Theatrical meets industrial at Portugal's University of Coimbra, where João de Lima Mendes Ribeiro and Cristina Guedes collaborated on an arts center
C.C. Sullivan -- Interior Design, 5/1/2011 3:54:00 PM
If you notice anything dramatic about spaces by João de Lima Mendes Ribeiro, that might be the influence of the architect's sideline in set design. Mendes Ribeiro has used high-contrast lighting and singular, memorable symbolism to capture both story line and mood for a long list of stage productions. It all began in 1991 with a chance invitation from a Portuguese director.
For the dystopian Red, Black, and Ignorant by Edward Bond, Mendes Ribeiro's angular, mottled gray walls and Donald Judd-esque ladder dwarfed performers while magnifying their impact. A recessed bookshelf opened onto the postmodern meta-drama of The Jester and His Wife Tonight in Pancomedia by Botho Strauss. The Nap, a surrealistic dance film by Olga Roriz, was inspired by a collapsible, portable table-suitcase that Mendes Ribeiro had invented a decade earlier. In fact, Portugal's only representation at the Prague Quadrennial in 2007 was an exhibition of Mendes Ribeiro's set designs, called "Architectures on Stage."
Mendes Ribeiro sees untapped spectacles everywhere, even in the remodeling of a 9,700-square-foot boiler house at Portugal's University of Coimbra. Preserving the machinery and the heatproof brick walls was mandatory in adapting the building to become a graduate arts center. And that fact delighted him all the more.
Using the antiquated machinery as protagonist and dramaturgical device, João Mendes Ribeiro Architect worked with Cristina Guedes of Guedes + De Campos Architects Associates to reinvent the space as a showplace of industrial archaeology. "The remodeling shouldn't be understood as a way of fixing the past," Mendes Ribeiro says. "Rather, we saw it as an act of transformation and adaptation for uses far beyond the original features."
Minimal interventions accommodate a bookshop on one side of the old boiler, a café on the other, and extra café seating on a small mezzanine right above the hulking, rusty machinery itself. To make room for a kitchen and restrooms, Mendes Ribeiro and Guedes carved into the hillside behind. Their biggest move occurs to the side, where they dropped a strongly vertical addition onto an ancillary structure once used for coal storage. That storage space is now a multipurpose facility for exhibitions and conferences; a library, classrooms, a meeting room, and offices are stacked above.
The addition's four-story concrete exterior is intentionally upstaged by the boiler house, which could be mistaken, from a distance, for a Mediterranean villa. However, despite the addition's simple form and orderly window placement, volumes inside are diverse and interlocking. Subtle yet powerful surprises and contrasts abound. In the storage space turned multipurpose facility, Mendes Ribeiro and Guedes preserved the rails and rolling bin once used to transport the coal-a physical connection to the past and, literally, to the boiler house next door. Ditto for a concrete floor screed with black iron oxide, echoing the existing building's. Upstairs classrooms' solid pine flooring contrasts with white walls, the latter washed with lustrous iron oxide. Meanwhile, the offices, small boxy spaces, feature black linoleum and paint.
"An architect must let drama evolve from a building's inherent characteristics," Mendes Ribeiro says. Such formal austerity reflects the two architects' deep connection to the School of Porto as established by Pritzker Architecture Prize winners Álvaro Siza and Eduardo Souto de Moura. Mendes Ribeiro was a student of theirs and has practiced in their orbit for decades-including forays into historic preservation, urban planning, and furniture design, all of which came in handy at the University of Coimbra arts center. As for Guedes, she had an internship with Siza while she was studying at the University of Porto. The boiler-house conversion, true to that aesthetic heritage, brings theatricality to the mundane without unduly disturbing the natural state of things.
Photography by FG + SG Architectural Photography/Photofoyer.
adalgisa lopes; cristina maximino; francisco mourão; odete pereira: guedes + de campos architects associates. ana rita martins; catarina fortuna; diana afonso; duarte krüger; eva berghofer; joana figueiredo; jorge teixeira dias; luís crisóstomo; manuela nogueira; marco pedrosa; pedro grandão; ricardo silva; sónia bom; sónia gaspar: joão mendes ribeiro architect. alípio guedes: structural engineer. afaconsult: mechanical engineer. ohm-e: electrical engineer. arlindo correia & filhos: general contractor.
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