ESPOSENDE (PT) - Arquitectos Anónimos have redefined the notion of traditional style in this atypical Portuguese house.
There's a preconceived image of Portuguese architecture: white walls, wooden floors and stone everywhere. It is so widespread that it has become synonymous with 'domestic architecture' all over the country, yet the paradox is that this supposedly 'typical' architecture is not really typical at all. Most of the characteristics can be found elsewhere, too. White walls are not exclusive to Portugal but are common to many countries with a Mediterranean climate. What is so typically Portuguese about something that is also found in Spain, Italy, Greece and Turkey?
Portugal is a small country with limited resources, but it does have some distinctive products, of which cork is the best known. Portugal produces 50% of the world's cork, which makes it a 'typical' product par excellence. Added to which, it is a very environmentally friendly industry given that it involves a sustainably managed, renewable resource. Cork Oak or Quercus Sober forests are found all over Portugal, giving the landscape a unique character. Although it is often used in construction, it is rare to find an architect who understands its full potential and dignifies it by relocating it from the interior to the exterior of the building and making it the project's defining feature.
Arquitectos Anónimos are one of the few practices to display a critical approach in recent Portuguese architecture. Based in Oporto, a city with a tradition of good but rigid architectural style, the studio rejects the idea of authorship so dear to other architects of their generation and of similar academic and professional backgrounds. They have no qualms about importing new global trends and adapting them to Portuguese reality, while also leaving the necessary scope for users to appropriate and modify the original architecture.
A recent example of their approach is the Cork House in Esposende. The brief called for a small holiday house for a family of ten and this, together with a tight budget, required a measure of good will on the part of everyone involved. The architects rose to the challenge.
The distribution of the programme is rational and efficient. The main entrance is on the ground floor, hidden behind the roller door of the garage. The main living area (with a secondary entrance on the opposite side from the garage) is on the middle level, sharing space with the kitchen to become an informal stage for family activities. The necessary complement of bedrooms – six in total – is evenly distributed between this level and the top floor.
The very basic interiors are the result of negotiation between the different family members – parents, daughters and their respective husbands – and represent the minimum necessary for a well-functioning house. There is a simplified system of lightweight partitions made from cement particle board with recycled wood, standard aluminium door and window frames, and black-painted exposed concrete in both ceilings and floors giving personality to the white interior walls and creating the comfortable conditions required in a refuge space such as this.
The surprise is on the outside, where the use of a modest material like pressed cork panels for the housing envelope gives character to the building, while setting up a clear dialogue with the natural surroundings. The windows are fully covered with perforated metal sheeting, which acts as both security grille and sun blind, giving the house a 'fortified' look and making it difficult to see whether or not it is occupied. Landscape design is non-existent, or to be more exact, it consists of accepting the surrounding 'nature' of cultivated fields as the house's landscaping.
This project ticks several boxes: it shows environmental awareness in its choice of materials, it is consciously and triumphantly low budget and it is socially responsive in its creation of a family gathering place. Without a doubt, it is one of the best housing projects built in Portugal in recent years, and most important of all, it redefines the concept of what can be typical in Portuguese domestic architecture.
September | 2009 | Portugal | Carlos Sant'Ana