House in Ponte de Lima 3, a recent residential project by the great Portuguese architect Eduardo Souto de Moura, is more than the simplicity of its form suggests: it is a project worth getting to know, including the compositional details the architect has added. Winner of prestigious awards such as the 2011 Pritzker Prize and the 2013 Wolf Prize, to mention only the most recent, Souto de Moura produces “silent” buildings made up of absences, such as the cut hollows with clear shadows that so intensely characterise his poetics. In this project there is a clear attempt to reduce the minimal forms of the rectangle on two planes, the ground level with the entrance at street level and the basement level. The volume of the home in Ponte de Lima rests on the ridge of the site to the west, mute and compact, and opens up to the south, with the moderation permitted by the local climate. The balconies and windows in the ground floor living room and bedrooms are literally carved out of the southern façade, while a large pool in the basement overlooks the surrounding greenery with long floor to ceiling windows.
The northern wall includes the home’s only door, which may be reached from the gate opening onto the street via a path paved with granite. If we look at the façade from this side, the house looks as if it has been cut in two by the diagonal line of the hill, which disappears into the ground as it rises and is revealed as it descends, opening up to dialogue with the park it introduces.
Like Souto de Moura’s past works, the white plastered concrete home stands out from its natural surroundings as a place affording shelter. The powerful Portuguese sunlight is introduced into the living area with moderation: the bedrooms, kitchen and living room are closed in on three sides, while the fourth side, facing south, is made entirely of glass, but is not in direct sunlight: it is mitigated by the presence of the balconies. For the same protective purpose, there is a suspended fence on the eastern facade, a product of the history of the place, the site on which the new holiday home stands, which was, as the architect notes, originally a farmhouse.
What was once a fence outside the walls of the home is projected upwards and suspended in an overhanging position: the rising sun lights up the garden and the solitary tree growing out of the granite; when the sun is high in the sky the “fence” acts as a sunshade, casting a sharp shadow on the ground. It shelters but does not cover, letting the tree grow taller than the house.
Consistently with this atmosphere of suspension, a sculptural outdoor staircase with no railing, which extends the patio into the garden, recalls the link between interior and exterior, between architecture and nature. The green roof returns the space occupied by the building to the landscape.
Design: Eduardo Souto de Moura
Team members: Patrícia Diogo, Manuel Vasconcelos, Luísa Rosas
Location: Ponte de Lima (Portugal)
Total usable surface area: 385 m2
Lot size: 1350 m2
Project start date: 2003
Completion of work: 2012
Granite-covered outdoor staircase
Concrete and glass walls
Plastered concrete structure
Plastered brick interior walls
Photos: © Luis Ferreira Alves