A Tiny Lisbon Home Draws In Daylight With a Central Void
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A Tiny Lisbon Home Draws In Daylight With a Central Void

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By Lucy Wang
In Lisbon’s Mouraria neighborhood, an affordable family home squeezes three bedrooms into a light-filled space a hair over 1,000 square feet in size.

Rocked by the financial crisis, Portugal’s cities became a landscape of abandoned buildings, says architect Daniel Zamarbide. Inspired by the spirit of renovation that seized Lisbon in the aftermath, Zamarbide worked with Leopold Banchini Architects to transform a historic Lisbon property into a striking, cost-effective dwelling for his family.

The architects saved the historic street facade and added, with the local council's permission, a new addition above the cornice to match the neighboring roofline. The addition created the home's only street-facing window, which lets in beautiful morning light.

The architects saved the historic street facade and added, with the local council's permission, a new addition above the cornice to match the neighboring roofline. The addition created the home's only street-facing window, which lets in beautiful morning light.

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In addition to gleaning inspiration from Irving Gill's Dodge House, the Dodged House also derives its name from its opaque street facade. "As its name indicates, the Dodged house makes an attempt to elude, to trick, an actual state of a certain architecture in Lisbon," the architect says.

In addition to gleaning inspiration from Irving Gill's Dodge House, the Dodged House also derives its name from its opaque street facade. "As its name indicates, the Dodged house makes an attempt to elude, to trick, an actual state of a certain architecture in Lisbon," the architect says.

Completed in eight months, the dwelling is not so much an adaptive reuse project as it is a new build that recycles the historic street facade to maintain a sense of continuity with its neighbors. Inside the skinny building is a light-filled layout that creatively slots three bedrooms and living spaces into approximately 1,000 square feet.

"The section and internal void works as a space where light travels around and produces a very calm sense of interiority. But also, from the rooms, it becomes a sort of interior courtyard," Zamarbide said. The unfinished concrete slabs contrast with the cement block walls painted white.

"The section and internal void works as a space where light travels around and produces a very calm sense of interiority. But also, from the rooms, it becomes a sort of interior courtyard," Zamarbide said. The unfinished concrete slabs contrast with the cement block walls painted white.

"The Dodged house was designed and built around the idea of space, void and interior volume," Zamarbide says. "This idea appeared in the design process as a symmetrical section—one that gives the same value to the void as to the occupied space."

"From this more theoretical idea, we worked on a modular plan, a sort of Existenzminimum (subsistence dwelling) that gave birth to the smaller plan of the first floor. We wanted the rooms to work as hotel rooms, as a complete entity where one can sort of isolate and have everything, but very simply."

To provide privacy without putting up light-obstructing walls, the architects installed curtains that can be pulled along curved tracks in the bedrooms and bathrooms.

To provide privacy without putting up light-obstructing walls, the architects installed curtains that can be pulled along curved tracks in the bedrooms and bathrooms.

Spread out across four floors, the dwelling begins with a 430-square-foot ground floor with an open-plan dining area, kitchen, and living room that opens up to the outdoor patio through a massive pivoting arched door. Above are three floors—successively measuring 108 square feet, 129 square feet, and 161 square feet in size (excluding the bathrooms)—that can be used as bedrooms, although the topmost floor is currently used as a study. Glass partitions allow for living room views from every floor.

The floors are polished concrete. The architects incorporated locally sourced materials—from the tile to the marble countertops.

The floors are polished concrete. The architects incorporated locally sourced materials—from the tile to the marble countertops.

At the rear of the house is a minimalist spiral staircase that winds up all four floors.

At the rear of the house is a minimalist spiral staircase that winds up all four floors.

The dwelling pays tribute, in both design and name, to the Walter L. Dodge House, a famous Early Modern-style home designed by American architect Irving Gill at the turn of the 20th century in southern California. The house, despite its architectural significance, was demolished in 1970.

"The very particular modernity that he established as the basis of his practice seems to perfectly echo the Portuguese context (the same way as Gill’s architecture was understood to develop from the Missions in California)," Zamarbide explains.

Like Irving Gill’s Dodge House, Zamarbide’s dwelling is designed to capture changing shadows and daylight with its minimalist surfaces while framing views through arched windows.

Like Irving Gill’s Dodge House, Zamarbide’s dwelling is designed to capture changing shadows and daylight with its minimalist surfaces while framing views through arched windows.

"On the other hand, as a trace of the time in which the Dodged house was designed and built, it has preferred to keep its eyes closed and opaque facade, and it has bet on a less marketable feature—space, void, interior volume that refuses efficiency of land use. Within a rather small plot, the Dodged house has privileged a strong section and a contemplative void, proposing a diversity of interior/exterior spaces that extend into a courtyard."

Fitted with glass, a massive arched pivot door, made by Much More than a Window, provides access to the outdoor patio.

Fitted with glass, a massive arched pivot door, made by Much More than a Window, provides access to the outdoor patio.

The south side of the house opens up to an outdoor patio lined with Portuguese <i>calçada</i> paving.

The south side of the house opens up to an outdoor patio lined with Portuguese calçada paving.

To save on costs, the design team used simple and traditional construction techniques throughout—save for the large pivot window made by Much More than a Window that required complex workmanship—and they tapped into local materials and Portuguese labor. All materials are left unfinished as well— another budget-friendly decision that captures the architect’s vision for a "living machine."

Each of the three upper floors has a long desk topped with Portuguese marble that faces the glass wall overlooking the living space below.

Each of the three upper floors has a long desk topped with Portuguese marble that faces the glass wall overlooking the living space below.

The marble counter morphs from a desk on the right-hand side to a sink next to the bathroom.

The marble counter morphs from a desk on the right-hand side to a sink next to the bathroom.

"In the end, the Dodged house is quite a simple and readable project," Zamarbide adds. "Although it might be complex in its inscription into the urban fabric and historical context, it is nevertheless quite straightforward in the way it occupies space and distributes the program in a small plot."

10cm x 10cm white tiles line all the bathroom walls and floors. The same tiles pop up in the kitchen.

10cm x 10cm white tiles line all the bathroom walls and floors. The same tiles pop up in the kitchen.

The translucent sliding bathroom door allows light to filter through.

The translucent sliding bathroom door allows light to filter through.

A view from the outdoor patio into the living space. All cabinetry is pine wood.

A view from the outdoor patio into the living space. All cabinetry is pine wood.

Dodged House Section

Dodged House Section

Dodged House ground floor plan

Dodged House ground floor plan

Dodged House first floor plan

Dodged House first floor plan

Dodged House second floor plan

Dodged House second floor plan

Dodged House third floor plan

Dodged House third floor plan

Related Reading: Spotlight on Portugal: 7 Epic Modern Spaces 

Project Credits:

Architect of Record: Daniel ZamarbideLeopold Banchini / @bureau.ac

Builder/General Contractor: AC Maias - Engenharia e Construção, lda

Structural Engineer: BETAR - Estudos e Projectos de Estabilidade, lda

Civil Engineer: BETAR - Estudos e Projectos de Estabilidade, lda

Construction Supervision: SOPSEC, SA