Casa dos Cubos
Tomar EMIO

culture , 1st Prize
Tomar, Portugal

Casa dos Cubos
Tomar EMIO

1st Prize
Contractworld Award 2009 (Germany)
Mies Van Der Rohe Award 2009 (Spain)
1st Prize
ABF ArchitectAward 2009 (Czech Republic)
Honorable Mention
AIT Best of Office Architecture Award 2008 (Germany)
Year – 2003
Public Competition – 1st Prize
Client – TomarPolis S.A.

Location – Praça Alves Redol, Tomar, Portugal
GPS – 39°36'08.3"N 8°24'40.1"W
Site Area | Area – 1422 sq.m | 840 sq.m
Budget – 452.599,99 €
Status – built                                                                                                                                                                    

Partners – Albuquerque Goinhas, Augusto Marcelino, Cristina de Mendonça, Luís Baptista, Nuno Griff, Pedro Patrício, Sofia Antunes

Photography – model and interiors: ©DMF (Daniel Malhão) | exterior: MTG (Mercês Tomaz Gomes)

The project was part of a nationwide governmental programme that aimed to energise the rehabilitation of small cities – Polis. The strategy was to revive cities by introducing new structures such as the Environmental Monitoring and Interpretation Office (EMIO) buildings, public infrastructures for exhibitions and other cultural events revolving around environmental and regional subjects. This EMIO project involved the conversion of a rundown infrastructure that, although without any particular architectural interest, had played a relevant role in the social and urban context of the city of Tomar. The building had been protected under municipal historic-preservation ordinance even though nothing had been retained from its original state.

The city of Tomar was founded in 1161 by the Order of the Knights and this infrastructure had initially been built as a storehouse for cereals and belonged to the Knights Templar. Located at the entrance to the historical city centre, the building had been subjected to many extensions and changes over the centuries, finding itself threatened by some decay and rendered inadequate for its original intended use.

The new programme as requested in the rules of the competition, comprised two distinct areas: a public area for exhibitions and meetings, along with a cafeteria, and a private area consisting of lecture rooms and accommodation for invited artists. In keeping with the planning regulations, the design maintained the external perimeter of the construction in its entirety, while its derelict interior was completely removed. Therefore, and due to the functional programme, the new structure would establish itself as the anatomy of the existing building. It would be a new architectural body that would run throughout the available space, tectonically dividing the finite interior into a new series of places and custom-built locations.

The private areas, each with their own access, atmosphere, identity, shape, use and dimension, were volumetrically defined within the structure and optimised for habitation. The social life, exhibitions and meetings, it was assumed, would take place in the interstitial space around the new structure, and would be characterised and organised by the programmatic events defined by the enclosed spaces. The more public spaces were “born” from the tension between this architectonic body and the physical limits that keep it in captivity. The existing building therefore acquired a new interior, being reconfigured and transformed into a unitarian and hermetic space with the use of white matte paint and matte epoxy resin coating.

A kind of skin was created that shields the interior workings of this creation. It took the form of a materiality that aimed to be abstract and simultaneously expressionistic. The entrails of this body were painted with glossy white paint and with glossy epoxy resin coating. A new interior within an interior.

The most challenging and seductive element in the design process was claiming and believing, that with a very reduced budget, it was possible to transform this spatial structure into a laboratory. A machine capable of producing space, installed in a shell that had been progressively deflated and then re-inflated with a “new and strange form of life”.

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