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Davide Turrini

MANUEL AIRES MATEUS


Un tempio per gli Dei di pietra

Davide Turrini

MANUEL AIRES MATEUS


Un tempio per gli Dei di pietra

Coordinamento Editoriale
Editorial Coordination
Antonio Carbone
Progetto Grafico
Graphic Design
Maria Teresa Quinto
Stampa
Printing
Centro Grafico
Foggia / Italia
Traduzioni
Translations
Paolo Armelli
Crediti fotografici
Photo credits
Peppe Maisto per le fotografie
di Un tempio per gli Dei di Pietra
e per i ritratti di Manuel Aires Mateus
Daniel Malho (pp. 10, 12, 14, 16, 21, 61, 62, 70, 85)
Fernando e Sergio Guerra (pp. 19, 66, 73)
Joo Morgado (pp. 87)
Disegni (pp. 48, 49, 55 a destra, 56, 57)
Drawings (pp. 48, 49, 55 on the right, 56, 57)

Emmanuele Visieri
Prima Edizione Maggio 2011
First Edition May 2011
Casa Editrice Libra
Melfi / Italia
ed.libria@gmail.com
www.librianet.it
ISBN 978 88 96067 62 8

Produzione
Production from
Pibamarmi
Chiampo/Italia
www.pibamarmi.it
Tutti i diritti di riproduzione, anche parziale
del testo e delle immagini, sono riservati.

Sommario_Contents

Astrarre la materia, concretizzare lo spazio


Un tempio per gli Dei di pietra

11

25

Il tempio
Gli Dei
Gli eroi

Cavit litiche

53

Un progetto di total design per lambiente bagno

Nientaltro che materia e spazio

59

Intervista a Manuel Aires Mateus

Lo Spazio il tema Alfonso Acocella


Bibliografia

67

89

Making materials abstract, and space concrete


Un tempio per gli Dei di pietra

75

The temple
The Gods
The heroes

Stone cavities

81

A total design project for the bathroom furnishing

Nothing but materials and space

83

Interview to Manuel Aires Mateus

Space is the theme Alfonso Acocella


Bibliography

89

86

71

Quando una rovina ha pareti con una materialit tale da catturare aria e luce, quando in essa la
gravit costituisce ancora lo spazio, allora larchitettura si mostra a noi apertamente, spogliata di
ogni elemento, nella sua forma pi radicale. La nudit pura della struttura ha di per s la potente
intensit delle costruzioni pi essenziali. Le mura di molti resti romani, che ci commuovono, agiscono in questo modo.
Alberto Campo Baeza,
[sulla Casa ad Alenquer di Manuel e Francisco Aires Mateus], A handful of air, 2G n. 28, 2004, p. 46.

When a ruin has walls with a materiality so capable of trapping air and light, when in it gravity
still constructs the space, the architecture openly exhibits itself to us, divested of everything, in
its more radical form. The pure nakedness of the structure is wont to have the forceful intensity
of the most essential architecture. The walls of many Roman ruins, that move us, work this way.
Alberto Campo Baeza,
[about the House in Alenquer by Manuel and Francisco Aires Mateus], A handful of air, 2G n. 28, 2004, p. 46.

Making materials abstract,


and space concrete
The work of the Mateus brothers can be read as the desire to
transform space in something physical, the void becoming raw
material for architecture.1
Goncalo Byrne describes with these words Manuel and Francisco
Aires Mateus, his students who have worked autonomously in
their own associate studio since 1988. Having grown up in the
milieu of the Portuguese contemporary architectural culture
marked by significant figures, as Byrne, Siza, Tavora and Souto de
Moura, didnt prevent the two Lisboan architects to develop an
extremely recognizable style since their beginnings, result of a
continuous and rigorous research on space and materials. 2
Sculpture-like shapes that stand pure and enclosed in themselves, accessible only through few neat and subtle cuts, characterize the Mateus work. The concept generating these architectures is the surface continuity, a full homogeneity in the use of
materials that develop flat surfaces or are bound to create solids
clearly readable as highly three-dimensional volumes or as simple walls; the principal aim of these architectures is to convey an
idea of duration.
Very often their walls are made of stone in the form of pseudoisodomic coverings horizontally stratified, sometimes interrupted by highly shadowed openings that underline the geometric character of the stone texture, it being for the Mateus pure
contemporary stylization of the ancient solid and massive wall
stereotomy.
The stone wall is one of the most distinct architectural variation
of materials, its perfect to define and delimit the space of my
works, that I interpret as life holders destined to last for long
time. I want to work in continuity with History and stone allows
me to do that, since it is able to resist the flowing of time; stratified in the wall settings, it expresses an idea of duration that
seems to me essential for the creation of buildings that are significant for their dimensions or functional aims in relation to the
city environment.. 3
In a recent interview, Manuel Aires Mateus gave with these words
the preeminence to stone walls, a theme re-elaborated several
times with his brother in complex constructions thought to find
a relationship of contextualization, affirming their presence in a
dialogue with the surrounding already-built or rather with a certain material idea of the city. Its the case of the Lisboa University Head Office, immersed in the ample texture of the rationalistic capital town, or of the Sines Cultural Centre, near an ancient
castle. Both these buildings demonstrate that for the Mateus the

