On the outskirts of Grândola—a small Alentejan town in the Setúbal district of Portugal—a striking architectural form sits in the vast, arid landscape amidst cork trees and herds of cows. The whitewashed guesthouse is known as Casa da Volta, which translates as "Home of the Return," and it offers a refreshing new take on rural living.
"The brief was for a very convivial and welcoming place; a family house that could host large parties for the owners’ four children and all their friends," says architect Paulo Martins-Barata, founding partner of Lisbon-based practice Promontório. When not being used by the owners’ family, the home is rented out to guests looking to discover a slower pace of life in Portugal.
Casa da Volta echoes a traditional Portuguese alcáçova, an ancient form of defensive settlement found in Portugal, Spain, and across the Mediterranean. "We were inspired by the concept of a house which is a fortress with a large inner court; a trace of white chalk in the landscape," says Martins-Barata. "The Alentejo landscape, and this mountain in particular, is harsh, even desolate, but beautiful and poetic at the same time. It evokes a kind of existential solitude, if you will."
In keeping with the idea of a fortress and the poetic feelings evoked by the landscape, the entrance to the home is a rather discreet door in a long, whitewashed wall. It opens to a narrow external corridor that leads to the serene walled court of the "citadel." A large Holm oak at the center of this courtyard is described by the architect as a "living sculpture."
The bedroom suites are positioned to the north with windows opening to the south, while the social wing—which encompasses the kitchen, dining area, living room, and study—opens completely to the east, with pocket doors on each side. The home also has a pool with a strikingly geometric form that contrasts with the rawness of the surrounding landscape.
"This house is made for fun, for joy, to party, and to join family and friends," says Martins-Barata. "Its interior and exterior criss-cross at all times, with everybody passing through the vortex of the house, which unsurprisingly is the kitchen."
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The materiality is evocative of the arid landscape in which the home sits, with walls that appear to be built from stone, minimalist concrete floors, and whitewashed timber—but things are not exactly as they appear.
"We live in ‘metamodern’ times," explains Martins-Barata. "We no longer trust the sincerity of the modern project, nor the ironic self-destructiveness of postmodernism. Our house plays on this unstable condition, in the sense that the stone walls are clad directly on cement blocks but evoke tectonic masonry. The house has a flat roof, but the corniche has an ambiguous pantile that suggests that the roof is pitched. While the roof is flat, it is not made of a concrete slab, but a system of wood beams. We play on these contradictions."
Throughout the design and construction process, the project had to be value engineered to keep the budget under control. According to the architect, construction costs in the Comporta region are skyrocketing, and the team had to make smart decisions to reduce costs without harming the design concept.
"My favorite part of the project is to be invited to dine at the house and see how everyone enjoys so much being there. How the kids play in the pool, sometimes even after dinner; how people join in the pool balcony for a glass of rosé at sunset, with the sound of music in the courtyard," reveals Martins-Barata. "That’s a wonderful feeling."
Architect of Record: Promontório with João Cravo
Builder: Fernando Pedreiro, Lda
Engineer: Duarte Silveira
Landscape Design: Promontório with João Cravo
Lighting Design: Promontório with João Cravo
Photography: Alexandre Ramos, Luis Viegas
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