Cascais House by ARX 14.05.12

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"This house provokes radical reactions," says José Mateus from Portuguese practice ARX, and no wonder. Surrounded by generic holiday homes – all white walls, terracotta tiles and stingy windows – it appears like an architectural magic trick: a levitating concrete slab cloaked by high walls.

"The owners wanted a critical reflection of what a private house could be," Mateus says – and private is the key word. With the house sandwiched between plots in Aldeia de Juso – a development cluster on the fringe of the Lisbon-to-Cascais conurbation – space, intimacy and light had to be created within a compact plot.

ARX collaborated with architect Stefano Riva, turning the house in on itself to create an Escher-like puzzle of voids, balconies and internal glazing throughout the basement, ground floor and first floor. The result is a house that feels much bigger than its 170sq m footprint, with views up, down and through the space, but rarely out (apart from on the roof terrace).

With its focus on internal courtyards, the house is in part a modern take on Iberia's Moorish past, but it also draws on influences from Brazil's master of concrete, Paulo Mendes da Rocha (who gave José a guided tour of his São Paulo home years ago), and Mexican modernist Luis Barragán. Both used high walls and water (though on grander scales) to achieve the sense of calm and emotional connection that is present here.

"Emotion is what allows people to develop a sense of belonging to a house," Mateus says. "We believe people should feel fascinated with the place they live in." And while the concrete exterior challenges the neo nostalgia of its neighbours, it has been softened with pine imprints, also used on the concrete lining the ceilings. Their texture gives the house a friendliness that is rather more adobe hut and less Tadao Ando.

Timber also creates warmth inside, with ash floors and birch walls, but what stands out more is its sense of lightness. The basement has pivoting partitions instead of walls, which can open up or enclose spaces, and the bathrooms are contained within boxes that look like they've been dropped in, and could just as easily be snatched away. "Because of the tight scale of the interior, we wanted to reduce barriers and suggest continuity," Mateus says, but he also needed to create a blank canvas, as the owners – a film director and businesswoman – plan to sell the house.

It's still on the market, as Portugal struggles under the weight of debt and inflation, but you get the sense that, unlike the hasty designs nearby, it will require little alteration as it changes owners over its lifetime.

 

Image

FG + SG

 

Words

Luke Tebbutt

quotes story

Emotion is what allows people to develop a sense of belonging to a house. We believe people should feel fascinated with the place they live in

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