Centro culturale di Sines, 2001-2005

material is a core element in their work and, modulated from the


point of view of construction, its fundamental in discerning the
building from the urban environment or from the open territory,
and at the same time in making architecture someway interact
with the context.
The University Head Office is a building of highly institutional value, immersed in a balance of historical and symbolical references in particular because of the Jesuit College and the Monsanto
Park located nearby. In this scenario, the Mateus create two volumes set together in a 90 composition: a vertical parallelepiped unit, as high as the College, contains offices and services;
a horizontal platform, configured as a passable starway/square,
houses conference and meeting rooms. The work, completely
covered in stone, is clear and ambivalent at the same time; according to the viewers perspective, its volumes can be seen as
markedly three-dimensional masses or as subtle flat surfaces on
which the dense stone physical presence is extended to reach
pure chromatic and geometrical abstraction.
In the Mateus architecture, the dominant continuity of the materials is made more easily readable with infrequent episodes of
little suspensions, partial or definite interruptions; this caesura
creates a chiaroscuro effect or a neat fissure that interrupts the
material extension, making its quality and dimension clearer.
This is confirmed in the Head Office where the homogeneity of
the stone that covers the vertical volume is interrupted, on the
side overlooking the square, by a series of openings obtained
substituting the traits of the pseudo-isodomic covering with
flush-mounted glass plates; in addiction there is a continuous
cut on the base that gives the wall the aspect of a suspended and
stratified texture, reaching the stylobate square in a plastic and
compact way. The pierced palimpsest maintains continuous and
full borders, the dark carvings dont prevail over the dominant
whiteness of the stone, the proportions of the prospect still appear distinctly vertical; in this way, the nature of the thick stone
wall isnt denied but, taken in its material, geometrical and proportional essentiality, is changed into a renovated two-dimensional and archetypical icon able to impose a new aesthetical
code to the historical and contemporary city.
In the University building the internal spatial dimension is made
of concrete void spaces, almost materially palpable because rich
in visual references and articulation points; their morphologies
and the measures of the cavities are spectacularly shown in a
refined balance between revelation and concealment; frequent
double heights interrupt the articulation of the floors; the horizontal development of the entrance hall suddenly changes its
direction to become upward, in relation to a highly vertically
oriented connection space.

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In Sines the configuration of the building destined to cultural


and artistic activities is modelled on the attitude of the historical districts of the city, while the neat and vertical volume of the
stone-covered units is, in a sort of monumental scale, in relation
to the fortress dominating the residential area. From the outside
the architecture appears as a composition of compact and enclosed stone blocks, bridge-like suspended on the perimetric
walls that allow the ground floor to be free from supports and
perfectly permeable to the sight. Opposite to the compactness
of the building envelope is the open and flexible interior spatial
dimension, where a structured sequence of rooms is reunited by
the de-materializing whiteness of the wall and by a polished and
continuous flooring texture in marble.
The Mateus will of shaping previously unseen contemporary archetypical constructions is demonstrated in the creation of new
buildings and in some redevelopment actions as well: putting
together volumes creating void/full rhythms, with geometrical
textures and alternation of light and shades, they sometimes
redevelop or reconfigure pre-existent architectural works, as in
the case of the house in Alenquer (1998) or of the Faro de Santa
Mara Museum (2005); in other occasions they re-texturize the
historical urban palimpsest, as for example in the Moura historical centre (2005) or in the project for a cultural area in Benevento
(2006).
Lisboa Head Office, Sines Cultural Centre and more recently the
Laguna Furnas buildings in the Azores represent the most important result of this research on the plastic-volumetric value of
the material, and, at the same time, on the configuration of the
interior space seen as an independent entity able to summarize ambivalent but not necessarily contradictory qualities: at the
centre of their architecture, the Aires Mateus open rooms that
can be complex and articulate, horizontal or vertical, mono-directional or animated by various centripetal or centrifugal axes.
Beyond this limit, behind the walls defining the building from the
outside, a rich and fascinating spatial configuration is unveiled,
delimited by floors and roofs on different heights, illuminated by
different light sources. Its a direct, obsessive, constant research that focuses on the design of the void and on the possibility
of making the interior space monumental, working on the invention of unexpected spaces and on the difficulty in perceiving its
real dimensions. 4
While the material becomes more and more abstract, space is
made concrete and almost tangible, modelled and built with a
wise design; the two architects link the two elements in a primary and complementary couple that is enough to allow the continuous projecting elaboration.

