Old people's home by Aires Mateus Arquitectos 11.08.11


The tiny village of Alcácer do Sal, 80km south of Lisbon, has a new arrival. Designed by Aires Mateus Arquitectos, it is an apartment building for the elderly people of the area. Snaking down the side of a hill, it consists of a dramatically articulated "chessboard" of solids and voids.

"Most of the old people living in the buildings used to be farmers, maybe someone was a fisherman," says architect Francisco Aires Mateus. "People living there are not ill, just with no home or not able to stay alone." The building has a programme which he describes as "somewhere between a hotel and a hospital". There are shared facilities on the ground floor, while on the upper floors the spine opens out to create more shared living spaces behind the apartments. It was partly the reduced mobility of the building's users that generated the main gesture, that of a snaking circulation spine to which each apartment is connected.

The remarkable facade is the direct result of programmatic design decisions. Once the apartments are articulated off the spine, the residual spaces are left as voids. "The gaps are designed to let the light get to the corridor, to give a sequence of exterior views, and to provide private terraces for the rooms," explains Aires Mateus. This makes perfect functional sense, but the result is obviously a labour of love: it is forcefully expressed, with solids meeting voids at seemingly weightless junctions, and with glass balustrades allowing the formal concept to be read in all its powerful simplicity.

The building is recognisably Aires Mateus Arquitectos – a similar formal language can be seen on its housing in the historic Portuguese town of Moura, its recent Park Hyatt hotel in Dublin, and its call centre in Santo Tirso near Porto. But it's not as simple as just repeating gestures – for example, the call centre project was the result of subtracting voids from a single volume rather than aggregating many small units. Furthermore, the Alcácer do Sal project's initial arrangement is born from circulation and topography, rather than any urban context. "Only in the Moura project can you properly talk about a facade," says Aires Mateus. "In the other cases there is no facade itself, but an addition or subtraction of masses and voids." Whichever way the process is organised, it makes for some confident, primitive architecture.



Fernando Guerra/Fg+SG



Douglas Murphy

quotes story

Most of the old people living in the buildings used to be farmers, maybe someone was a fisherman

Leave a comment

Click to show