Along this part of the Alentejo Coast various abandoned houses exist scattered across the landscape. Traces of whitewash still cling to many of them, covering the thick walls, supported by counterforts disproportionate in relation to the constructions’ modest proportions. They are simple volumes with few openings that establish a totally reciprocal relationship with the landscape, possibly like the people that live inside them. It could be said that in their laconic abandonment, they are as distant as possible from contemporaneity, the latter often associated with technologically sophisticated, diaphanous constructions in glass. The house designed by architects Manuel and Francisco Aires Mateus, being unequivocally contemporary in its qualities and limitations, is the result of an attentive and not at all nostalgic view of this secular form of inhabiting the landscape.
Seen from afar, it rises like a white solid placed on a hill ridge. No openings exist at all. The platonic suggestion –a white solid on a domestic scale- does not prevent guessing that this is a house. In this case and in the recent development of these architects in general, to inhabit signifies a serene search for simplicity, for the maximum reduction of the elements comprising the house. This is in order to construct only the essentials and to relativise as much as possible the fingerprint of the fleeting and seasonal. In this house the “idea” of the method of habitation has materialized, an unusual occurrence in Portuguese architecture due to the radical pretexts that such a passage implies.
One perceives a sense of “excavated space” in the interior: thick walls and the use of few materials. But it is not only that. The two wooden doors (in truth, two heavy panels that slide elegantly), one facing east, the other west, that when open permit a new complexity. The house can be completely opened to the outside and simultaneously serve as an organism of spaces excavated in the “white” mass. It is in this duality, between maximum permeability with the landscape and maximum introspection, that its conceptual and spatial wealth resides.
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