Lisbon-based architect Aires Mateus has completed a series of buildings at a crater lake in the westernmost part of Europe.
The Lagoa das Furnas is on the Portuguese island of São Miguel, part of the Azores archipelago that sits on the mid-Atlantic ridge. The islands’ rugged volcanic landscape is an area of outstanding natural beauty and tourist numbers are increasing. As part of a scheme to improve access to São Miguel’s lake, Aires Mateus has built a conference room and a small residence, as well as a number of pathways, bridges, benches and promenades.
“The Azores were created in a very dramatic way,” says Jorge Silva of Aires Mateus. “You can find landscapes here that are quite uncommon in the rest of Portugal.” Set against the drama of the surroundings, the buildings are calm and poised. Silva explains: “The shape of the buildings has to do with the iconographic image that you have of a traditional or a vernacular house – the intention is that the design would be as neutral as possible.” Rather than mimicking the surroundings, the design attempts to recede into them.
The buildings are in a recognisably Portuguese style, combining powerfully simple forms with strong unified materials, and showing the clear influence of Álvaro Siza. However, the setting allows for some interesting departures. Aires Mateus is keen to use local materials where possible, and in this case it chose the islands’ volcanic basalt as the primary material, giving the buildings a rich grey colour. The main interiors are clad in a timber that wraps around the walls, ceilings and floors, complementing the crisply detailed stone outside.
Where sometimes Aires Mateus can be very bold, such as at its call centre in Santo Tirso near Porto (2009) or its hotel in Dublin (2008), with this project it seems to be trying to give the buildings a sense of the ancient geology of the Azores landscape. “It’s not a declaration of geometry”, says Silva. “It’s got much more to do with the subconscious way of dealing with pre-existing architecture.”