November 6, 2020
Fala Atelier’s Latest House Is Not a House
The Portuguese architecture practice has transformed an old clothing factory into an experimental, flexible apartment. Except, according to the firm: “It’s not a house.”
Located on a back street in the center of Porto, a two-story apartment sits at the foot of a 1970s-era building, like the renovated plinth of a deteriorating column. Fala Atelier designed the space to accommodate traditional functions like dining, cooking and sleeping, yet it also works equally well as an office space or art gallery.
“There’s a lot of architects who define flexibility by things that move around such as sliding panels and curtains,” says Fala co-founder Filipe Magalhães. “I believe that this is a truly flexible project because it creates a series of opportunities that then allow the user to experiment with the space,” like a giant hole in the wall that lets light into a dim kitchen but also allows users to bypass the door and step in and out through the disk-shaped opening.
Magalhães describes the space as experimental in large part because the client was an “absent” promoter who eclipsed himself after hiring the architects and giving them carte blanche. So Fala Atelier forged its own brief and decided to “go deeper” with the design by balancing unusual textures like a marble flooring and a pink ceiling, with bold strokes like monumental wooden doors, expressive geometry, and a wedge-shaped garden corner at the end. “Everything we design, we design as housing, but we always try to remove the house-ness from those projects, we try to make it less about domesticity and more about spatiality,” says Magalhães. “If you don’t put a bed, it’s not a bedroom, if you don’t put a sofa, it’s not a living room.”
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The apartment spans two levels–living spaces on the ground floor and sleeping quarters at basement level–where each floor is conceived as one space that stretches from the street to the backyard. A testing ground for open living, the interior is framed by a straight white wall on one side, and an undulating wall on the other. The latter, which gave the apartment the nickname of Uneven House, is punctuated by three floor-to-ceiling, plywood doors with oversized marble handles which lead to the kitchen and the bathroom.
On the southern edge of the plot, the apartment extends out onto a garden with a patch of grass shaped “like a pizza slice” and a split mirror that hugs the obtuse angle of the outer wall and “works as a window.” But the garden also brings natural light into the lower level, which the practice achieved by demolishing the roof of the factory annex and digging out the earth to provide access to the basement.
The young couple who lives there now visited on a Monday and signed the contract on a Wednesday. Several other people “hated it tremendously,” says Magalhães. “It’s a very radical proposal therefore you either love it or hate it.” But with only three days on the market, it sure seems like love has prevailed.
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