written by:
photos by:
January 16, 2009
Originally published in Living Landscapes
In Vieira do Minho, a small village in northern Portugal, Guilherme Vaz designed a fortresslike retreat that embraces the natural landscape while keeping it at bay.
With its simple rectangular form, the house has an infrastructural presence in the landscape, making it appear as if the house itself is holding back the steep hill.
With its simple rectangular form, the house has an infrastructural presence in the landscape, making it appear as if the house itself is holding back the steep hill.
Photo by 
1 / 6
The Valley House flows down along the site, integrating smoothly into the sloping hills. A view from the rambling path behind the house gives a clear view of the green roof and the not-so-green swimming pool on top of it.
The Valley House flows down along the site, integrating smoothly into the sloping hills. A view from the rambling path behind the house gives a clear view of the green roof and the not-so-green swimming pool on top of it.
Photo by 
2 / 6
The veranda is the Valley House’s defining feature and serves as a communal space for the family to sit and enjoy nature. The more traditional rattan furniture fits well with Vaz’s local vernacular, as the Portuguese were the first to bring rattan to the
The veranda is the Valley House’s defining feature and serves as a communal space for the family to sit and enjoy nature. The more traditional rattan furniture fits well with Vaz’s local vernacular, as the Portuguese were the first to bring rattan to the West from the East.
Photo by 
3 / 6
A Le Corbusier chaise longue invites guests to relax in front of the stunning panoramic view.
A Le Corbusier chaise longue invites guests to relax in front of the stunning panoramic view.
Photo by 
4 / 6
Vaz’s father’s restrained aesthetic is carried in the interior design scheme, which is reserved to the point of being austere. The light-colored, knotted wood provides a desirable warmth to the sparsely decorated space, which doesn’t in any way aim to com
Vaz’s father’s restrained aesthetic is carried in the interior design scheme, which is reserved to the point of being austere. The light-colored, knotted wood provides a desirable warmth to the sparsely decorated space, which doesn’t in any way aim to compete with the outdoor scenery. Portuguese designer Álvaro Siza’s Lorosae pendant lamp bathes the simply furnished kitchen in warm light.
Photo by 
5 / 6
Despite being meticulously maintained, bits of unruly vegetation find their way onto the house’s pristine concrete walls.
Despite being meticulously maintained, bits of unruly vegetation find their way onto the house’s pristine concrete walls.
Photo by 
6 / 6
With its simple rectangular form, the house has an infrastructural presence in the landscape, making it appear as if the house itself is holding back the steep hill.
With its simple rectangular form, the house has an infrastructural presence in the landscape, making it appear as if the house itself is holding back the steep hill.
Project 
The Valley House
Architect 

“Nature to me is something quite frightening,” says the diminutive Guilherme Vaz, as we walk around the expansive site of the Valley House, a weekend home the young architect designed for his father in the village of Vieira do Minho in the north of Portugal. “Nature is so strong here. I wanted all the natural things to be on the outside.”

Vaz, whose practice is in Porto, harbors a city-dweller’s skepticism of nature. It may be beautiful, but it is also full of bugs that might trigger anaphylactic shock in your children. Vaz is not one to speak platitudes about blurring boundaries between inside and out, and in many ways, the Valley House is a bulwark of sorts: What is artificial is contained within this concrete shoebox of a building, and what’s wild is kept out, observable from generous terraces and huge windows.
 
Vaz took on this project while he was still a student, and his psychiatrist father proved an ideal client for an ambitious young architect. “He wasn’t really very interested. I would say to him, ‘I’m thinking of maybe four rooms instead of five.’ And he would say, ‘Oh,
okay.’” The project’s protracted gestation also meant that Vaz had time to get influences out of his system. (He admits to having one Glenn Murcutt–inspired version of the house.)

At first, the Valley House seems absurdly long. The entire living area is housed on one level, allowing the low structure to stretch across the northern boundary of the site. It is a concrete tube pointed directly at a spectacular mountain range to the east of the valley.  Vaz initially wanted to keep the house that originally existed on the site, but severe dilapidation rendered it physically unusable. The old structure did, however, help to define the eastern end of the Valley House.  “The old house was in the best location,” he says. It sat up on an embankment with stone retaining walls to the south and north. Stone walls are characteristic of this region, which is known for its dramatic topography and irrigation.

