Set among cork and ancient holm oaks, three burnt lime volumes inspired by arabian kasbahs
Describing the Portuguese region of Alentejo, José Saramago wrote that “the most abundant thing in this land is the landscape.” And the landscape here is rugged, with sparsely vegetated limestone hills lashed by howling ocean winds. This is the location in which architecture firm Promontório has created Casa da Volta, an accommodation facility set among hills dotted with cork and holm oaks.
This remotely located building echoes the tradition of the Portuguese alcáçova – or qasbah, according to its Arabic etymology – a citadel or defensive complex with buildings protected by a walled perimeter, an image that recalls Heidegger’s idea of delimited space, of the human need to define places for living within an endless landscape. This variety of fortified farm was actually the dominant form of settlement throughout Maghreb, and much of the Mediterranean, from Roman antiquity through Arabian settlement. It was revisited by Fernand Pouillon and Le Corbusier in their projects in Argel.
For all intents and purposes, this building was conceived as a series of volumes arranged around a walled courtyard. Its position relative to the property boundary lines was dictated by local regulations, resulting in it being constructed along a depression so that it appears half sunken when viewed from the southwest, but gradually reveals itself as you move northeast. Apart from a vehicle entrance in one corner and a pedestrian gate, the external walls have very few openings. The exception is the eastern elevation, which overlooks a large terrace, the vastness of the landscape, and a small cove below.
Three rectangular volumes occupy the northern, eastern, and western sides of the courtyard, comprising respectively the bedrooms, the living room and kitchen, and the staff bedroom. The southern side is occupied by an orchard. The common areas are arranged as a classic sequence of unfolding spaces, from the kitchen to the living room to the library, all separated by symmetrical recessed doors. The dining area is divided from the living room by a large fireplace with a metal flue suspended from the ceiling. The ceiling has exposed bleached wood rafters and wood paneling, the walls are white stucco, and the floors are concrete.
The exterior walls are whitewashed stone, the roughness of these burnt lime surfaces evoking a vernacular, almost archaic feel, softened by the pure abstraction and poetics of the architecture.
>>> Did you know a 290-foot forest of holm oaks is being created in Milan? Called Torre Womb, it’s part of a project by Labics. Maria Claudia Clemente and Francesco Isidori, founders of the studio, discuss their design
Location: Grândola, Alentejo, Portugal
Project by: PROMONTORIO in co-authorship w/ Joao Cravo
Client: Pedro do Carmo Costaù
Plot Area: 7,7 hectares
Gross Built Area: 500 sqm