Casa no Geres

It’s within the pristine environment of Portugal’s only national park that you’ll fi nd this remarkable weekend house, looking for all the world like a boat left stranded after a fl ood. Perched on the edge of a slope, the house sits part-buried at one end, hangs precariously at the other, projected into clear space toward a river. The house is the fi rst collaboration of Portuguese architect Graça Correia and Italian architect Roberto Ragazzi, and it stands deep inside the Peneda-Gerês National Park, near the Spanish border in Portugal’s northernmost tip. The park is the oldest protect area in Portugal, dense with forests, rivers, streams and wildlife. Several reservoirs make it popular as a holiday and tourist destination, particularly with campers and water sport enthusiasts. The owners, who had camped and water-skied in the park for more than 20 years, found the site overlooking the Cavado River and one of its tributaries during one of their holidays. Having bought the land they soon discovered it was subject to strict conservation regulations, including a limited footprint of no more than 60 square metres for any new structure – dictated by the footprint of an existing stone ruin – and absolute preservation of all trees and vegetation. Only the remnants of the stone ruin permitted the possibility of any new building on the site. First discussions with the architects – Correia is a protégé of Eduardo Souto de Moura (with whom she continues to collaborate occasionally) and had worked with the owners on other earlier projects – were about their respect for landscape and architecture and their earnest concerns for preservation of the park’s environment. Early design thoughts were for a small pavilion in timber in which to house the couple and their adult son, in close relationship to and restoration of the stone ruin to include a store for water skiing equipment and guest accommodation. The fragility of the land, potential for landslides and the owners’ wish for a structure in concrete soon put paid to further explorations of a timber building. The challenge to the architects was how to fi t all the requirements of the programme within such a restricted footprint. The solution in the end was as dramatic as it is spectacular: a concrete bar twenty one metres long by fi ve and half metres wide, set at right angles to the fall and contour of the slope, with more than a third of it cantilevered clear, reaching out like a fi nger towards the water, literally inserting the building and its occupants inside the wooded setting. With this singularly courageous gesture the architects resolved both the restrictions imposed by the small footprint and the owners’ determination to respect the fragility of its environment. From the river the house resembles a large extruded section of a concrete viaduct, cut and sliced and glazed as required to introduce light, give it transparency and open the house to the surrounding views, immersing it further into its landscape.The exterior walls and exposed underside of the cantilevered section

of the house are constructed of board-marked insitu concrete, using carefully selected pine wood boards; the fl oor and roof are of self-leveling grey concrete. The very straightforward plan comprises a dining and kitchen area at the cantilevered end, with living and entry in the middle and two bedrooms and a single bathroom at the rear. The stone ruin was restored to contain a store for water sports equipment, with a guest room and bathroom above. The ruin stands as a constant presence, visible from every room, in close connection with the house. The interior palette is restrained: walls and ceilings paneled in birch wood veneer and fl oors of polished grey concrete. The tapering base of the house was inspired by naval construction, and was engineered almost as you would the hull of a concrete

boat, its sturdiness dependent on the boat-shaped form; its strength reliant on a complex and massive web of reinforcing steel. “As a stranded boat the house has a dialectic relationship with Adalberto Libera’s Casa Malaparte,” Graça Correia says. The house is anchored to the edge of the slope by three deep concrete piers. The grey concrete roof is also traffi cable. The rear of the house is partly cut into the slope and, on approach from a forest road access, appears half-buried. Granite-block steps cut from a local quarry and stone paths connect the house with the stone ruin. JR


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