Lycée Français International de Porto
Pedro Castro Cruz
In the grounds of the Serralves estate there is a sense of descent. Both the House and the Museum are located at the upper level of Avenida Marechal Gomes da Costa and the gardens, the lake, the woods and the agricultural areas spread out across the land that heads downwards to the east.
The Lycée Français, which occupies the land adjacent to Serralves, provides a similar experience, starting and ending with two buildings by Nuno Valentim and Frederico Eça – from the Reception Pavilion at the entrance’s high level, to the New Primary School, which sinks down at the extreme eastern end of the property.
Jofebar was involved in both. In the small 2010 pavilion, there are some thirty square metres of window frames, but the latest intervention, in 2012, to which this file relates, now includes 530m2 of glazed surfaces.
Between the two works there are earlier architectural structures which make them interventions in the built heritage: the 1963 building, that lies between the main body near the street and the classroom blocks that follow the slope of the land, all connected by an external gallery, and the expansion of 1995, which established a discreet new entrance from the street but created a new volume that has considerable impact on the playground.
The two works of Nuno Valentim and Frederico Eça show perfectly the spatial wealth and the control of scale, both in the small and the large interventions.
In the small triangular pavilion, each facing concrete elevation displays an asymmetrical square window, generating a centripetal movement when the volume is penetrated by one of them, discovering a gap that bridges the slope on which the building is balanced.
In the large school, the complexity is no less interesting; but let us see. The ease with which the original building clings to the sloping land comes not only from the geometry of the siting and the use of materials, but also from the sloping roof that reinforces the direction of the topography. The sloping roof, close to the heart of the regionalists of the 1960s in their reinterpretation of modernity, is the formal element that stands out in Nuno Valentim and Frederico Eça’s new building. The presence of the construction is almost reduced to the slope that rises from the ground and is finally discovered as a (partly) useable roof because it is converted into an athletics track. On arrival, this impression of a raised floor is underlined by the glazed facade which emphasises the slash and restores, as a reflection, the modern construction and the nature that lies beyond the Serralves walls.
The intervention is bigger than it looks, having managed to double the built area to date, through the strategy of sinking the mass. The entrance is via a grand ramped staircase that dives into the ground and leads to the discovery of links to the lower level, namely the sunken courtyard within high concrete walls which extends a multipurpose room, defined by two glass walls with large sliding panels, reconciling the interior and the exterior by means of “space density”.
The anchoring stress to the ground is graciously lost to the east when the roof is seen no longer as a plane but as a high suspended slab front, snaking its way in a retracting and expanding play from the existing stone wall, which separates it from the Serralves woods, and setting back another glass façade. This façade is continuous from the refectory to the classrooms and is filled with mystery between the set back shade and the reflections of an almost ‘Romantic route’.
From the construction point of view, the work is compatible with the formal simplicity, with reinforced concrete walls for earth retention and for great spans which provide the stability required for the large sliding windows. The sliding window frames are in aluminium with slender profiles and the fixed and opening frames are in steel. The techniques are simple and therefore the constructive sophistication comes from rigorous detail rather than technological solutions.
The recreational areas are populated by precast concrete circles, rings that are presented as benches and tree pits, blocks that become meeting points or evoke giant games of pataca. This imagery conjures up the playgrounds of van Eyck as one realises that, more than these recreational elements, it is the spatial experience throughout the building that is designed for the Child. The school has a ludic character that one believes to be fundamental to the idea of teaching, leading the children into games of discovery, opposing movements, such us up and down, views from above and below, huddling together and scattering, ins and outs, windows and mirrors.
(1) Casa de Serralves, a modern work by Marques da Silva and Serralves Museum, a contemporary work by Siza Vieira
(2) The first building, from 1963, is by Manuel Marques de Aguiar, Carlos Carvalho Dias and Luiz Cunha; the 1995 extension is by Jean Pierre Porcher, Margarida Oliveira and Albino Freitas (ToposAtelier)
(3) The built area of the New Primary School is approximately 4000m2.
(4) Pataca or Malha – traditional Portuguese targeting game
(5) Playgrounds designed by Aldo van Eyck (The Netherlands, 1918-99) in Amsterdam between 1947 and 1978.
Location Porto, Portugal
Client Lycée Français International de Porto
Architecture Nuno Valentim, Arquitectura e Reabilitação, Lda.
Authors Nuno Valentim, Frederico Eça
Collaborators Margarida Ramos, Pedro Lima Costa, Margarida Carvalho, Isabel Norton, Luís Mendonça; 100 ferrugem Lda. Carlos Maia, Marta Labastida; Ceu Arquitectos Lda.
Engineering Vasco Peixoto de Freitas, Fernanda Valente, GPIC – Projectos,
Consultadoria e Instalações Lda, Pedro Moás, Adão da Fonseca – Engenheiros Consultores Lda,
Raul Bessa, GET – Gestão de Energia Térmica Lda, Raul Serafim & Associados Lda