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Vineyard origami: High-Performance Rowing Centre in Portugal

Flanked by countless rows of steep vine terraces, the Douro river winds its way through what is probably the most beautiful and dramatic wine-producing region in the world. It is here, in the little Portuguese village of Pocinho some 40 km east of the Spanish border, that Álvaro Fernandes Andrade took on the task of integrating an Olympic High-Performance Rowing Centre into the unique landscape with as little impact as possible.

Architect: Alvaro Fernandes Andrade, spacialAR-TE
Location: Vila Nova de Foz Côa, Portugal

Premises for 130 athletes were to be created on 8,000 m² of space directly above a dam and the small river harbour of Pocinho. The room programme is divided into three fundamental components: a Training Zone, a Housing Zone and the Social Zone.

The building complex seeks to reflect the genius loci and is oriented on the one hand to the ubiquitous terracing that snakes its way through the valley, and on the other to the region's white-walled vineyard buildings that have been rebuilt and enlarged again and again for generations.

The housing areas in the complex are simply dug into the slope to subordinate them to the structures and contours of the vine terraces and are only recognisable from the outside by their skylights.  In reference to the vineyards of the area, rough-cut slabs of the red and blue slate typical of the region have been used to buttress the individual terraces.   

The communal and workout rooms and the access areas have been expressively laid onto the landscape as formally dissimilar and volumetrically complex white structures. Their angular crystalline surfaces recall origami folds as they ascend the individual levels like a reptile, opening up in a U-shape to the west.

The most striking part of the overall complex is the wing at the uppermost level, which is where the entrance hall and the communal areas for rest and relaxation are located along with demonstratively high prestige rooms that form the head of the architectural body. Large windows allow views over the Douro River Valley and thanks to their south-west alignment ensure maximum light yield.

In comparison, the wing at the foot of the slope is more introverted.  Flatter in form than its counterpart at the top, this building wing devoted to effort and concentration turns its back on the valley and directs its attention inwards, being the location of the training and workout areas for the high-performance athletes. Photos of the main feature, a large indoor rowing basin, are unfortunately not yet available. 

These two wings are joined by a tunnel-like staircase that climbs up the entire eastern perimeter, providing access to horizontal passageways punctuated by individual room cells along the terrace levels. The passageways themselves are deeply buried into the slope and located below and behind the rooms and gain their daylight through narrow light shafts.

All the residential rooms built alongside the access hall can be used by athletes in wheelchairs, plus the bathrooms can be adapted to the needs of the disabled at very little effort. Athletes with physical constraints can thus choose their rooms as they please and lodge in the same areas as the rest of the team without being relegated to special  "disabled-friendly" areas. Permanently installed chair lifts also ensure that the staircases do not pose an insuperable barrier.

The crystalline structure of the outer skin is repeated in the zigzag lines of the purist and minimalist interior spaces, extending through the rooms like a dynamic driving force that does not stop at the window bands or skylight strips. Solely the rooms for reclusion make use of a quiet, rectangular form idiom. Walls in fair-faced concrete and slate, particularly in the subterranean rooms, underscore the proximity of earth and the underground situation. 

The option of extending the project to 11,000 m² for 225 athletes altogether, thus requiring an increase in the number of rooms from 84 to 170, was intended from the very start. Further housing wings can simply be inserted below the existing four terraces to achieve this aim.

Along with the formal organisation of volumes, the hillside location has been functionally exploited to the full, as seen in the ideally balanced passive energy management system with its focus on solar energy and thermal mass. The room cells are buried deep into the ground to reduce their outer surfaces to a minimum, and like the passageways have a pleasant indoor climate thanks to their thermal mass and well-insulated green roofs. Solar gain is ensured in these rooms through their south-facing skylights, which can be shaded from the outside during the heat of the summer. At night, stars can be seen from the beds.

Project data

Client: Municipality of Vila Nova de Foz Côa
Project management: Paula Teles, mpt
Contractor: Manuel Vieira e Irmãos Lda
Site area: 8,000 m²

More projects on this topic in DETAIL 4/2014 Stairs, Ramps, Lifts

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