Nestled against mighty walls: Visitor centre in Pombal
Client: Pombal Municipality
Architect: Comoco Arquitectos
Loation: Rua da Encosta do Castelo, P–3100 Pombal
When the architects were awarded the commission for the new visitors centre at Castelo de Pombal, a mediaeval castle in a small Portuguese town, they were already familiar with the site, having been occupied since 2010 with designing the re-organisation of the whole hill on which the castle stands. To revive the historical site as a tourist attraction and return it to the focus of the local population, this involved creating new walkways to link the town at the foot of the hill and surrounding green open spaces with the prominent castle ruins, which are visible from afar. As a result, newly-created paths, ramps and stairways now lead visitors past a newly-built cafeteria to the ruin's restored entrance.
The greatest challenge, however, was the commission to integrate a visitors centre into the ward, or castle yard. This the architects have achieved by placing a compact steel structure completely clad in lime sandstone next to one of the historical exterior walls. The programme was compacted to a minimum, and thus the building merely incorporates a reception area, an exhibition space and a storage area. The whole flat roof acts as a viewing platform and has been given a height that enables visitors to look through a late Gothic window down onto the valley and the Arunca river below. Like the entrance, which has the form of an understated aperture in the façade, the steps leading up to the viewing platform make the impression of having been incised into the structure.
On the main tower opposite the visitors centre, the architectural concept is complemented with Corten steel fixtures, as seen in the new steel staircase installed to provide access to an exhibition room, and the empty frame-like structure at the side of the tower.
A "carpet" of individually placed slabs of pale lime sandstone corresponds with the pale surfaces of the new visitors centre, which like a dazzling piece of furniture harmoniously reconciles the new with the old in the midst of the old castle walls.