The concrete exterior of the house is rough—partly due to the inexperience of a local builder and partly due to the architect’s intent—and the rugged finish makes the side of the house look like another retaining wall. With its simple rectangular form, the house has an infrastructural presence in the landscape, making it appear as if the house itself is holding back the steep hill. A rooftop swimming pool sits on a neat rectangular lawn punctuated by concrete chimneys. In this way, the Valley House’s integration into the landscape is both fluid and artificial. Vaz’s father, however, preferred manicured lawns (served by sprinklers) to the architect’s original intention of allowing wild grasses to grow up around the house, which slightly compromises the artificial vs. natural separation that the house is trying to accentuate.

Despite its unconventional planning, the house shares many characteristics of the area’s rural architecture of retaining walls, agricultural sheds, and, in particular, the square granite water tanks that stand in the adjoining fields. But it took drafting several plans before Vaz lit upon the house’s defining feature: a veranda, inspired by the outdoor spaces accessible to every room on the first level, common to many of the farmhouses in the area. Vaz translated this into the generous corridor that runs along the south façade of the Valley House and is glazed in full-height windows that open completely.

The traditional two-story veranda farmhouse, with animals sheltered on the bottom level, also provides a vernacular rationalization for what looks like a typically modernist entrance sequence: a concealed ground-level garage and an unremarkable staircase leading up to the second story. The depth of the south-facing veranda also serves a functional purpose, allowing the low winter sun to shine in through the leaves of several trees recovering from years of brutal pruning by farmers; during the hot summers, the high sun does not encroach. The veranda is the heart of the Valley House, and every room is accessible from it. Four bedrooms are arranged in two self-sufficient modules behind doors on the north wall of the veranda; the kitchen sits to the west.

Vaz describes the house as ascetic, and his father as someone who is not much interested in interior decor, and this is reflected in the house’s bare neutrality.  But this mood belies the gregariousness of the house—the veranda, the pool, and the generous kitchen with its inviting hearth suggest a place of entertaining and communal family life rather than a weekend escape for a loner psychiatrist and his word processor. It feels like it has been made as a place of communality—the bedrooms are all the same and are very modest (“like monks’ cells,” says Vaz), and when you get up in the morning you wander from your room through a small lobby directly onto the veranda.

The house does, of course, have this social life too, with Vaz, his wife, and their two sons visiting regularly. But the detail-less interior, the gray, the bare-bulb light fittings (designed by Álvaro Siza), even the Tugendhat House doorframe, make the house feel austere. And yet this is the distinctive character of the place: It has a contemplative interior but a sociable exterior.

An authentic country retreat, the Valley House is designed to be part of its site, but does not pretend to be part of nature. In this respect Vaz has learned much from his former employer, legendary Portuguese architect Eduardo Souto de Moura. It was Souto de Moura and Siza who reintroduced drystone walls to the architecture of the Iberian peninsula, and created a modernism that was rooted in the materials and topography of Portugal. The DNA of this house’s architecture is to be found in Siza’s Leça da Palmeira swimming pools and Souto de Moura’s seminal Casa Bom Jesus, both projects that superimpose concrete on stone, and make nature a place of human inhabitation. Vaz’s house, likewise, is a place from which to watch the surroundings, be amongst the sounds of birdsong and the rushing water from nearby rivers, and very probably sip something cold on the veranda while wirelessly connected to the Internet.

Join the Discussion

Loading comments...

