Iconic 18th Century Lisbon Structure Refurbishment Fuses History with Design

Sometimes, tragical moments in history also have a positive effect on the environment and population that follows. One example for this occurrence are the typical cross-shaped wooden structures throughout buildings in Lisbon dating from the 18th century, when they were implemented in order to make buildings less vulnerable to earthquakes. Local architect Antonio Costa Lima got the chance to preserve these now iconic elements in his project Apartment in Cais do Sodré.

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This opportunity wasn’t only special for Antonio because of his connection to the city itself. The premises had acted as his office previously, and he had the idea to turn it into an apartment even before the new owner approached him. For the renovation, Antonio focussed on preserving the spatial concept as well as the original wooden structures and tiles. Knowing the conditions, the solutions came to him naturally: “Very quickly, I knew what to do.”

With Antonio, we explored the refurbished apartment on Lisbon’s São Paulo Square.

THE PLUS: How was the renovation process? Did you encounter any big challenges?
AC:
The project began as the result of a big coincidence. The space was previously my office until it was sold six years ago and we moved out. Three years later the new owner came to my office and asked me to do a renovation – but now for an apartment. So, it wasn’t a completely new challenge for me. The idea of transforming my previous work space into a residential apartment had already crossed my mind. Very quickly, I knew what to do.

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TP: How did you decide to approach the project, overall?
AC:
The idea was to maintain the general layout of our previous project, emphasizing the spatial concept and resolving the functional needs with very precise and pragmatic measures. That included one kitchen on the central open core of the apartment, adding two bathrooms to the new bedrooms and increasing the comfort and usability of all the compartments.

TP: What’s the reputation of the flexible wooden structures in the town? Are they popular?
AC:
These wooden structures were invented after the great earthquake that destroyed most of Lisbon in 1755. They were made to resist other catastrophes and still endure on a great deal of the old Lisbon buildings. So, they are an important patrimonial icon that has been increasingly preserved.

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TP: How did you treat the wood? Did you add anything to it?
AC:
The cross-shaped structure of the old wood from the 17th century was treated and painted in matte black. The idea was to relate the black to the past and the white to the present intervention.

TP: Why did you go for a harmony of black and white?
AC:
It’s a dramatic and direct way to create a time-space metaphor: the black relates to the pre-existence and original elements and the white to the contemporaneous use.

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TP: Tell us about the beautiful tiles in the bedroom. Are they original?
AC:
Yes, the tiles are original “pombalino” style tiles from the 17th century. They represent Lisbon’s soul very well. Unfortunately, these are the last remaining tiles of the apartment. All the other main compartments were stripped out from their “azulejos”, the typically painted tile designs.


TP: Where did the furniture come from?
AC:
The furniture was chosen by my client. The solutions were always very practical and economical having in mind the short rental use nowadays.

TP: Were the clients happy with the result?  
AC:
Yes. I’m really convinced that they are happy.

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