Located a few metres from the Garden of Príncipe Real in Lisbon, this townhouse houses a family of four. The plot is only 41 m2 big, which inevitably led us to think of a vertical house spanning five storeys. Having very few references of townhouses in Lisbon – not to mention vertical townhouses – we set out to study Japanese domestic architecture and understood that, paradoxically as it seems, they often give away floor surface to increase the feeling of spaciousness. Hard as it would be to have a concrete and brick construction on such a small plot, we opted for a light steel construction system which has great thermal and acoustic performances. Being a dry construction system, it made sense to use wood and plasterboards throughout the interiors, except for the bathrooms, which are clad in large sheets of white marble. One main design preoccupation was the facade – the balance between old and new, domestic use and urban role. The challenge was to make a distinctly modern design which resonated the surrounding buildings – scale, composition, detail, texture, atmosphere – so that it would be simultaneously authentic and symbiotic. The building's skin is a contemporary approach to the tiles covering the former building, which was in advanced state of decay. We defined a set of abstract rules to transform the original tile's motif in an abstract pattern, embodied in three distinct media: a flat-tile base, a bas-relief-tile body and a perforated steel, light-permeable, entablature.
Another challenge was to explore this pattern to the benefit of the interiors, so when we decided that the living room would stay in the fourth floor, contemplating the city and the river at a distance from the street, we designed a set of perforated steel sliding panels that replicate the pattern of the tiles below, which results in a skin that is solid and/or transparent depending on the perspective and/or time of day. These panels are the most sophisticated component of the house, but they draw a strong inspiration from Moorish architecture, which we have seen many times in Alhambra, and which was at the very origin of the use of ceramic tiles in Lisbon, so past and future meet without conflict or disguise. Inside, a main concern was connectivity i.e. how all the spaces are grouped in a single entity that we can perceive as a house without each space losing its purpose. A vertical atrium connects all the floors through a promenade that opens progressively towards the light – an architectural equivalent to a corridor in a horizontal house. This atrium becomes a social space in itself, prone to unusual interactions, as in Ettore Scola's Una Gionata Particolare. Each floor has a different use with a specific floor layout so the overlapping of all floors add to the spatial experience of crossing the atrium. This interdependence is also a spatial translation of the family's lifestyle, where kids are encouraged to be independent but remain aware of others.