Gerês House Joins Forces with Hostile Topography for An Open-planned Triumph

The threat of landslides was the challenge posed to the original model of Gerês House, perched as it was on high ground in a hot valley in Northern Portugal; the challenge was met not with procrastinative erosion management measures, but with the decision to demolish, re-design, and re-create the space entirely. Carvalho Araújo was the studio charged with the task of recreating the space in its current location, and the result is a triumph.

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The house profits from the terrain this time around, overlooking the lake below and firmly nestling itself like a pebble on the steep slope of the Caniçada Valley; it similarly eschews conventional domestic space in its interior, opting for “large, functional and multipurpose” spaces instead of more conventional – and less flexible – division into specific rooms.

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Built almost entirely from wood, concrete, and glass, the site has the broad windows of a viewing platform and the tended, stylish industrial details of a chic urban loft. The airy space and bare timber, set into matte pillars and walls of concrete, make this house a symbiotic fusion of the Northern Portuguese valley and the adaptive capacities of modern architecture. We caught up with José Manuel Carvalho Araújo, founder and senior architect of Carvalho Araújo, to hear his thoughts on the project.

The Plus: What informed the decision to make the house principally from concrete, wood,  and glass?
José Manuel Carvalho Araújo:
The concrete, as a structural material, allowed us to resolve issues related to the topography of the land. In addition, its ability to integrate with the landscape was something that we liked. The wood was chosen for its lightness, for construction reasons and also, like the concrete, for its ability to integrate with the landscape. The glass: for its lightness and transparency, its near absence, and the ability to connect the two other materials.

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TP: What elements of the original house did you keep, and what did you change – and how did you pick?
JMCA:
No element was kept. The existing construction was located at the top of the land, eventually exposed to small landslides, which demanded its demolition and relocation.

TP: How does this house differ from the studio’s other projects?
JMCA:
Anything and everything. Each project has its own specificities. Every place and every customer are fundamental in how the project is conducted. And it is never repeated.

TP: If architecture affects the way in which we use space, what sort of life do you imagine being lived in Gerês house?
JMCA:
We seek a space able to provide moments of reflection and complete detachment of the day-to-day.

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TP: The restrictions of the steep valley have been deftly and stylishly handled; was this the biggest challenge for the project, or were there other difficulties?
JMCA:
The steep valley was only one of the problems. The most important thing was to find the correct balance with the landscape and all the elements we find there: the steep valley, the stream… 

TP: What feature of the house is most interesting to you?
JMCA:
What is not explained or defined. What is lived: the atmosphere.

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