The Simple House
Architects Manuel and Francisco Aires Mateus


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Along this part of the Alentejo Coast various abandoned houses exist scattered across the landscape. Traces of whitewash still cling to many of them, covering the thick walls, supported by counterforts disproportionate in relation to the constructions’ modest proportions. They are simple volumes with few openings that establish a totally reciprocal relationship with the landscape, possibly like the people that live inside them. It could be said that in their laconic abandonment, they are as distant as possible from contemporaneity, the latter often associated with technologically sophisticated, diaphanous constructions in glass. The house designed by architects Manuel and Francisco Aires Mateus, being unequivocally contemporary in its qualities and limitations, is the result of an attentive and not at all nostalgic view of this secular form of inhabiting the landscape.

Seen from afar, it rises like a white solid placed on a hill ridge. No openings exist at all. The platonic suggestion –a white solid on a domestic scale- does not prevent guessing that this is a house. In this case and in the recent development of these architects in general, to inhabit signifies a serene search for simplicity, for the maximum reduction of the elements comprising the house. This is in order to construct only the essentials and to relativise as much as possible the fingerprint of the fleeting and seasonal. In this house the “idea” of the method of habitation has materialized, an unusual occurrence in Portuguese architecture due to the radical pretexts that such a passage implies.

One perceives a sense of “excavated space” in the interior: thick walls and the use of few materials. But it is not only that. The two wooden doors (in truth, two heavy panels that slide elegantly), one facing east, the other west, that when open permit a new complexity. The house can be completely opened to the outside and simultaneously serve as an organism of spaces excavated in the “white” mass. It is in this duality, between maximum permeability with the landscape and maximum introspection, that its conceptual and spatial wealth resides.

For the interior, the architects introduced an imponderable element: a patio in the centre of the house to which all other spaces are available. It is not the patio usually seen in more recent architectural designs that is open to the house. Here, this element prevents the house from being visually crossed, functioning once again in the sense of walls and thickness. It is a patio similar to archaic architecture of the Mediterranean; it is closed upon itself, only opening towards the south, revealing a tree outside. The serenely manipulated light invades the completely white interior. This strategy repeats itself in a scheme of small patios that illuminate all the domestic spaces –bedrooms, bathrooms and kitchen – thus permitting voyeuristic relationships amongst each other.

Light is definitely the chosen theme in this project. The exterior is an idealised solid mass under the sun. More than an obvious attempt at making the spaces functionally flexible, the interior, through the proportion of the spaces and a diffuse and omnipresent light, expresses a symbiotic relationship between this light and a sense of excavation: once again an archaic theme. In a small text entitled “About Light”, the Spanish architect Alberto Campo Baeza wrote: “[It can be said] that the key lies in a profound understanding of light as matter, as material, as a modern material.”

Ricardo Carvalho



Ficha técnica

Casa Barreira Antunes, Alentejo, Portugal
Manuel Aires Mateus e Francisco Aires Mateus
Patrícia Marques e Maria Rebelo Pinto
"A linha da vizinha"
"MU – concepção e comercialização de manufacturas e utilidades" – cadeira "Bakara" Pedro Silva Dias
Fernando Guerra
Produção fotográfica
Sérgio Guerra


Agradecimento especial a José Mateus


Imagens exposição CCB - Aires Mateus Arquitectura (2005 )

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