This residential home for the elderly on the outskirts of the Portuguese town of Alcácer do Sal stretches out like a wavy broken line, its three, uncompromisingly white, above-ground levels standing out starkly against the dark earth. At the same time the building fits easily into the gently undulating landscape, not least on account of the perfectly straight line of its flat roof against the sky - achieved by varying the number of floors below.
Architects Francisco and Manuel Aires Mateus have here tackled the issue of the special spatial-distribution needs of a distinct community: elderly people requiring assistance and care whose need for social interaction must not jeopardise the availability of privacy. Every aspect of the architecture is informed by these requirements. The spatial relations between circulation pathways, social environments and individual guest rooms exude a sense of quiet decorum. Distribution paths have elegant marble flooring; guest rooms have been made as comfortable and welcoming as any normal home; the vinyl-floored environments are well equipped.
From a distance, the building appears a flat white compact mass against the horizon. In reality it is an articulated series of volumes that project and recede along the stretch of façades. The white walls give the fractured fronts an apparent unity. The deep recesses on the upper level denote the spacious guestrooms within, each separated by a terrace. The shadow cast by this alternating checkerboard pattern of solids and voids is that of an ancient battlement-topped wall. Both the guest rooms, all located on one side of the building, and the corridors, placed on the opposite side, are naturally lit by the regular series of openings. This modular array of staggered lights is differentiated by function: large openings onto side terraces on the guestroom side; narrow slits flush with the wall on the corridor side. The trapeze-shaped recessed balconies taper inwardly to meet the internal corridor where a glazed light provides natural lighting.
Transparency combines with geometrical rigueur. The slanted glazed openings giving onto the terraces - which on the intermediate floor become loggias - are repeated all along the elevation in regimented fashion.