by Jerry ElengicalJul 12, 2022
Besides its use in large-scale developments within urban areas, prefabrication holds vast potential as an adaptable solution to build in contexts that curb the scope of in-situ construction. The method is particularly gaining precedence in cases where transportation is a fair contributor to both construction costs as well as the embodied energy of conventional building materials, most notably in remote locations or sites with irregular or inclined terrain, where the problem is compounded further. Such scenarios often impose considerable limitations on the range of construction methods and materials that can be feasibly implemented, forcing most of the fabrication of building components to occur off-site. Porto-based firm SUMMARY, led by architect Samuel Gonçalves, faced similar hindrances when enlisted for a rural hospitality architecture commission along a sloped plot near Alvarenga, a community within the Arouca municipality of Portugal. Seeing the potential for a more flexible and multifaceted intervention, the architects decided to refashion the brief into one that combined elements of hospitality and housing, seeking to extend the development’s operation beyond seasonal cycles.
As the practice reveals, "The client was a private investor who purchased this plot due to its natural setting, the existing landscape, and its connection to the Paiva River. Initially, the project entailed the distribution of several tourist rooms over the terrain. However, we proposed small housing units - not just rooms - so that some of them would be able to work as more permanent accommodations rather than tourism units." In merging functionalities of housing and rural hospitality, the architects sought to ensure that the built forms on site would not fall into disrepair by virtue of their isolated location. Rather, by incorporating an avenue for year-round usage that would subsequently warrant regular maintenance, the site would subsequently be conferred greater security and commercial value.
However, the challenges of building in such a disconnected location along a sloping site still remained, with the rough topography presenting a significant hurdle in the set up of construction yards to supplement the process. “Apart from the natural conditions of the plot, the roughness and remoteness of the location were also challenging to the development of the project. Moreover, we were anticipating a very difficult building stage if a more traditional construction system was to be used,” relay the architects.
SUMMARY's design team shares, “This project also presented the added demand of strategically planning in order to reduce construction costs as well as labour requirements. Our solution was to build off-site as much as possible, and using our modular system was, in our view, the most efficient option to simplify the building process within such conditions.” In this vein, their resolution to employ prefab design as a means to forgo this stage emerged not only as a conscious design decision, but the sole course of action available at the time.
Fortunately, SUMMARY had already developed a system of modular construction which permitted fast on-site assembly of built forms, with great precision and efficiency. Dubbed 'Gomos', the system comprises four phases: structure production, cladding and hardware, transportation and assemblage, which allows units to be fabricated almost entirely off-site: from interior and exterior finishes to insulations, fenestrations, electrical installations, and some fixed furniture.
"This project became an opportunity to craft new experiences through the ‘Gomos’ building system, where each building is composed of a different number of modules, with all necessary technical installations (water supply, electricity, and climate control) concentrated in one of the modules, and extended to the others externally. This procedure was standardly repeated in the whole project, accelerating its production and assembly processes. The different prefabricated modules of the building were assembled in-situ at the final location, which simultaneously solved issues of structural order, thermal insulation, as well as external and internal finishes," notes the design team at SUMMARY. They continue, “It was also a perfect opportunity to test the formal possibilities of the building system, both in the number of modules combined as well as their placement – either horizontally or vertically. This helped us understand the adaptive potential of our solution and also improve it technically."
Scattered across the sloping terrain in a series of broad terraces, the 11 cabins constituting the program boast trapezoidal shells realised in exposed concrete, with strong resemblances to the austerity and aesthetic qualities of ELEMENTAL's Quinta Monroy housing program in Iquique, Chile. Although, it is worth noting that the units here were developed to cater to a luxury rural residential and hospitality context rather than an affordable housing program. “Externally, concrete adds a weather-resistant capacity and its presence within the interior preserves an industrial feel. The absence of finishing was an aesthetic decision as well as one made for cost-effectiveness,” explains the team at SUMMARY.
Floor-to-ceiling windows on the bounding faces of the structures frame breathtaking views of the countryside around the development. While the embellishments on the structures' façade designs are relatively limited, their forms evoke a modern abstraction of a traditional 'cabin in the woods'. Sloped roofs, simple geometric layouts, and timber screens layered over the glazed ends of the units reinforce this theme, with the naturalistic palette blending well into the lush verdant landscape.
"Even though the project uses a very industrialised solution as a resource, we still strived for a sensible approach to the needs of the site. The existing stone walls that retain the terraces were essential to the image of the project and the history of the site, and were refurbished and integrated as part of the new solution," mention the designers. A meandering route with hardwood pavements in oak cuts through the plot to link all units across levels, with landscape design features occupying the remaining area along the terraces.
"A deliberate attempt was made to integrate elements present on the site and the stone used was all sourced locally. We also tried to preserve existing trees as far as possible – by carefully placing the houses around them. This apparently arbitrary arrangement of the units, combined with different orientations allowed the houses to retain their sense of privacy and not interfere with each other’s views," the architects add. The topmost terrace is home to a swimming pool, from where users can see the cabins cascading down along the slope to the valley and river below.
With four distinct typologies of cabins, ranging in size from 28 sqm to 58 sqm, the project offers a variety of living environments. These include duplex units, smaller single accommodation, and double rooms. "This program allowed us to explore the idea of a minimal habitat: where the units consist of a very small space with a living area, sleeping area, kitchen, and a bathroom. Externally, in the recessed balcony, the vertical wooden slats introduce some privacy, cast some shade and filter the views towards the forest and the river," states the firm. Within their confines, the units feature a muted interior design scheme, emphasising the materiality of wood and concrete with refined furnishings that add a contemporary touch to the nature-inspired theme.
To SUMMARY’s benefit, the project’s realisation has not only proved the efficacy and pliability of their ‘Gomos’ building system, but also provided a successful case for prefabricated architecture to make greater inroads into the hospitality design sector. As a demonstration of the potential held by such systems to furnish effective solutions to building in rugged, isolated contexts, the project could spell an intriguing future for similar methods and their applicability in such situations both across the world and beyond it.
Name: Paradinha - 11 Cabins in the Woods
Location: Aldeia da Paradinha, Alvarenga, Arouca, Portugal
Programme: Tourism, Hotel, Cabins, Tiny Houses
Gross Built Area: 512 sqm
Year of Completion: 2021
Leading Architect: Samuel Gonçalves
Project Team: João Meira, Inês Vieira Rodrigues, Stelios Polyviou
Structure: FTS Technical Solutions
Electrical, Communications: ARproj
Prefabrication: Farcimar, Soluções em Pré-Fabricados de Betão
- Concrete Architecture
- Courtyard Architecture
- Exposed Concrete
- Facade Design
- Geometric Design
- Hospitality Architecture
- Hospitality Design
- Interior Design
- Landscape Architecture
- Landscape Design
- Mixed Use Architecture
- Modular Architecture
- modular construction
- Modular Design
- Pool Design
- Prefab Design
- Prefabricated Architecture
- Residential Architecture
- Residential Building
- Residential Design
- Rural Architecture
- traditional architecture