J.B. Rodeia, A.C. Baeza
Gustavo Gili | 1136-9647 | 2003 | PDF | 144 pages | 29 Mb



The architects Francisco and Manuel Aires Mateus occupy an important and well-deserved place on the current Portuguese architecture scene. The sheer quantity of their public and private commissions, the competitions won over the last few years, the countless prizes received and the publicizing of their buildings at the international level are all signs of the recognition of their work.

This issue of 2G is the first monograph on the work of these Lisbon brothers and opens with a text by the critic João Belo Rodeia, a commentary by Alberto Campo Baeza on the house in Alenquer and an "informal conversation" with their teacher Gonçalo Byrne and Valentino Capelo de Sousa. Among the buildings presented one might single out the magnificent students' residence on the Coimbra University campus, the Universidade Nova de Lisboa rector's office or their splendid experiments in single-family housing, plus the rehabilitation of a ruined house in Alenquer, the Alvalade patio-house, the weekend house on the coast at Alentejo or the conversion of a former wine warehouse into housing in Brejos de Azeitão, all of these in Portugal.


João Belo Rodeia
On Traveling a Distance

Student Residence on Campus II of the Universidade de Coimbra
Universidade Nova de Lisboa Rector's Office
Almedina Bookshop I, Lisbon
Almedina Bookshop III, Porto

Alberto Campo Baeza
A Handful of Air

House in Alenquer
House in Alvalade
House on the Alentejo coast
House in Brejos de Azeitão, Setúbal
House in the Serra de Mira d’Aire, Porto de Mós
House in Sesimbra
House in the Arrábida Natural Park, Setúbal
House in Alcácer do Sal
The Lisbon Metropolitan Orchestra
Sines Cultural Center
The Lisbon Museum of Architecture
The Faro de Santa Marta Museum, Cascais
The Grand Egyptian Museum, Cairo
Park Hyatt Hotel, Dublin


An Informal Conversation Francisco and Manuel Aires Mateus, Gonçalo Byrne and Valentino Capelo de Sousa


A Handful of Air
by Alberto Campo Baeza (excerpt)

"To make a house, you take a handful of air and you hold it in with some walls." It might seem that the Aires Mateus brothers have fulf-illed the words of this Nazarite proverb to the letter, since this, holding the air in with some walls, is what they've done in this very lovely house, erected outside of time and inside the space of beauty.

A sublimated ruin. Empty boxes
In their brief statement the architects claim they've merely shored up and repaired the ancient walls of the old house. I think they've done much more: they've sublimated them. At the start the self-contained twin box was a silent ruin. And they've made it speak. They've granted it significance by manipulating, opening and closing it, and unifying it with a radiant white color. And they've put in a deck-like wood-en floor, so that the individual elements acquire greater presence. And lastly it's been filled with light. So the whole thing has a certain metaphysical air that brings some of Giorgio de Chirico's pictures to mind. With tremendous force.
When a ruin has walls with a materiality so capable of trapping air and light, when in it gravity still constructs the space, the architect-ure openly exhibits itself to us, divested of everything, in its more radical form. The pure nakedness of the structure is wont to have the forceful intensity of the most essential architecture. The walls of many Roman ruins that move us work this way. The empty boxes of this house work this way, too.

The framed sky. The house of water
Maybe the most notable quality of these spaces is their verticality, which has been accentuated as the main attribute of the two boxes, boxes that once supported one or more stories and are now free all the way up. The unwonted proportion, never considered by the primitive builder of those walls, produces a certain fascination. The tall box of the swimming pool, like a jewel case of the water contained therein, produces, be it due to its reflection in the water or because of its transparency, an effect of utmost verticality.
Today proportion is still, and always will be, an effective tool in architecture. Even though someone might think that in the fleeting earthquake by which those that claim to go by the name of avant-garde architectures are shaken up, this attribute, proportion, may seem to have disappeared. A proportion that is the mastery of scale.
I would like to observe here how the empty box of the swimming pool seems higher than the other one, where the disproportion of the interstitial spaces might make you think that there was more vertical-ity in them. On the contrary, seated within the box of water our gaze is drawn upwards towards the framed sky, bringing the Pantheon in Rome to mind. Framing the air of the heavens.

The still camera
If we analyze the house-cum-container of functions accommodated in the second box, we are obliged to recognize that it's like a perfect watch mechanism, so well does it work. But if we analyze the precision with which each element focuses the landscape through the twin filters of window and recess, the simile of the still camera would be more apposite. And if we were to say that the box of water looks at the sky, this box of the house looks at the ground.
The functions are impeccably resolved. Below, the public space—living, cooking, eating—with a vision of the landscape more focused than framed. Above, maximum privacy in the small-sized bedrooms, each with a different view. Like a still camera.

And the light
In the end this whole house is no more than a very brilliant exercise in light. The white light jagged in the cast shadow dances on the surface of the hollowed-out water and is something to behold. The solid light shifts during the day against a background of reflected light that fills these sublime boxes and produces effects of the greatest beauty.

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