Jorge Carvalho

Shift of conditions: shift the action, shift the meaning

Pousada da Costa; Pousada do Bouro

Views before interventions

Object of study

Thinking how an architect connects abstract concepts and materialization throughout the design process, one is compelled to face issues like context, available production systems or even biographical circumstance. We will use two projects to follow changes within a particular conceptual line, among impossibilities, opportunities of action and stimuli from the cultural framework. The two works are separated by authorship and time. The generation gap between the authors is about 30 years. They are Fernando Távora (born in 1923) and Eduardo Souto de Moura (born in 1952). The time gap between the works is about 17 years (F. Távora’s Pousada da Costa, began in 1972 and Souto de Moura’s Pousada de Bouro in 1989). For ease of comparison, all other specific conditions are common to both works: they are both commissioned by the same state-owned institution to adapt ruins of convents to luxury hotels, and the sites are set apart by some mere 25 Km.



Pousada da Costa (1972-85); Pousada de Bouro (1989-97)

Diagrams of historic evolution


Conceptual line

Both authors share a generic attitude to the ruins: their respect for heritage doesn’t mean stabilizing it with a restoration and opposing it with what’s new, like the Venice Charter says. On the contrary, their view is that respect for heritage demands knowing it deeply and interpreting it, in order to manipulate and develop it, as has always been the case throughout history. "This is how the life of a building is begun, pursued and continued over a period of eleven centuries, in the certainty that other centuries and transformations will follow..."(1); "For the project as a whole, the ruins are more important than the actual ‘Monastery’, since they represent available, open, manipulable material, just as the building itself has been through history" (2). The methodology is the same as that which has been employed throughout the centuries: reassembly of components, mix of new parts with old ones and growth with contemporary ideas and languages. This is why both architects publish diagrams showing the permanent changes the existing buildings incurred over time. They also share -although in varying degrees- a tendency towards formal reduction and anonymity.


Pousada da Costa

Sucession of arches in the cloister

Potential of the specific conditions of work

In this manner, however, the boundary with the refused position (the opposition of languages) is a fine one which requires further thoughts to be drawn, as thinking architecture is done not only through concepts, but through images, sounds, techniques, perceptions, gestures and colours. Starting with a significant gesture in the first work, by Távora: out of all the traces of past stages of the existing building, systematically found during the long archeologic studies, some of them are selected to play a role as an aesthetic feature 'explaining' the historic relativity of the current state of the building. The fact that their choice is very much a matter of opportunity and convenience from the formal point of view does not deny the clarity of the concept. On the contrary, it helps our understanding of how the particular circumstances of any project embody a potential of its own in the design process.


Pousada da Costa

General view;

View of new wing

Method I

For Távora, relating to the past corresponds to "a dialogue (...) asserting similarities and continuity more than cultivating differences and rupture" (3). In the new wing, that conceptual challenge is addressed without any typological or metric continuity, for in the context of historic evolution, a display of self-conscious formal devices would have been too seductive and a sign of weakness. Instead, continuity is searched for in more subtle means of expression. The facades convey the idea of a compact and textured volume. The importance of texture (achieved by the glass divisions) lies in playing down reflexion by the glass and setting a parallel with the windows of the existing building. As Kenneth Frampton accurately points out, the connotations of the proportions are here an important means to achieve the correct ‘measure’: "the elongated, two-by-seven window openings evoke an aloof, almost aristocratic elegance, that is joined here with the normative logic of a unself-conscious, quasi-industrial elevation. The result is a quiet iteration that underlies and offsets the impassive horizontal mass of the existing building" (4). Furthermore, colour is also used as a device to make blending plausible. The same colour is used in the roofs, the windows and the extension. All this goes to show that while actions deal with opportunity, methods are shaped by knowledge, understanding and reflexion.



(vernacular architecture)

Available means of production

What is obvious and acknowledged by Távora himself is that this project in particular embodies his deep study of the vernacular architecture of the area. He not only, as an architect, integrated a team in charge of carrying out the Survey of Popular Portuguese Architecture in the late fifties, and reflected on the subject through reading and writing, but he also has kept in touch with his roots in the area, his birthplace. But of equal importance, at the time of the project, there was still a portuguese construction culture of poor materials and careful craft from which he was able to draw support, aware that architecture is a collective achievement and can only be successfully carried out along the potential of a society’s prevalent technology.


Pousada de Salamonde (1951-56) Cultural framework

What is equally obvious and acknowledged by the author is that he travelled widely, exploring modernist expressive devices in the early years of his practice. In the fifties, in the four last CIAM congresses, he observed the emerging relativity of the modernist movement. This freed him to consider, at that point in his career, a search for rules to govern each situation. Although he is not prepared to reveal precise references for his design in his contemporaries -in order to stress his position that architecture must be one with life and that solutions are unique- we can be sure that they exist. So, it is possible that the series of inns by Januário Godinho, from as early as the fifties, have stimulated the combination of modernist abstraction with vernacular ‘textures’ that Távora and others had already been trying in previous projects.


