C.C. Sullivan | May 01, 2011
A patchwork rainbow, set into a pink wall, sounds a tad psychedelic for old-world Portugal. But you'll find exactly that in Vila do Conde, where a mansion from the 1500's now houses the Saint Roch Solar Gallery cultural center as well as a dormitory for the Superior School of Industrial Studies and Management. The namesake architecture firm of Manuel Maia Gomes made the rainbow wall the signature of the 16,000-square-foot project.
Actually a light box flaunting vertical strips of colored film, the installation was key to Maia Gomes's strategy for overcoming a major hitch: How could he draw patrons in from the alley behind the building when the sloped site left the "ground" level hovering far above their heads? Accustomed to working in historic milieus, he soon sketched out an avant-garde addition containing stairs and an elevator. The rough-finished concrete of this monolithic entry is tinted to pick up the rosy tones of local stucco and marble. Inside, when visitors reach the upper landing, they're greeted by the rainbow wall. He calls it "the light at the end of the tunnel."
The entry delivers visitors into the mansion proper. First comes a gallery for painting—a long space that leads to a bookstore and screening rooms for film and video art. Maia Gomes exposed the granite walls of the screening rooms and fitted them with frameless glass doors that offer a clear view from the central courtyard. Plaster walls return in the internal stair hall, completed in the 1700's and now used by the students living on the two upper levels. To shed more sunshine on the steps, he inserted a light well, a cast-concrete cone that adds suitably cinematic drama