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The works by Manuel and Francisco dont seem to privilege a


particular space typology, but underline instead a persistent
care for the clearness of the spaces, completely designed step
by step; both the major aspect and the littlest details are studied
in dimensions and morphology with total creative freedom, careless about the exterior conditions and the need to express the
interior articulation of the work on the faade.
Typical of this approach are the Laguna Furnas buildings, a series
of little functional constructions and of equipped leisure paths
for tourism activities in a thermal lagoon set in a high-value natural habitat, where the rock orography and the vegetation have
an extraordinary impact. The local volcanic stone, used by the
Mateus to compose the homogenous rectified textures that cover the walls and the roofs, gave to the architectures the aspect
of primeval monoliths that very soon will seem to merge with
the surrounding landscape thanks to the patina accumulated
season after season. Looking for an essential and restrained building doesnt mean taking a short cut in the technological projecting process: all the stone material was carefully designed, each
constructive element as, for instance, the corner parts, the roofing edges, the height variations, or the exterior floorings was
studied in the tiniest detail. 5
The interior spaces get once again a substantial independence,
completely covered with natural wood and, opposite to the external aspect of the work, are authorial, tonal, perfectly distinguished. Once again an intense formal research rules the projecting action by Manuel and Francisco in the definition of dense
and suggestive spatial dimension, dig in the most intimate part
of elementary, static and monochromatic architectural volumes.
Aires Mateus language is markedly and coherently expressed
in each one of the their creations, through a few fundamental
concepts of abstraction of the materials and concretization of
the space; these architects syntax and lexicon are definite and
powerful being the result of a rigorous improvement process,
lasted long time and applied on different types of intervention.
The dethatched houses, created since 1998, have been a florid
laboratory for their experimentation about formal reduction and
spatial articulation, soon become symbols of their own original
poetics. The black and white spaces in the Almedina bookshops,
projected between 1999 and 2007, are exercises of pure geometrical abstraction, led this time without considering the materiality of architecture; in them the construction is completely
de-contextualized and coincides with the extrusion of primary
shapes that can been as archetypes in a condensed form. The
large institutional buildings have been projected in parallel to
less extended constructions and are characterized by remarka-

ble relationships to the context, representing the benchmarks


of the Mateus archetypical stylization, in which materials reach
maximal affirmation through the strength of abstraction.
The buildings located in open territory, without any preconceived architectural or urban reference, are eventually their most
recent object of study; in these works materials and space are
put together in essential compositions that once again become
recognizable as signs of a style ruled by abstraction and geometry; in this way the specifications of a school complex, of a big
accommodation structure or of a multi-functional tower adopt
a sort of algebrical aspect: the programme becomes a projecting scheme in a process that is similar to an equation, where
abstraction of the rule becomes abstraction of the substance6
aiming to create comtemporary archetypes that are absolute in
shapes and dimensions as never before.

Edici Laguna Furnas, Isole Azzorre, 2010-2011

1
Gonalo Sousa Byrne, Un rudere ricostruito, p. 30, in Manuel e Francisco Aires Mateus. Casa isolata ad Alenquer, Casabella n. 700, 2002, pp. 30-37.
2
About Mateus education and the relationship between their architectural poetics
and the projecting experiences by Tavora, Siza, and Byrne, see Alberto Ferlenga,
Lievi masse, pp. 82-83, in Alice Perugini, Aires Mateus. 3 progetti, Casabella n. 743,
2006, pp. 82-97.
3
Manuele Aires Mateus in Davide Turrini, Nientaltro che materia e spazio. Intervista a Manuel Aires Mateus, here, p. 59.
4
Carlo Palazzolo, Monumentalit a sorpresa, p. 15, in Manuel e Francisco Aires Mateus. Rettorato della Universidade Nova a Lisbona, Casabella n. 710, 2003, pp. 14-21.
5
To know more about some technological aspects of the Aires Mateus work see the
following documents: Studentenwohnheim in Coimbra, Detail nn. 7-8, 2003, pp.
774-777; Rektoratsgebude der neuen Universitt in Lissabon, Detail n. 11, 2003,
pp. 1284-1287; Wohnhaus in Azeito, Detail n. 4, 2006, pp. 346-349.
6
Diogo Seixas Lopes, Form, program, city. Public architecture by Aires Mateus,
Darco Magazine n. 7 (Aires Mateus monography), 2009, p. 36.

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Un tempio per gli Dei di pietra


The temple
The search for a continuous stone wall delimitating a complex
system of rooms has been reasserted and re-elaborated by Manuel Aires Mateus in his recent project for A Temple for the Stone
Gods, the exhibit pavilion by Pibamarmi created for the 45th edition of Marmomacc in Verona and now located in the showroom
of the firm. The setting, delimited by solid walls, was configured
as a compact and rectified stone block, cut by four openings that
granted the access to the interior spaces thought as a complex
system of concentric cavities separated by other walls. In this
way a concatenation of reserved and hierarchical rooms took
form, being divided by partition walls and conceived to contain
the pieces from the bathroom furnishing collections designed
for the brand by Hikaru Mori, Philippe Nigro, and VISTOaw.
On the walls the smoothed and monochromatic stone material
is stratified in devices that stylize the geometries of ancient masonry works; in the design elements, the same stone type is condensed in sculpture-like shapes, included in intimate, deep and
unusual spaces, accessible only through the sight.
In spite of the temporary function of the project theme, the pavilion appears as a further confirmation of the strong tension of
the designer toward an architectural discipline signed by the value of duration: in his vision, together with the physical materials,
constructive and spatial ideas if fully and strongly expressed
can be destined to last for long time, at least in our memory. The
following Manuel Aires Mateus words confirm this judgement:
An exhibit pavilion isnt a theme to refuse because its ephemeral, it can rather be a more interesting occasion than a complete
building with foundations and roofing, to express important architectural ideas that can powerfully be impressed in the mind of
the visitor. This was my consideration when I got the assignment
to create Pibamarmis pavilion; I told myself that the time of the
pavilion was in fact limited to few days, but the time of the pavilion idea could last much longer. Then I designed a temporary
but highly architectonic work; I believe that space and material,
the only instruments of my style, intensely express their potentialities in the minimal dimension of the setting.1
As usual for the Mateus, the pavilion architecture shows a precise and coherent formal elaboration: reductions and subtractions
aim at making the built mass lighter; what the designer wants to
obtain from the stone walls isnt their aspects of heavy and dense three-dimensionality, but their rigorous geometric peculiarity
and their planar continuity;2 aggregations and compositional ar-

