and as such a challenging site for a swimming pool specially adapted for disabled people. Sea and waves, sand and rocks, maritime fauna and flora – all are in constant interaction, creating a tension between sea and land. Sight, Hearing, Taste, Smell and Touch along with Temperature, Balance and Body Awareness come into play here, producing a total sensory experience.
In our highly visual culture we tend to forget the potential of anything not directly related to visual experience. No such mistake is made here. The baths are organized as an H-shaped main container with secondary containers for children and adults in it. Because this is a Universal Design project, everything has been designed for ease of mobility. The whole site, inside and outside, is accessible by ramps and for the visually impaired there are handrails incorporating tactile information about the route. In line with Universal Design standards, the complex is also suitable for use by the handicapped, pregnant women and the elderly.
The richness of the seashore environment is exploited to offer users a range of sensory experiences. Formal complexity is achieved by extensive use of concavities in the secondary containers, which will be colonized by various species of marine flora and fauna to provide a spectrum of textures and shapes for users to touch and feel. The tidal cycle and the gentle movement of the surface keeps the water in motion, creating a passive system of water recycling which, along with the basic materiality of rough recycled concrete, makes this place a low-cost/low-maintenance project. 'Attention to the details' takes on a new meaning here. For Carlos Mourão Pereira and his team, it means consideration for those with special needs.
January | 2008 | Portugal | Carlos Sant'Ana