Amidst horizontal and vertical planes conditioned by the contours of the terrain, memories of Zen gardens and fire signs, the Armanda Passos house has gently risen – the most recent project by Álvaro Siza in Porto.
Designed to be lived in at all hours of the day, when light seeks out shade, and shade opens itself to the light, the house-atelier, commissioned by painter Armanda Passos from the most international name in Portuguese architecture, allows the complicity naturally created by the architect with his work to transpire at each step. This is the second dwelling designed by Siza in Porto. The first was built in the 1960’s on the Avenida dos Combatentes. Between project and construction, via the city council approval process, three years passed (2002-2005). The project included the demolition of the existing house and the construction of three volumes, interlinked and joined in a way that defines two patio-gardens, interspersed by existing trees. There is even a wide garden between the border wall of the avenue’s pavement and the front of the building. Additional trees were planted. It is claimed that they establish a bridge between East and West. In an interview with Arquitectura & Construção, Álvaro Siza discusses the completed project:
The Armanda Passos house was built for a friend…
Now she is, at the time we did not have such a close friendship. Afterwards we did, because the building of a home is a great story.
How did you face the challenge?
She is sensitive person with a great attachment to the house and I created, in a special way, not only comfort but also the whole aspect of association with the garden, intimacy, quality of light, etc. It is very pleasing for an architect to have a client that has these requirements in terms of quality.
What about the project?
The project assigned to me includes a residential part with a multifunctional living room that can be projected/extended from a stage that can be raised to varying elevations. The residence and the multifunctional living room are interconnected by a transitional space: an atrium. After that there is an atelier with Northern exposure.
The roof of the atelier has two gradients like in old factories and warehouses, which give it a special light….
Exactly. The so-called shade? It has a high, northern light.
In the interior, you experimented a lot with different volumes…
The ground area is small and I wanted to take as much advantage of the garden as possible in order to avoid creating an isolated mass. As there were three functionally well-defined parts to the project, two of which were connected and one which could function independently, I used this to organise the patios. There is a patio between the multifunctional living room and the residence to the west; there is another next to the driveway; and there is a space in front of the multifunctional living room, between it and a transitional wall that stands between the street and the front of the house. So there are three quite differentiated spaces.
The house is slightly lower than its neighbours. Was this intentional?
All of the neighbouring houses have two floors. In this one, the part most visible from the street is only one storey, though it is taller than average. It is intentional because it was possible to connect the three volumes and thus create patios on all three sides. The two-storey volume and the taller volume, because of the shades, are in the back. The fact that there is an open space in front and on the two sides allowed for the planting of trees and the creation of a certain intimacy in the exterior areas of the lot. As the neighbouring houses are two-storey, if this one were as well, it would feel narrow. In this way, a sensation of generous, roomy interior space is possible.
At the same time, the house contains elements characteristic of the 1950’s –such as the brises-soleil- as well as presenting an eastern spirit. There’s an understanding here between East and West…
There is no doubt that in traditional Japanese architecture –as beautiful as it is- there is this concern. An articulation exists that organizes well-defined exterior spaces –the patios- and allows for quite significant communication that at the same time is intimate with the interior. The famous Zen gardens of Osaka are articulate constructions that connect and depart from the geometric spaces where they create marvellous garden compositions. In this case, the way in which the garden is laid out is not related to the Zen gardens, but a feeling of intimacy exists. As the house does not contain too much glass, it benefits from the communication between the interior and exterior in the large windows that frame these exterior spaces.
The brises-soleil repel the light and cast a shadow on the ground like an architectural memory. The gutters also mark the limits of the brises-soleil on the ground.
The brises-soleil are there to provide protection from the sun and the heat and also create a transition between the interior and exterior.
At a certain point, the volumes almost touch at certain angles…
Yes. The bodies of the atelier together with the veranda and the residence’s brise-soleil almost touch. They are three well-defined structures, but are intended to form a whole. Hence the proximity of elements of one structure with another to establish transitional spaces and unify the ensemble.
There are details that are almost indicative of elements. One recalls an outline of the veranda that functions like an arrow pointing out a tree or a detail of the wall. Thus, the architecture itself follows a path…
It follows the treatment of the garden. The areas where the trees and bushes are planted are based on providing solar protection. For example, the west-facing multifunctional living room window has a brise-soleil. First of all, because the brise-soleil protects the window from the south when the sun is high in the sky. When the sun is low, it doesn’t help so much. Other systems have to be used, like the brise-soleil. When the sun sets, even the neighbouring house provides significant protection. Where the sun could enter diagonally and create discomfort during the summer, an evergreen tree was planted. Next to the window sash of the large window on the western side of the multifunctional living room, there is a deciduous tree because in the winter the house is more comfortable with direct sunlight. During the warm season the house is shaded.