ticulations are intended to obtain a forceful densification of the


space, creating passages, rooms, ample cavities or minimal interstices, that together are highly well-suited for the exhibit space.
The idea of a sacred fence, taken in its essential aspects of an
enclosed and hierarchical space, is the inspiration for this project
of exhibit design and is a reminder for the visitors of archaeological evocations; once entered, the pavilion with its minimal free
walls standing in a circular shape without touching each other,
seems like the partially disaggregated remains of a temple, because as we visualize ruins in an abstract way, hardly referable
to their original reasons, forgetting their past, the mass of Aires
Mateus work lacks of heaviness thanks to some simple ideas
(). The conquest of lightness is obtained surrounding each solid space with a void, fragmenting the buildings and constantly
confusing open and closed rooms.3
The Gods
The walls of the pavilion contain a central cellar and lateral spaces thought to protect and at the same time reveal the stone
design pieces for the bathroom furnishing. These are the cult
objects of the rituals linked to wellness and body care and they
take form from stone in order to be contemplated and, above all,
touched; they give suggestions and sensations of harmony and
well being with their simple visual presence and, in particular,
through a completely open relationship.
In the panorama of contemporary bathrooms, based on immediate multi-sensorial stimulation or on the pleasure deriving
from the long-lasting memory of objects and rooms, these elements quietly celebrate a simple and naked material beauty,
characterized by subtle inclusions and veins, faded with irregular and soft porosity which doesnt disappear with the flowing
of time but finds in ageing an endless source of enrichment and
regeneration.
Here are the new Gods who take their robe of impalpable sacrality off to become empathic entities inviting to a global wellness
experience made of sanitary, aesthetical and meditative cares.
The sculpture-like baths, the plastic basins, and the expanded
shower plates are accessible images that renovate in the domestic space the primeval relationship between men and natural
forces represented by stone and water; indeed, the bathroom
fittings are conceived and manufactured according to their privileged connection with the liquid element: it flows on their surfaces becoming integral part of their design. Covering the stone
material, water is sometimes free to move, strong, transitory, sometimes controlled, quiet and unmovable; it turns from a simply
functional entity to an emotional presence amplifying the per-

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ception of the stone and exalting colours and textures of it.


The elements for the bathroom furnishing are the result of a
completely contemporary conception of the design product, distant by now from the industrial standardization and instead peculiar of a 3rd-millenium renovated manufacturing production,
in which automatic procedures coexist with the wise tradition
of the handmade, where we can find hors-srie unique pieces
and limited and customized collections. The bathroom fittings,
indeed, are created digging out material from entire monoliths
through progressive excavations by CNC machines. The perfection, continuity and fluidity of the cuts allow to obtain plastic
shapes with pure profiles, characterized by superimposition of
void and solid contrapositions, and by soft or more defined chiaroscuro contrasts.
All the elements, customizable in materials and dimensions,
have surfaces processed with few simple procedures of mechanical or manual finishing, composing a delicate game of sensorial and material contaminations; smoothed and silk-like planes,
or others more porous and striped give life to stones that have
the aspect of woods or fabrics, creating a minimal yet highly stimulating scene; in this way the liquid element freely develops its
effect on the stone, expressing the multiple and changeable languages of colours, reflections, sounds and temperatures. So in
these communicative and involving divine bodies that lives the
visual and tactile environment of Mateus temple, the stone material keeper of the ancestral world energy finds a renovated
union with the purifying and regenerating water, primary source
of life and of spiritual and physical reconcilement.
The heroes
In front of these new Gods, in a silent and softly illuminated atmosphere, the visitors capable to understand the stone rituals
are allowed to enter the temple and invited to live a privileged
relationship with divinity, partially absorbing its virtues.
In the water- and stone-made realm of the contemporary bathroom represented in Manuel Aires Mateus work, the products dedicated to the body care become revealing presences
of a new organicism that exceeds the simple sanitary values to
overlap on almost therapeutic physical and psychical functions;
these functions are focused on welcoming the individual and
on activating, expanding and enriching complex sensorial and
emotional experiences; in this way the design pieces act as material instruments in order to explore new thematic and aesthetical horizons. The bathroom becomes the place where water and
stone reaffirm their intimate relationship with the human body
and where the subject, the technical elements and the fruition

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practices obtain previously unseen connotations and new values.


