Louise Braverman's design for the museum devoted to the artwork of the late Portuguese artist Nadir Afonso could be described as "hidden delights," given the exhibition hall tucked behind the entry pavilion, the accessible green roof that tops the exhibition hall, and the auditorium expressed on the front facade but hidden behind a concrete wall. It's an intelligent design that responds to the conditions of the site in creative ways. Architect Louise Braverman answered a few questions about the building.
View of Entry Hall at Dusk
Please provide an overview of the project.
Our design for this 20,000-square-foot single artist museum merges architecture with landscape to create a link between the emerging urban center of Boticas with its pastoral environs. We sliced into the hillside to create a bifurcated building that consisted of two distinct, but connected, parts: an urbane light-filled cultural center looking out upon the intersection of a national highway and city hall; and nestled in the back, a bucolic, below-grade exhibition space topped by a green-roof park.
View of entry Hall from Street
Fusing a light, lucid contemporaneity with the rich materiality and sustainability of Portuguese design, our mission was to build a museum that displays the work of one of Portugal’s most beloved native sons, the artist Nadir Afonso. As well as paying homage to the artist, who formerly practiced architecture with Le Corbusier and Oscar Niemeyer, we hope that the Centro, along with the artist’s foundation designed by Alvaro Siza Vieira in the nearby village of Chaves, will serve as an engine driving economic, cultural, and community development in the region.
View of Image of Nadir Afonso in Entry Hall from Street
What are the main ideas and inspirations influencing the design of the building?
I was delighted for our firm to be given the opportunity to design this museum, for over the years I have been endlessly inspired by the Portuguese approach to contemporary design. Due to the prolonged duration of the state monumental architectural style imposed by the regime of the Estada Nova (1930-1974), modernism came late to Portugal. When it finally arrived, it bypassed the machine age aesthetic and focused more on a modern attitude that incorporated complexities of cultural and site specificity. Our design for the museum embraces this tradition, for we attempted to create a contemporary building that is situated both in its time and place.
View of Entry Hall and Exhibition Hall
Yet as American architects working abroad, we also brought an outside orientation to the project. We tackled the design of the museum from a global perspective, amplifing issues of public participation with art as well as the interdisciplinary intersection of architecture, landscape and urbanism. Since we live in a world that now straddles both the local and the global, we hope this approach created an empathetic environment that speaks aesthetically and functionally to today’s relevant issues concerning the intersection of art and architecture.
View of Entry Hall from Outdoor Auditorium
How does the building relate to contemporary architectural trends, be it sustainability, technology, etc.?
Our strategy to embed the museum in the hillside gave us an opportunity to design a truly sustainable museum. This initial design move allowed us to both create a green roof park and simultaneously use the natural insulation of the earth to establish a temperate climate within the building. Since designing sustainably is second nature for both our team and the skilled Portuguese artisans who built the museum, we followed up with a series of additional energy efficient design tactics including re-purposing excavated stone to create a retaining wall surrounding the exhibition space; using native plantings atop the green roof; relying on low-level lighting wherever possible; building with local durable materials such as granite paving; strategically planting trees for shade control; and designing multi-functional, ancillary space to reduce the required buildable square footage.
View of Outdoor Auditorium and Green Roof Park
Our sustainability initiatives also amplified the aesthetics of the project. The design of the exhibition space in the context of the rubble cyclopean retaining walls was a good example of this approach. While the proximity of the retaining walls to the interior sustainably blocks degrading direct sunlight and allows dappled indirect daylight into the space, it also encourages the perception of viewing art within an indoor/outdoor layered space. Similarly while the green roof park above the exhibition space reduces the carbon footprint of the museum, its design, in the spirit of Nadir Alonso’s geometric abstraction, offers aesthetic delight to the community. Our focus for the design of Centro de Artes Nadir Afonso was to create a museum that celebrates both the efficiency as well as the pleasure of sustainability.
Aerial View of Green Roof Park
How did you approach designing for Boticas/Portugal and how would you describe the process of working on the project there?
We saw tremendous opportunity to take initiative with the design of this project. Thinking about the very nature of what makes an empathetic exhibition space, we began to imagine the possibility of working with the existing sloped site to create a space that engenders a unique feeling of viewing the exuberant art of Nadir Afonso within a bright contemporary grotto. We feel that we were able to achieve this effect on a tight budget because we had three things going for us: a visionary mayor who believed in the role progressive architecture could play in enhancing public life, a family foundation with an innate aesthetic sense and understanding of the reciprocity between art and architecture, and a local architect working with craftsmen who intuitively understood the subtleties of how to build sustainably in Portugal.
View of Nadir Afonso’s Drawings on Soffits in Entry Hall
How would you describe the architecture of Boticas/Portugal and how does the building relate to it?
Typical of small medieval villages in the north of Portugal, the architecture of Boticas is mainly composed of small scale residential buildings. Our site for the museum, located directly across the street from the village municipal center, looks out on houses built on the adjacent rolling hills. This location created a unique opportunity for us to create a bifurcated land-embedded building that became a site-defining juncture between the urban and pastoral. We achieved this by designing a landscraping building that is comparable in height to the civic and residential environment in the town.
We also encouraged public participation with the art of Nadir Afonso by creating transparency within the museum. In the double-height Entry Hall, a photomural of the artist and a continuous band of his sketches provide punches of bright color visible from the street. From here, the exhibition hall, outdoor café, children’s library and stairway to the auditorium beckon, as does the exterior auditorium that is designed to encourage informal civic engagement.
Email interview conducted by John Hill.
View of Exhibition Hall Looking Toward Cyclopean Wall
Site: Urban-Pastoral Junction
Building Plans and Sections
Sustainable Design Practices
Public Participation with Art