Is it a four-season home?
Yes, it is. These are elementary things that both spontaneous and erudite architecture have always used in the mutual relationship between nature and man-made construction.
At the top of the stairs, the light that enters through the skylight signals the steps as if showing the way. It is a repeating gesture…
I don’t really like violent light and curtains are necessary, but I also like it when a house can stand completely open, when there are transparencies. Controlling light is not only done through curtains, but also through brises-soleil which break the intensity of the light and the location and orientation of the windows themselves, the end goal being thermal comfort. Metering light intensity was something that old houses did, particularly those in the south, of Arab tradition. Patios with very intense light, porticos that create a transition to the interior, then more broken light and even shady areas –they are necessary for comfort.
Your houses have this tradition…
I don’t recall having designed an entirely glass house. Not only because of comfort and to not have to resort to mechanical means, but because I think a house needs to contain different environments. Some are more relaxing and serene, others are more extroverted. A house is made up of these variations. It is apparently simple because many things take place inside a home.
In the interior of the atelier, the light from the shades almost give one a sense of looking through the windows of a cathedral with a rising light….
The intention was not to create a religious environment, but, as the house belongs to a painter, special care is needed with the light in order to create good conditions for painting as well as maintenance. Not too long ago, Armanda Passos contacted me, because, although the shades face north, in the summer there is an hour when the sun enters. Not only can it be bothersome, it can damage the paintings, and therefore we are going to install outdoor blinds so that during these few days, the rays are blocked.
The atelier’s windows give the illusion that they can be pulled down. Almost opening the entire sky…
That doesn’t happen in this case. The windows run all the way to the floor, but they have panes that open. The larger parts are sliding doors and in certain cases move as one piece. There is no crossbar. It is an entire piece of glass that runs inside the wall.
In general, the window and door planes are well defined. Some open broadly, others narrowly. As if you were playing with the volumes in a harmonic game…
It’s a game that requires great effort [laughs], but there is a dimension of pleasure in this effort because the possibility of working for someone who asks for and demands quality is not frequent –whether it is a public or private work.
Everything has been geared toward the client…
Yes, she was extremely demanding with regards to the quality of the construction –which is very good. It’s not enough for the architect to demand quality in construction. The person paying for the building who demands quality has a different impact. Often, who’s paying is not so interested in quality. This demand for quality is considered to be the whim of an annoying architect.
Do the lateral walls that separate the house from its neighbours have different heights for security?
Yes. The walls were utilised. On one of the sides the wall was raised and the neighbours did not raise any problems. The other side was not even touched.
What materials were used for the house?
It’s traditional from a materials point of view. The walls and outer shell are reinforced concrete. In my experience, it is very difficult to mix materials. Any minor error during installation can lead to the appearance of cracks. All of the houses I’ve done in reinforced concrete are in excellent shape. Even the one I did in the 1960’s is concrete and it has never had any problems with cracks, moisture, etc. The supporting wall is in reinforced concrete that is duplicated outside with a wall in stuccoed brick. Between the two is a ventilation space containing thermal isolation material. This means the wall is 45cm thick, including inner and outer stucco. The advantages are the isolation. On the exterior, besides the stucco, there is a granite groove to guard against ground moisture. Most of the periphery contains a coarse gravel band with a drain underneath, precisely so moisture does not affect the stucco.
And with regard to the wood used?
All the wood is painted, the interior and exterior frames, except for the flooring, which is of restored old Scots pine, and the stairs. In areas with water, marble was installed. The kitchen was especially designed for the house, although today it is in production at the factory that built it. Countertops are in marble. The rest is lacquered wood.
Are the window frames made of wood?
Yes. The outer part has an aluminium panel that holds the glass in place and also protects the paint. It’s Iroko wood, treated so that it can handle the paint.
What are the roofing materials?
Earth and vegetation. It is a flat roof in waterproofed concrete and immediately on top is a 40cm layer of soil for the grass.
And the roof of the atelier?
It’s covered with zinc.
The shades provide a very large movement to the entire roof…
Yes, they increase slightly from front to back so that it gently conforms with the street. The house almost goes unnoticed. The recessed part contains two floors. The atelier has higher ceilings because Armanda builds large canvases and really needs the space and breathing room. All of this takes place in the back, cut off by the trees. So, it’s not an exhibitionistic house. It’s more interiorized.
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Category: 2005 Armanda Passos House