The surfaces - smooth or rough, hot or cold, dry or wet , being
touched by hands, foots or other parts of the body, stimulate the
individual transmitting temperatures, sounds and smells of the
stone; from the water, the subject can absorb the energy of a
pouring movement, the calmness of a slow flowing, or the speculative dimension of the still liquid. We can eventually say that
the solid element and the liquid one lead the man to a pleasure
given by the union with the things in the world and to new hybrid atmospheres, where the prominence of the sight is substituted by the equal coexistence with tactile, auditive and olfactory perceptions. The bathroom, in other words, changes from
functional space to private ritual place, sensorial but also formal
and highly symbolic, where the stone design pieces are disposed
with care in order to represent inertia, density and equilibrium,
as distinctive signs of an aesthetical approach towards reality
strictly linked to a precise lifestyle.
Its a intimate, individual and naturalistic lifestyle in which the
body is at the centre of the material scene and, being receptive
and active at the same time, is immersed in a series of elements
that answer to its immediate needs in a perceptive and pensive
way. In this context the search for a contemporary equilibrium
between men and nature is possible re-evaluating our everyday
life and the importance of simple practices connected with the
concepts of intuition and experience. In such a behavioural and
relational dimension, stone, thanks to the 3rd-millenium design,
shapes a soft and wrapping formal universe which requires a
subtle and penetrating perception; stone material composes at
the end a relaxing and isolated environment, made of inviting
objects that ask to be touched, explored, smelled, listened to,
and lived with the direct contact of the skin.

1
Manuel Aires Mateus in Davide Turrini, Nientaltro che materia e spazio. Intervista
a Manuel Aires Mateus, here, p. 63.
2
For an overall analysis on the wall theme in the Mateus work see the fundamental
essay by Francesco Cacciatore, Abitare il limite: dodici case di Aires Mateus & Associados, Siracusa, Lettera Ventidue, 2009, pp. 141. Focusing his attention on the residences created by the architects, the author deals with the various declensions of the
border, from simple limit on which the material becomes denser in order to stress
the difference between exterior and interior spaces, to concrete spatial entity that
can be seen as a veritable lived-in wall.
3
Alberto Ferlenga, Lievi masse, p. 83, in Alice Perugini, Aires Mateus. 3 progetti,
Casabella n. 743, 2006, pp. 82-97.

80

Stone cavities
A total design project for the bathroom furnishing
Very often Manuel and Francisco Aires Mateus enrich the presentation of their projects with photos of quarries or rock scenarios,
and from that it can be easily understood the high value given
by the architects not to the mass itself, in its entirety, but to the
eroded and dug solid form and to the void the consequently is
originated.1
As these strongly evocative photos underline once more, the
cavity or better, the mass at its negative is a recurring study
theme in the architectures by the Portuguese brothers and recently has been developed by Manuel on the scale of the project
design in creating a collection of pieces for the bathroom furnishing made of natural stone. The collection, conceived for the
Pibamarmi brand, is characterized by a simple, pragmatic, conceptually immediate design, including archetypical shapes of
water holders as buckets, tubs, and bowls. They are elementary
objects, rudimentary in some sense, but yet becoming refined as
the subtle and curved lines of some porcelain vases or crockery.
Aires Mateus project design is indeed concentrated on the contrast between essentiality of mass and complexity of void, on
the identification of nonaligned negative volumes, designed according to a continuous and sinuous line, de-materializing monoliths in the shape of truncated cones or parallelepipeds; near
the borders the so-obtained cavities follow a flexible and sharp
movement, inspired by the shapes of the Oriental china, ancient
yet extremely elegant and accurate in their material consistence
and in the details of their borders.
In this first experience as a designer, Manuel Aires Mateus keeps
re-elaborating the cavities in his formal world: they take shape as
plastic masses or as hollow volumes obtained through a process
of removal of the material, in this case even more explicit because expressed in a mono-material context uniquely dominated by
the presence of stone. 2
The cavities of the elements, thanks to their particular section,
play with light in a series of penumbras and shades that become more and more intense, starting from the edge to the curved
and tensed bottom; the Portuguese architects project faces the
complexity of characteristics involved in designing the void, its
diverse morphologies and dimensions, its lighting conditions
and, above all, the dynamics through which the visitors experience it.
From the series of technical elements for the bathroom, according to Aires Mateus, product design perfectly integrates with

