The Promoter and the Brief
Pesqueiramiga is a local non-profit association from the social sector. They needed a home and activity center to shelter people with disabilities (either physical or mental).
The chosen plot of land was both inspiring and challenging: a hillside with a strong slope and a beautiful view over Sao Joao da Pesqueira and the hills surrounding the Douro River valley but... facing north. Therefore, sun exposure was a main concern since the beginning. Actually, this is a double facility (home + activity center), working as one and keeping autonomy whenever it is necessary to separate them. Topography was determinant for us: we wanted a building attached to the ground, following the hill slope, in order to fit. Its dimensions and location in the outskirts of town would be quite noticeable from far, and that was not the intention.
So, we decided to develop a single floor building whose interior corridors would be ramps (furthermore, considering the residents’ and users’ impairments) following the outside land in a continuous flow or people inside and roof outside. Its plan in a “double L shape”, apparently rigid, when seen from east and west shows a building calmly sliding down the hill. The southern sector is the Home, and the southern part is the Activity Center, both sharing a common entry, marked by an open-air patio with an existing tree piercing the continuous roof.
This central position on the plot allowed the creation of several patios, reusing the existing stone walls (the local tradition of taming the hilly landscape for agricultural uses). Actually, this was another design goal: a strong interaction inside-outside, so that residents and users, who are mostly from rural areas, can keep or develop their agricultural skills.
Residents are people with disabilities, of different ages. This implies bedrooms to sleep and activity rooms added by staff facilities. So, we created a southern wing of bedrooms, partially carved into the hillside. This enhances the intimate and calming atmosphere of the sleeping areas, whose windows open towards east, almost at ground level, with nice views to the old oak tree. Each pair of bedrooms shares a bathroom, located at the ramp landings, always with a full skylight above.
The Activity Center
It is directly connected to the Home by the ramped corridor behind the entry hall (but whose door can be closed avoiding access) because the residents also use and benefit from the Center activities on a daily basis. Nevertheless, because the Activity Center welcomes other users than the residents, it has its own reception room followed by the staff offices. Following the ramped corridor, one can reach the northern wing (with two floors) where the activity rooms are located. On the upper floor are the staff locker rooms and sanitary facilities, followed by two Snoezelen therapy rooms and a double handcrafts room with moveable partitions to allow further flexibility of use. After that a mock-up apartment for Daily Living Activities training. All rooms have direct access to the exterior garden through small bridges (over the gap that lets southern sun into the basement floor), for safety escape reasons as well. All these windows on southern facade are shaded by a sequence of solar panels. The common access is made through a long corridor, totally glazed, whose sliding windows turn it into a balcony towards the town center and the Douro hills ahead.
The lower floor of the Activity Center is accessed by the western staircase or by the elevator next to it. There we find the social lounge (with a bar) and the dining room which can be used together for bigger social events, supported by a kitchen, and technical rooms. This is a ground floor totally open to the outside vegetable garden on the north side, and a basement carved into the hillside towards south. So, in order to get southern sun in winter and cross ventilation in summer, some horizontal high windows were introduced (under the bridges) on the southern facade, after lowering the garden. The Exterior The whole facility has a footprint of about 1500 m2, with some large rooms. So, we wanted to avoid an intruder volume in the landscape, thus the spatial articulation into different wings, running down the hill, always keeping low and attached to the ground. To reinforce this ground connection, we decided to build the outside walls exclusively with schist stones, the same that have been used for centuries on the vernacular buildings in the region, either on houses, farming shacks or retaining walls. For the roof we chose to use new ceramic tiles with a weathered patina for a better fusion with the facade stones.