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São Francisco Convent

Cândido Chuva Gomes

Built in the 13th century, the convent of St. Francisco in Portalegre, Portugal, is probably the oldest of the city’s three convents. Altered and enlarged down the centuries, the complex ceased to be a religious building in the early 20th century. The Cândido Chuva Gomes Arquitectos practice recently signed off a restoration and extension programme returning the complex to use. The programme entailed remediation and renovation of the existing structure, and the building of new exhibition and multi-purposes spaces next to it. The project proceeded in stops and starts on account of the discovery, once work had started, of the original outer convent wall. This required the groundplan to be altered and the extensions relocated. It also meant demolishing a small shop and house next to the church on the site of the former boundary wall. The new construction has three storeys: a small underground space for plant and equipment; a ground floor on a level with a side road housing the entrance through an inner court, reception, toilets and small exhibition space; and a first floor, accessed by a staircase and lift, occupied by a large exhibition space, in turn connected by a side chapel to the old church. The frontage of the new building running along the street is designed to resemble the convent’s ancient defensive walls of which it is a continuation. Slabs of yellow gáfete form an apparently irregular pattern whose numerous slits filter the daylight to the interiors providing discreetly diffused lighting. The new outer wall is both screen and filter. It encloses a series of small interior spaces beyond whose inner glazed walls lie the new exhibition areas. The entrance pierces the outer wall creating a loggia from which to look out onto the road beneath and countryside beyond. The restoration project has turned the former church into a large multi-purpose space. As well as repointing the masonry, which was anyway well preserved, restoration work was also carried out...

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