Manuel Aires Mateus, schizzi per una collezione di oggetti in pietra per lambiente bagno

interior design, reaching a concept of total design of the body


care environment: the overall value of the projecting action is
once again in the enclosure, in the spatial enucleation, in the indication of a precise domain defined by wall surfaces in which
the objects are collocated in interaction with the void and the
walls delimitating it. More than ever basins, tubs and shower plates arent protagonists unrelated to the context, but are co-protagonists leant against the walls, or partially included in them, or
even built into the floors, partially revealed, partially hidden by
the stone casing of the room.
In this idea of coordinated bathroom, constituted by collection
of pieces and stone surfaces, it is possible to recurrently find dimensional modules of 35, 45, 90 and 110 centimetres, that characterize basins and plates dung into the floor screed, while the
covering plates develop in vertical direction. These modules are
aimed to guarantee maximal flexibility in order to cover with
continuity surfaces of different typologies.
As suitable for shapes excavated from stone, the borders and the
walls of tubs and basins are full and precise but not too deep,
the monolithic volumes are well proportioned, the finishings of
the stone surfaces are smoothed and silk-like, soft at the touch.
Every technical element, autonomously or in couple, can find the
right collocation in an existing bathroom, every piece of the collection rigorous and essential in itself has a precise function
in an archipelago of technical object that can be re-distributed
in multiple configurations without need of expressly re-dimension the space. Careless of fashion trends, Manuel Aires Mateus
objects arent thought to be showed in a catalogue-like environment, but to create new formal and functional archetypes, able
to have a real role in the world, in a possible everyday life, engaging an authentic and direct interaction between the users and
their most immediate needs.

1
See about this: Juan Antonio Cortes, Building the mould of space. Concept and
experience of space in the architecture of Francisco and Manuel Aires Mateus, El
Croquis n. 154, 2011, p. 25 and p. 41.
2
On the theme of mono-material mass see Mateus considerations quoted in Ricardo Carvalho, On the permanence of ideas. A conversation with Manuel and Francisco Aires Mateus, El Croquis n. 154, 2011, p.7 and p. 15.

81

Nothing but materials and space

DT: In the Laguna Furnas buildings in the Azores, you used stone
once again. Can you describe the aspects of this work?

Interview to Manuel Aires Mateus


Verona, 30th September 2010

MAM: Choosing stone in the Azores could seem an obvious thing,


for the whole archipelago is constituted by volcanic reliefs emerging from the Atlantic and covered in some parts by a florid vegetation. In this context basalts and trachytes are very frequent,
with their grey or [bruno] nuances that characterize the environment of the islands; we used these stones to compose homogeneous textures to cover walls and roofs of the buildings, in
order to make the architectures become one with the landscape.
Laguna Furnas buildings are indeed a truly particular work,
being tiny constructions and paths aimed to the fruition of the
thermal lagoon, inserted in an extraordinary natural environment. We needed to preserve this environment in its integrity
and the stone gave the buildings the aspect of primary and archetypical presences that seem to be born in those places. Once
again the interns were designed autonomously, articulated in its
morphology and covered with warm natural wood; I believe the
visitors interpret these buildings as unexpected and suggestive
episodes.

Davide Turrini: In many architectural works of yours you have reinvented the theme of the stone wall working on texture geometries,
surface continuity and on a calibrated balance between full and
void spaces. Its the case, for instance, of the Lisboa University or of
the Sines Cultural Centre. Why is the research on stone walls so crucial to you?
Manuel Aires Mateus: I think the main element in architecture is
the material. In our buildings we absolutely need materiality in
order to distinguish our works from the surrounding space and,
at the same time, to create an interaction between the architecture and its context. Our projecting skills are obtained through
the ability of adjusting the materials to the point of view of the
buildings. According to me the stone wall is one of the highest
architectural expressions of materiality, it is exemplary to define
and enclose the space of my works, that I interpret as life holder destined to last for long time.
I want to connect to the continuity of History and stone allows
me to do that because it resists the flowing of time; stratified in
the wall dispositive, it expresses the idea of duration that is fundamental to me in order to create buildings significant in dimensions and functions and in relationship to the city environment.
Its the case of the Sines Cultural Centre, near the castle, and of
the Lisboa University Head Office, inserted in the large texture of
the capital town, near some greatly symbolic buildings.
DT: Besides walls, in your works we can find complex and articulated
interns. Which are the characteristics of these spaces?
MAM: I have not a privileged space typology, I just believe that
the spatial articulation of my architectures must be clear and
projected carefully from the beginning to the end; the configuration of all the spaces, even the littlest and most secondary,
must be studied and not left by chance. Once I have chosen the
width and the articulation of the materials defining the architecture, I try to find all the conditions that allow me to freely compose the spaces. In other words Im only interested in materials
and space, I want to work in an open manner with these two elements obtaining their maximal expressive potentials.

DT: You designed another complex of articulated spaces defined by


stone walls for the Pibamarmi A Temple for the Stone Gods pavilion at 45th Marmomacc.
MAM: Yes, I wanted to put the theme of the stone walls, to which
I am very affectionate, in the limited and temporary context of
an exhibit pavilion; it was an actual challenge, faced together
with Pibamarmi people who created the enginery and fulfilled
my idea with great competence. It was a very important occasion for me to experience the characteristics of stone materials
and manufacturing technologies; we modelled stones dividing
it, making it lighter and re-composing it in wall settings with a
metallic under-structure, everything calculated within the limits
of weight and dimension we were imposed by the logistics of
the fair event. This experience taught me a lot about the values
of practical architecture.
The result was very satisfying to me because, in spite of the particular context of the setting, I hadnt had to renounce to my designing method: both the homogeneous extended material and
an articulated and complex space were there. With a hard and
patient work we won the challenge and we were able to recompose a stone wall, eternal or eternally re-obtainable archetype to
which contemporaneity should give more consideration.

