by Pooja Suresh HollannavarNov 11, 2023
The countryside has long been a place that offers people the opportunity to experience life away from busy, urban environments. Architects have long played with the idea of building in the suburbs. If you ask Rem Koolhaas of OMA, he would argue that, "the new countryside looks a lot like the next frontier of urbanisation." Although there lies a fundamental difference in their development as it profits from the land availability free from many restrictions that urban developments might have to address. Buildings in the countryside often reflect their situatedness in terms of their form, materiality and geographical context. They carry within themselves and in their lived experience—an intangible quality that is magnified by the surrounding landscape.
Pa.te.os is another such development. It consists of a series of guesthouses located in the picturesque Portuguese countryside, and are designed by Portuguese architect Manuel Aires Mateus. Located near the southwestern coast of Portugal, five kilometres away from the village of Melides, Pa.te.os is part of a rural property with about 80 hectares in Alentejo. Just a fifteen-minute drive away would take one to the largest stretch of sand in Portugal, where one can find several desert beaches. As the developer describes, Pa.te.os sits on this natural border between the interior and the coastline, between the countryside and the beach, between the scorching heat of warmer days and the cool breeze from the mountains, between absolute silence and frogs croaking.
The developers of the project, Primosfera—Lisbon-based independent, family-run real-estate business—is headed by Miguel and Sofia Charters and functions with the objective of "integrating the singular vision of architects, artists and artisans into the urban fabric in an attempt to revive and honour heritage". Miguel and Sofia were personally involved in the project from its inception till execution. With their "passion for hospitality and pleasure of hosting", Pa.te.os manages to "integrate buildings into the landscape like ruins lost in time."
Miguel and Sofia spent their childhood summers in Alentejo, where they returned together as adults with a common dream to build a summer retreat based on their memories and their connection to the land, to host family and friends. They sought informed assistance from Aires Mateus architects and set out to create an experience that reflects the fundamental principles and values of Primosfera. The materiality of the project could be seen as fundamental in achieving this. Bare concrete, natural wood (European Oak), and stone combine to forge the coexistence of aesthetics and function, and the coherence between what you see and what you experience.
With his unmistakable sense of creating contemplative spaces, Aires Mateus came up with almost a sculptural intervention, the strong concrete forms resembling the surrounding hills of Serra da Grândola overlooking its oak groves and thus seemingly merging within the landscape. The project explores the concept of patios, historically an Arab influence pervasive in architectural projects in the southern region of Portugal. As its name suggests, Pa.te.os explores this legacy of courtyard houses and the concept of the patio as the place where nature and human-made construction meet. Protected but not isolated, each patio also serves as a refuge from the intense temperature range and the varied weather conditions experienced in Melides throughout the year. To contextualise, the resulting architecture is not an imitation of the old, but a modern interpretation reminiscent of tradition and culture.
Pa.te.os are four independent houses, varying from one to three-bedroom suites, surrounded by various courtyards that create private spaces that are suited to rest and connect amidst the dance of light and shade. Large openings and framed courtyards offer expansive views of the Atlantic, the hillside, and the coast of Arrábida. Its design strives for authenticity in material use, a balance of form and function, and a relationship to sustaining what is local. For instance, the slate that is used for tiles in the courtyards and pathways that connect the houses, came from the ground surface while the land for the hotel's vineyard was being prepared. The deliberately minimal, Scandi-inspired interiors celebrate the earthy colour palette through the heated concrete floors, warm oak furniture and unpainted plastered walls.
In the continued quest of making the experience of Pa.te.os "of the place", while being aware that smells reawaken memories, and that these memories let us remember moments and enjoy the simplest things in life; Sofia and Miguel collaborated with British perfumer Lyn Harris to craft an exclusive fragrance based on the olfactory memory of this territory. With the intention of capturing the air of Alentejo, Harris managed to combine the natural elements of the region, such as the fragrance of sea breeze merging with the pine trees to provide the guests with an olfactory landscape that enraptures and creates an intense, elevated experience.
Pa.te.os emerges as an experiment in the sublime, an entirely different kind of creation, that constitutes a kind of modernity that we have never encountered before. It gets away from the idea that any rural development should reflect the rural form and aesthetics, and still manages to reflect and merge within the surrounding landscape. In spite of being a monolithic concrete mass, the building seems to be blending with the surrounding landscape. The seamless transition of a sequence of closed and open spaces makes for an experience that makes one feel rooted in the place.
Name: Pa.te.os / Guest Houses
Location: Melides, Grândola, Portugal
Lead Architects: Aires Mateus Architects
Client: Primosfera – CEO Miguel Charters
Project date: 2013 - 2017
Construction date: 2017 - 2020
Built area: 472.80 m2
Site area: 8.775 ha
Authors: Aires Mateus
Project leader: João Esteves
Collaborators: Mariana Pimentel Pires, Mariana Mayer, Olga Sanina, Sergi Sauras, François Brunner, Susana Álvarez, Maria Vale, Rui Cardoso, Lorenzo Campagna, María Morales, Manuel Carvalho
Interior project leader: Maria Rebelo Pinto
Constructor: Manuel Mateus Frazão
Landscape architect: Filipa Cardoso de Menezes and Catarina Assis Pacheco,
FC Landscpae Architecture
Project management: Fasquia, Engineering and Management