Pousada de Bouro

General view;

View of the cloister;

View of the extension

Method II

When you first look at Souto de Moura’s work, however, you wonder where is the connection to this conceptual line. For him, relating to the past means a systematic approach which seeks to consider equally all periods of development of the building. From this point of view, a refusal to restore the ruins was to be expected, since that option would, by definition, return them to an earlier known state of the building at the expense of other periods. So, he sets out on his ambitious task by maintaining the fundamental external figure of the existing ruins and by taking their heterogeneous expression ‘as found’, only to make them part of a new expressive system. Externally, however, this new expressive system is hardly readable. On the outside the relationship between the elements of the ruin are unchanged, by understating all signs of the current intervention. For instance, the cloister wall is kept free-standing, as it was found. The absence of roof pitches, the absence of roof eaves -the whole building is covered with a flat grass roof- and of visible window frames is a concomitant move. Even something as big as an extension to accomodate services, maintains the impression of being the convent precint wall which used to exist in the same place.


Pousada do Bouro

Views of the fountain before and after intervention

Method III

That is why people keep saying that the author wants to do a romantic ruin and he warns: "but it is not true"(5) "the project aims to adapt, or rather, to make use of the stones available to build a new building"(6). Relating to the past as a whole means acting like ‘them’. In fact, when we know more about it, we find out that the ruins were manipulated to a large extent through the building’s life and also in the intervention. For instance because of the extension hidden under the platform, the existing fountain was dismantled and rebuilt facing in another direction, in front of the extension. Adjustments in height were also made to the arches inside the building to allow for the new slab thickness, and existing doors were displaced. All these moves aim towards stabilizing spaces and forms, and towards avoiding tensions in the potentially intricate points of contact between old and new.



Távora enunciated the extent to which architecture is able to transform the world. With him, methods became concentrated on interpreting and optimizing. Souto de Moura’s manipulation of the place is a device clearly indebted to this consciousness, and there are several biographical connections to Távora to support this: from their cultural and disciplinary private debates, to indirect connections like using the same contractor. However one cannot help thinking that the generation gap has produced a real shift. Souto de Moura’s quest in architecture is for a return to essential rules. It is as if there is a need for absolutes, even if they are no longer shared but held in private. His way of expressing this is through the reduction of form and through an exploration of tactile and visual qualities of materials.


Pousada do Bouro

View of corridor

Shift of the meaning

So, in the interior, where the creation of an environment for inhabitation is necessary, where a transformation to support new uses is required, a stronger enphasis is put into the intervention. Here, the materials of the ruin and those of the intervention form a expressive system of the utmost importance. The new materials are carefully chosen for their colours, textures, ways of aging and conotations, in such a way as to create a contrasting range, but still avoiding the exotic and the unwonted. Floors, ceilings and wall finishes, where they exist, are introduced with a psichological weight so as to connect to the massive existing walls. Formally, analogy and neutrality are prefered. Such options about the inserted elements complete the manipulation of the existing in order to provide a perceptive balance and continuity in the final result. The new elements do not appear as something intrusive in an alien logic, but rather integrate the old ones in a new logic. In the times of chaotic landscape and failure of planning instruments, in the times of architecture as a lonely and disciplinary activity, form and construction take value as rules to design but still keep the subtlety required to express parity with past periods of architecture.


Available means of production II

About the expression of materials, we also must assess the issue of how Souto de Moura has been exploring the changes which have been taking place in the Portuguese production system since the 1970’s. The refined operations carried out in this work, finished in 97, are not anymore related to craft, where knowledge stems from tradition and transformation from manpower, nor are they achieved at huge expense by specialized firms. Rather it stems from a production system where industry is not yet organized to fully normative principles and therefore, one where special demands and labour-intensive solutions are still acceptable. Practicing conditions raise issues which also have the potential to entail shifts in the meaning.


Forthcoming conditions

Both the issues directly conditioning materialization and the issues generally stimulating creativity suffered a shift in this 17 year span. Conditions of work in Portugal will certainly change in the forthcoming years towards increasingly restrictive standards: pre-fabrication, specialization of workmanship, certification, more detailed regulations, even regulations for mixing ‘naturally’ functions in a city. They will also change –but this time together with most western countries- in the direction of a harder struggle for quality, considering the contradiction between the current non-sustainable economic logic and the decreasing resources at our disposal. These are conditions of work in which the above-mentioned methods may be adapted to continue achieving broad meanings with restricted actions.



(1) TÁVORA, Fernando - Santa Marinha Convent. Guimarães, 1975-1984. "Fernando Távora", Lisboa, Editorial Blau, 1993, p. 112-118.

(2) SOUTO DE MOURA, Eduardo - "...like the chatter / of chattering teeth". "Pousada Sta. Maria de Bouro", s.l., ed. Enatur, Empresa Nacional de Turismo, S.A., 1997, p.23.

(3) TÁVORA, Fernando - Santa Marinha Convent. Guimarães, 1975-1984. "Fernando Távora", Lisboa, Editorial Blau, 1993, p. 112-118.

(4) FRAMPTON, Kenneth – In Search of a Laconic Line. A Note on the School of Porto. "A&V", Madrid, 47, May-June 1994, p.118-120.

(5) COLLOVÁ, Roberto – Bouro, a continual story. "Eduardo Souto de Moura. Themes for Projects", Mendrisio/Milan, Accademia di Architettura dell’a Università della Svizzera Italiana / Skira editore, 1998, p. 23 - 33

(6) Santa Maria do Bouro Convent. Amares, Braga, 1989/.... "Eduardo Souto Moura", Lisboa, Editorial Blau, 1994, p. 138 – 141.