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DT: Duration is one of the principal values in your architecture. How


did you face this theme in the pavilion, in opposition to the one of
temporaneity?
MAM: In projecting my first works I had never had a fully awareness of the essential value of Time; nowadays I know architecture
is undoubtedly the discipline of duration. An exhibit pavilion is
not a theme to be refused just for its being temporary, it could
rather be an occasion to express important architectural ideas
that can remain strongly impressed in the visitors minds. This
was my thought when I was asked to create the Pibamarmi pavilion: I thought that the time of the pavilion was actually limited
to the few days of the exhibition but the time of the pavilion
idea could be much longer. So I designed a temporary yet highly
architectural work: in the minimal dimensions of this setting, materials and space, the only elements I work with, are expressed in
an extremely intense way.

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Rettorato dellUniversit di Lisbona, 1998-1999

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Space is the theme


Alfonso Acocella

We owe Rome of the artistic assumption of the architectural space: the


true architecture as a spatial language was born in Rome. Nowadays, after
two thousands years of architectural experience led under the influence
of Rome, it is easy for us to state that space is the specific expressive mean
of architecture and only of it. () Rome conceived space not as a term of
harmonic contemplation, but as place of its action, of its insatiable conquest and experience: that is the reason they surrounded themselves of
space, and in their buildings they widened and extended rooms, turning
them into apses or domes; eventually they created explosive dilatations:
who enters the Pantheon, or the Thermal ruins or the basilica of Maxentius, immediately feels their spatial enormity, a space that gets vaster and
vaster, but always leading back to its centre, as the Roman empire did.
So Roman architecture is the first properly spatial building language. ()
But if we want to think architecture as art, space must be considered, or
better felt, not as a physical reality, but as a creation of the fantasy: theoretical, not practical; it isnt just the place of our living or of our touristic curiosity anymore, it is the architects poetry, the shape he expresses
himself with.
Sergio Bettini, Lo spazio architettonico da Roma a Bisanzio,
Bari, Dedalo, 1990 (ed. or. 1979).

The void. Formalization of the space delimitated by the walls of


a building has been the main problem of Western architectural
experimentation for ages.
The shapes of Greek-Hellenic architecture, plastic and linear,
were poor in internal spatial links and dimensional relevance,
but their concept of configuration exalted the pathos of external
spaces through the plastic use of architectural orders in marble.
Roman architects were the first to transfer in the interior dimension the spatial values, exalting them in morphology and dimensions, and delivering them to the Late Antiquity architecture and
someway to all the Western tradition till nowadays.
As already underlined in the essays of this volume, Mateus brothers work cant escape the fascination of the architectural space, it becoming their essential stylistic feature.
On the wake of the teachings by Goncalo Byrne, Fernando Tavora, Alvaro Siza Siza but, according to me, also of the influence
of unrivalled 20 th-century masters as Rafael Moneo e Peter Zumthor (looked at from a certain distant, but also nearer as in the
case of Manuel, who taught at Mendrisio school with the master
of Valls for at least ten years) Manuel Mateus seems to put into

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his architecture a natural attitude, sealing it with the signs of an


absolute, quite, neuter and elegant contemporary spatiality. This
spatiality is derived from the reductionist and mono-material
figurative vision of the 20th century developed, at the start of
the century, by the Modern Movement avant-gardes ad then resurfacing through continuous repechages till the international
minimalistic tendency at the end of the millennium and was later made concrete through the homogenous and selective characteristics applied to materials, surfaces and architectural space.
If Space, after the original and splendid Roman influence, is the
Theme of Architecture and of Mateus work itself, the question
is whether (and how) it is possible to talk about his unspeakable
entity unspeakable as the notion of Time, as mentioned by the
Manuels interview to Davide Turrini at the mazy stone case by
Pibamarmi at 2010 Marmomacc , trying to define its essence, or
at least some characters, some ideas of it.
Parmenides, founder of the Eleatic philosophical school, represents the concept of space as the void opposite to the full, defining it in the category of non-being and consequently excluding
it from what is real.
But analyzing space, we talk about it, experience and measure it
every day with our steps: for us architects, space is a real object,
even if not a physical object.
Real object as void space, an entity surrounding other entities
or void between different entities, that can be sometimes an unlimited and undefined place where objects are located, or other
times can be limited, defined and formalized, as in every real architecture.
A void with geometric properties hence the Euclidean definition at the limits of which the magic of im-material happens,
where the void meets the full in contact with the epidermis, that
is to say to the last level of the material that compacts and displays the architectural space.
The full. The three dimensions (x, y, z) arent just the coordinates
of the Euclidean space, but are also the incarnation of the materials that are in it, with their characteristics of heaviness and equilibrium. The relation linking void and material in an architecture
is never fixed or without consequences, but every time shapes
the space according to the characteristics and assets never deeply alterable if not through the fourth dimension of Time.
The architecture as often remarked by theorists and essayists
begins in the moment men put walls on a horizontal surface
and develop them vertically in order to cut a space more suitable
to the life of individuals than the open, vast, immeasurable and
often inhospitable natural space.

