Located in Cascais, Portugal, the new museum Casa das Histórias dedicated to the works of Portuguese artist Paula Rego was inaugurated in September of this year. Paula Rego, who lives in London, agreed with the public authorities to donate some of her works and loan others long-term to the museum whose ambitious programme includes promotional and experimental activities.
The project was entrusted to Eduardo Souto de Moura in a joint decision by developers and artist. The architectural programme is a subtle interpretation of the view that a museum should be a place of gradual discovery, that the dialogue between the works on display and the spaces that contain them should create a pathway, gently leading the visitor through the sequence of periods and artistic themes.
The two pyramid stumps are visible from Avenida da República in the old town centre. Higher than the rest of the building, they stand amidst the trees of the grounds as if announcing the rest of the complex behind.
The programme is a harmonious blend of architectural declaration and discretion, providing 750 sq m of exhibition space, workshops, offices and a 200-seat auditorium. The horizontally developed volumes have a lower level housing plant, services and storage areas. This frees the ground floor for exhibition and administrative space. Offshoot volumes provide additional, double-height exhibition volumes.
The secondary, albeit important, functions of bookstore and cafeteria are housed in the two large, luminous, highly visible pyramid trunks. The areas are lit from a skylight, the natural daylight amplified by light coloured walls. As the day passes, the changing light segments volumes and spaces differently.
The fair-face concrete external walls are a uniform weathered red that will further mellow with time. Everything about the museum - the contrast between the striking trunks and their discreet extensions, the uniform colour on varied-texture fair-face concrete - all point to the underlying concept of variable and changing levels of perception. The same theme is echoed inside by highly diversified exhibition spaces that create different atmospheres.
From the entrance - a glazed compass shape with sloping walls located next to the bookstore - corridors lead off to the exhibition circuits. Circulation routes are marked out by overhead artificial lighting and a long granite bench. The vibrant artistic world of Paula Rego stands out against the neutral tones of the interiors. Gypsum board walls and ceilings, top lighting and local “azulino de Cascais” stone flooring all make for luminous yet intimate surrounds.
A full height main exhibition area forms a hub around which are arranged a series of rooms of different size and height, intimate, almost domestic, settings for the artist’s engravings. An inner court with trees echoes the clumps of trees standing in the outer grounds. As well as offering pleasant views from the cafeteria, this tree-shaded area is also used for auxiliary activities.