By Edwin Heathcote
I am unsure whether the blank facade of the Dodged House is intended as a comment on the effect of the financial crisis or the increasing unaffordability of Lisbon to its own residents. I am unsure whether it is a forbidding, bleak assessment of the nature of modern dwelling or a gesture of continuity with the historical fabric. But I am sure it is one of the most intriguing houses of recent years.
Built for architect Daniel Zamarbide and designed by him and Leopold Banchini, its fiercely private exterior gives nothing away. Inside, though, it is an X-ray house, a home stripped of the usual delicacy of dividing walls and intimate rooms.
Instead of entering a little hall you find yourself in a full-height, four-storey atrium with each floor cantilevered out on one side, presenting as a series of transparent glass-fronted layers. It is theatrical, almost like a stage overlooked by tiers and balconies. Instead of red velvet and gold, the materials are concrete and steel, exposed plumbing and cool white-marble surfaces.
The remarkable achievement is to have made a tight urban site feel spacious and generous while taking away half the floor area as empty space. Christened the Dodged House — in tribute to Irving Gill’s now-demolished 1914 Dodge House in California, which became a seminal influence on emerging modernism — it is daring and it works.
The outside may feel like any other historical house in the traditionally poor but gentrifying neighbourhood of Mouraria, but it is only the blind facade that survives.
The architects gutted the house, which had long lain empty, and added a storey to match the height of the surrounding houses. That new storey features a single arched window overlooking the rooftops. The back wall takes its cue from the window: a stack of slender arches and a huge arch with a pivoting door to the garden, it looks almost classical.
Lisbon-based Zamarbide and the Swiss Banchini have also designed another terrific Lisbon house. Casa do Monte is built around an atrium, too. You can peep in from the street and see its full height and, at its centre, an unlikely looking pink-marble core, the colour of fresh meat, against the severe concrete surfaces of the interior.
The core runs through the three levels. It contains a kitchen on the ground floor and bedrooms above, the space flowing freely around it. Most surprising is the rooftop. A terrace overlooking the partially derelict and graffitied surroundings features an L-shaped swimming pool. It is not quite like anything I have seen: inventive, surprising, gritty and, in its own domestic way, epic.
Portuguese houses have long been a source of inspiration and delight. From Álvaro Siza’s often modest but always intriguing dwellings to Eduardo Souto de Moura’s more minimal and elegant houses, there has been much to study and admire.
A new generation is now emerging: architects who seem to have hoovered up the adversity of the country’s long economic crisis and spat it back out as inspiration. Many work abroad or, like Zamarbide, teach abroad to subsidise their practice. Many are subsuming their individual identities into collective studio names.
Fala Atelier has built a reputation with a series of often modest but always eye-catching and inventive interventions and new buildings. The 19th-century São Brás House in Porto looks as much like a graphic design project as a work of architecture, defining walls and aspects as colour canvases, which is simple but superbly effective.
Its Rua do Paraíso house in Porto is similarly striking, with undulating ceilings evoking the Bagsværd church by Jørn Utzon, the architect of Sydney Opera House.
Young practices Atelier Rua and Atelier Data have built dozens of houses, each fresh and inventive. Those at Aurora Arquitectos, meanwhile, have honed their skills on a series of apartment projects executed with almost sublime attention to detail and an airy approach to space. This is exemplified in the refurbishment of the Largo do Carmo apartment in Lisbon.
Portugal has seen something remarkable: the continuity of a deep architectural culture despite years of recession, emigration, stagnation. Now there is the challenge of Lisbon and Porto becoming hotspots for rentals, weekend tourism and nomadic WiFi workers, which has pushed up prices and hollowed out neighbourhoods by forcing out the previous residents.
Certainly part of the richness in contemporary residential architecture is due to the real estate boom, probably often at the expense of affordability. It has also been the site of a remarkable architectural moment which seems to sustain a certain sensibility: inquiring, experimental and yet somehow rooted in place.
In one last fascinating twist, that culture is being gently exported, not only by young architectural émigrés but also by the master who inspired them. Álvaro Siza has designed a tower at 611 West 56th Street, New York, an intriguing, slender and stripped-back building which contrasts with the architectural acrobatics of its neighbours.
Photographs: Nuno Cera; Dylan Perrenoud; Ricardo Loureiro; Noe & Associates/The Boundary
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