Casa a Lisbona, 2008

The wall destined to enclose and shape space cant be obtained in a single piece from the crust. Materials, the elements
taken from the ground, must be assembled to create construction dispositives, textures, coverings, surfaces, and in the end
architectures. But architecture as Henri Focillon said isnt a
collection of surfaces, but an ensemble of parts whose height,
length and depth come together and constitute a previously unseen solid, which comprehends an internal volume [space] and
an exterior mass.1
In order to isolate architectural space from the immeasurable
terrestrial surface, its necessary to bend the wall or at least to
create a couple of walls positioned so that their settlement produces a veritable spatial block. In all these cases, thanks to the
inclusive use of wrapping walls as the Egyptian sacred fences,
the Mycenaean city walls, or the tmenos in Greek temples a
gap between terrestrial surface and physical vertical walls appears: this is the archetypical and eternal magic of the creation of
architectural space. On the horizontal scenario of the ground the
wall construction is set in an incisively volumetric way, bringing
along as in a case the definition of architectural space full of
particular value and character.
In Verona Manuel Aires Mateus renovated the ritual of spatial
creation. The pavilion designed for Pibamarmi is articulated with
a series of visual barriers, i.e. stonewalls monochromatic, of
the same origin, homogenous, coplanar, characterized by solid
and consistent figural aspects. The fruition experience into this
labyrinth-like structure is filled with the dimensional strength of
the massive stone volumes that partially hiding and partially
revealing glimpses to the sight of the visitors invites to move
in the interior space characterized by daedalic intensity, multiplying viewpoints and perspective effects.
Within the contracted and enclosed space of the pavilion, narrow passages alternate with widenings and openings, being
the counterpoint to unexpected dead ends: its an equilibrated
game of full and void spaces that seems evocating, on architectural scale, the same morphology animating the tubs and basins
made of marble exhibited in the interior space.
These stone creations actually give shape to the materials, offering a calibrated game of masses and cavities. The sharp corners
of walls and pillars are here substituted with the sinuosity and
softness of curves, as they suggested the fluid corporeity of the
water these objects are supposed to be filled with.

1
Henry Focillon Le forme nello spazio p. 32, in Vita delle forme, Torino, Einaudi,
1990 (Vie des Formes suivi de loge de la main, 1943, p. 134).

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Bibliografia_Bibliography

Manuel e Francisco Aires Mateus. Casa isolata ad Alenquer, Casabella n. 700, 2002, pp. 30-37; con un saggio
di Gonalo Sousa Byrne, Un rudere ricostruito, p. 30.
Manuel e Francisco Aires Mateus. Rettorato della Universidade Nova a Lisbona, Casabella n. 710, 2003,
pp. 14-21; con un saggio di Carlo Palazzolo, Monumentalit a sorpresa, p. 15.
Francisco e Manuel Aires Mateus, Gonalo Byrne, Valentino Capelo de Sousa, An informal conversation,
2G n. 28, 2004, pp. 129-143.
Joo Belo Rodeia, On traveling a distance, 2G n. 28, 2004, pp. 4-17.
Alberto Campo Baeza, A handful of air, 2G n. 28, 2004, pp. 46-47.
Gabriele Lelli, Rettorato della Universidade Nova, Lisbona, pp. 454-457, in Alfonso Acocella, Larchitettura
di pietra. Antichi e nuovi magisteri costruttivi, Lucca-Firenze, Lucense-Alinea, 2004, pp. 623.
Delfim Sardo, Diogo Seixas Lopes, Emlio Tuon, Aires Mateus: arquitectura, catalogo della mostra, Lisbona,
Almedina/Fundao Centro Cultural de Belm, 2005, s. pp.
Alice Perugini, Aires Mateus. 3 progetti, Casabella n. 743, 2006, pp. 82-97; con un saggio di Alberto Ferlenga,
Lievi masse, pp. 82-83.
Carlotta Tonon, Gita al faro. Francisco e Manuel Aires Mateus, Museo del Faro a Santa Marta, Casabella n. 763,
2008, pp. 61-69.
Laura Bossi, Residential and retail building in Moura, Portugal, Domus n. 926, 2009, pp. 100-104.
Diogo Seixas Lopes, Form, program, city. Public architecture by Aires Mateus, Darco Magazine n. 7
(Aires Mateus Monografia), 2009, pp. 35-37.
Francesco Cacciatore, Abitare il limite: dodici case di Aires Mateus & Associados, Siracusa, Lettera Ventidue,
2009, pp. 141.
El Croquis n. 154 (Aires Mateus 2002-2011. Construir el molde del espacio), 2011, pp. 259.

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