Light and shade: Townhouse in Lisbon

ARX Portugal Arquitectos has designed a house with two completely different facades to meet the needs for privacy and openness. On the street side the houses closes itself off with a system of horizontal and vertical limestone elements that create an impression of depth according to the incidence of light. On the rear side the façade is glazed and open in character, however, and provides the possibility to step outside on every storey. Architects: ARX Portugal Arquitectos, lda., José Mateus, Nuno Mateus
Location: Lisbon, Portugal
The architects have succeeded in creating a design that responsively merges in with the neighbouring buildings on the one hand while interpreting recurring Lisbon traditions on the other. The typical parcel of land on which the townhouse stands is a mere six metres wide but 15 metres long, and reaches all the way from the street to a garden at the back of the property. The five storeys of the building are aligned to the eave and storey heights of the neighbouring houses for a uniform frontage. 
However, the front and rear elevations could not differ more in terms of materials and character. On the private side of the house, expanses of glass provide unimpeded views of the small secluded garden and the city beyond. In contrast, the pale limestone typical of Lisbon gives the street facade a closed look. 
A grid of horizontal and vertical limestone elements forms a rhythmic structure at the front and provides it a sense of depth. Depending on the position of the sun, this effect is underscored by a play of light and shade that changes with the subtle light of morning and the strongly contrasting shadows of the afternoon. The horizontal strips make the storeys clearly legible, while room-high window elements open up the façade and find increasing use the higher the building gets. Down on the street level it was the architects' intention to close the building almost completely off to the street with its parked cars and passers-by.   
A garage and storage room are located along with a living room on the ground floor. Since the plot falls in height towards the garden, the staircase in the storey below leads directly to the green outdoor space where a splendid linden tree grows. The generously-proportioned kitchen on the basement level forms a visual continuum with the garden, where natural stone enclosure walls enhance the broader sense of space. 
Inside, the house presents itself in a restricted choice of materials. The firewalls, ceilings and the inner functional and access core are built of exposed concrete made with wooden shuttering, and form the building's basic load-bearing structure. Doors and certain partition walls in birch introduce a feeling of warmth to the rooms. 
Single-flight stairs connect the five stories and divide the 15-metre-long rooms into two exact halves. These have an open-plan design and make a roomy impression. 
The highlight of the house is the roof garden on the fifth and uppermost floor. Hidden away behind the limestone elements of the street elevation, it does not have the feel of a usual roof patio but is more like an indoor space from which the ceiling and windows have been removed. At the same time it forms a transition between the two neighbouring buildings of differing height, and offers outlooks onto Lisbon that make it possible to gain an impression of the city's size. 
On every storey there is also the possibility to step outside onto a balcony and open the house up completely to the garden side. On the street side, views into the house are almost completely blocked off for visual privacy. The overall effect is one of a harmonious balance of open and closed facades. 
Structural engineer: SAFRE, Projectos e Estudos de Engenharia Lda.
M&E and home security: Energia Técnica - Gabinete de Engenharia, Lda
Contractor: Manuel Mateus Frazão
Building area: 436 m²
Period of planning: 2010 - 2011
Period of construction: 2012 – 2013
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