House in the Alentejo Coast

Manuel e Francisco Aires Mateus 


House in the Alentejo Coast
Frederico Valsassina

An apparently infinite woodland on the Alentejo coast. Among pine trees and cork oaks, with a total scarcity of reference points, a white and initially pure mass arises from the terrain. The subtraction of a large concentric cylinder results in a slender volume, attuned to the trees and the existing landscape.

The resulting negative, beyond the scale of a courtyard, traces a perfect circle which seeks to embrace a piece of the surrounding scenery, enveloping it, and fully opening up to the vast blue of the Alentejo sky.

The built mass of the house develops on the edge of this circle. What is inhabited is the perimeter, the surrounding area, which narrows or widens according to its relationship with that great empty space.

In this tense and continuous relationship which is established between the exterior and the confining white mass (as in so many of his creations), light is the primary agent in the material definition of volumes, spaces and objects. Each environment and context is moulded and united by that line of light, which harmonises the opposition between the solid and recognisable limit, and that idea of circular absence embracing pine trees, land, and the remaining empty spaces.

The design seeks transparency, and at the same time opacity. This balanced and connecting synergy of contrasts is balanced by intermittent, large (but controlled) openings, where necessary.

The apt and proportionate measure of these openings continuously reframes the inhabitable depth, first, because it invades it, and then because it cancels it out. The act of inhabiting – and its raison d’être – takes form in the fluid complementarity established with the surrounding exterior in its full expanse. The “house volume-external void” aggregate is transformed, becomes inseparable, affirming itself as a unified, coherent and connected whole.

The indelible presence of these extensive glazed areas highlights the building’s quality as a circular border which opens and yet encloses, rupturing it, exploring it, precisely and punctually framing it. Light is apprehended. Nature is revealed. A frank and intense relationship is formed.

With life, and with a sense of time, (in)finite.




Location Alentejo, Portugal
Client Private
Project 2008-2011
Completion 2015
Architecture Manuel e Francisco Aires Mateus
Authors Manuel Aires Mateus, Francisco Aires Mateus
Project leader Maria Rebelo Pinto.
Collaborators Vânia Fernandes, Maria Bello, Bernardo Sousa
Landscape F I C Arquitectura Paisagista
Engineering Axial
Contrator Mateus Frazão