Latest Articles

Exterior of Huneeus/Sugar Bowl Home.
San Francisco–based designer Maca Huneeus created her family’s weekend retreat near Lake Tahoe with a relaxed, sophisticated sensibility.
May 26, 2016
starting over sturgeon bay facade tongue and groove new growth cypress  0
After a devastating fire, architect David Salmela designs a house to replace a beloved lakeside retreat in Wisconsin.
May 26, 2016
Modern home with brick base and cedar rain screen on top level
An architect reimagines an outdated brick garage by designing a graceful new family home atop its foundation.
May 26, 2016
sardenya lr 7
A renovation brings light and order to a Spanish flat, maintaining its standout ceilings.
May 25, 2016
pow 5 25 1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
May 25, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent thom fougere winnipeg canada cthom fougere studio thom fougere saddle chair 2
Designer Thom Fougere plays with scale and typology to create playful furniture.
May 25, 2016
prs my16 0067 v001 1
In the worlds of architecture and design, we’re always looking for the best ways of supporting sustainable building practices. This awareness doesn’t have to stop at our driveways but rather, it can extend to the cars we choose to take us to the places we go each day. With Toyota’s 2016 Prius, the daily task of getting from point A to point B can now be experienced with a new level of efficiency, safety, and style.
May 25, 2016
mountfordarchitects western australia
On a narrow site in Western Australia, Mountford Architects makes the most of a tight spot—with an eye to the future.
May 25, 2016
San Francisco living room with Wassily chairs
Materials and furniture transformed the layout of this San Francisco house, without the need for dramatic structural intervention.
May 24, 2016
shiver me timbers tallow wood kitchen
A pair of married architects put their exacting taste to work on their own family escape in the Australian bush.
May 24, 2016
in the balance small space massachusetts cantilevered cabin glass facade
When nature laid down a boulder of a design challenge in the Massachusetts mountains, an architect’s solution elevated the project to new heights.
May 24, 2016
Wooden Walkways
A home in Ontario, Canada, demonstrates how factory-built housing can be as site sensitive as traditional construction.
May 24, 2016
15 icff 5
From Corian furniture to immersive installations, here are some of our favorite designs we saw at the 2016 shows.
May 24, 2016
gpphoto44
A home and community celebrate natural remove in unison.
May 24, 2016
With our annual issue devoted to the outdoors on newsstands, we did a lap of Instagram for some extra inspiration.
May 23, 2016
forest for the trees english prefab mobile home facade chesnut cladding
On the edge of a historic park in an English shire, a prefabricated home sets a new design standard.
May 23, 2016
tread lightly australia
A family home on Australia’s Mornington Peninsula is built to blend in with its lakeside setting.
May 23, 2016
jardins party dining room hay chairs local wood floor
A pair of architects help a client carve out an oasis of calm amid São Paulo’s bustle.
May 23, 2016
hwm6zf 1
No matter where you're located or what time of the year it is, having a fireplace in your home is a treasure that’s continuously sought after. Besides the obvious benefits of keeping a fire going through the cold winter months, it can also be a cherished asset that provides an extra level of year-round comfort—not to mention how it can help define the layout of a space by acting as a sculptural element.
May 23, 2016
An office Crosby Studios designed for NGRS in Moscow
Crosby Studios just cares about the essentials.
May 22, 2016
cold sweat seattle floating sauna gocstudio
A cadre of designers let off steam after hours by building and sailing a seaworthy sauna.
May 22, 2016
in the swim off the grid campsite healdsburg california swimming pool solar heat lap pool ipe deck loll designs lounge chairs
An off-the-grid house that is little more than a decked campsite—albeit with a roof—includes a swimming pool for a family that loves to enjoy the elements.
May 21, 2016
A print by Kristina Krogh
From flat to physical, Kristina Krogh masters every dimension.
May 21, 2016
scifi
Every week, we highlight one amazing Dwell home that went viral on Pinterest. Follow Dwell's Pinterest account for more daily design inspiration.
May 21, 2016
beverly hills living room piano view
Architect Noah Walker, principal of Los Angeles–based studio Walker Workshop, shares completed and work-in-progress residential designs on his Instagram page (@noah_walker). Take a peek at some of the striking modern houses here, and tour the Venice House on the Dwell Home Tours on June 26.
May 20, 2016
ripple effect san fancisco small space yard outdoor monica viarengo pebble mosiac artificial turf slide
A San Francisco landscape designer finds a small-space solution that’s anything but narrow-minded.
May 20, 2016
Oslo living room with light wood floors and wood slab table
A pair of designers in Oslo, armed with tricks for introducing color and daylight, remake their compact late-19th-century apartment.
May 20, 2016
family affair backyard addition portrait
In coastal Massachusetts, a resourceful couple and their equally enterprising children use reclaimed materials to create a versatile 168-square-foot backyard building.
May 20, 2016
speed machine australian beachside prefab archiblox facade colorbond ultra steel cladding queensland blue gum wood
With little time to waste, an Australian firm erects an efficient prefab overlooking the ocean.
May 20, 2016
Christian Benimana at Design Indaba
When he was younger, there wasn't a single architecture school in his country. Now, as part of MASS Design Group, Christian Benimana shares how architecture can heal and inspire Africa.
May 19, 2016