Gateira is a hamlet placed on a beautiful hill planted with vineyards, pines and olive trees with splendid views over the southern tip of Serra da Estrela, the highest point in mainland Portugal.
The clients – a British couple – wanted a second home to give them space, open air and silence, in contrast to their life in London.
The site is very steep, but we wanted the design to interfere as little as possible with the perception of the landscape. We came to a solution where the design of the house follows the design – part natural part agricultural – of the contours of the site, in its pragmatic manipulation but also in its unexpectedness, hoping by this to make a design that is not perceived as a dialectic opposite to nature, but rather as nature in an altered state.
The side of the house facing the hamlet consists of a very low, thick schist wall, with a small square window and a door – an evocation of the traditional slate buildings and dry walls in the region. The other sides are made of concrete, which could also be described as stone in an altered state.
The house was shaped following the clients' desire to have extensive contact with the outside. Every break, every turn, every change of level is a result of architecture adjusting to the existing topography so that one can walk freely between inside and outside.
This "radical" design parameterization led to a building mass that we could not have anticipated, but which revealed an exciting potential as the design developed: the house emerged like the spatial construction of a walk in the countryside, filled with unpredictable, varying combinations of views and light.
Each space stands on a different level and relates to nature in a specific manner – the mountains, the valley, an olive tree, a wall – according to its character – social, intimate, very intimate. Instead of a traditional split between social and intimate spheres i.e. a corridor leading to several bedrooms, we've placed the main social space at the centre of the house, and the intimate spaces as extensions of this space. We thought of this spatial structure because our clients don't have small children anymore and so we could achieve a greater sense of intimacy and freedom than usual. Also, our clients love cooking and wine, and so the social space is thought as a domestic equivalent of a square formed by different housing buildings. The centre of this "square" is purposely a freestanding kitchen island – the meeting point for our clients and their guest to enjoy life away from everyday. Openings – some slender cut-outs, others large openings protected by heavy wooden shutters – fill the spaces with light, shadow and texture, a living testimony of the passage of time, light and colour of each season, and they're part of our attempt to make life more meaningful, more rewarding.