EXTRAMUROS

TEXT: ELIZA ZIEMIŃSKA, PHOTOS: LAXANDER GEMPELER, ADRIA GOULA SARDA

ARRAIOLOS 4.4.2016

ARCHITECTURE ART LIFESTYLE TRAVEL

Links the principles of ancient Roman villas and medieval monasteries with the shapes of modernism. The coldness of concrete with the softness of cork walls. Intimacy with space. This Portuguese villa teaches us stillness and synergy.
You can smell the scent of parched earth in a valley between hills lined with olive groves. The sounds of cicadas among ancient, stooped cork oaks is hypnotising. Arraiolos, a small town north of Évora, is only an hour’s drive from Lisbon. Apart from its rich history, which extends back to the Romans, and its architecture, which is a mixture of classical and Moorish influences, the region is well known for its amazingly peaceful lifestyle, varied cuisine and unspoilt nature. Two Frenchmen – François Savatier and Jean-Christophe Lalanne – fell in love with the place. The Extramuros Villa – a remarkable, friendly residence – was built here because of their desire to share their passion with other people. Not far from the castle hill, somewhat out on a limb, they decided to build an oasis for anybody who longs for peace, quiet and to commune with nature. They invited the Portuguese-Spanish Vora Architectura, known for their town square in Vilafranca del Penedès, to join the project. At first sight, the villa might seem to be just another modernism-influenced building, but in spite of appearances it is strongly rooted in the region’s architectural traditions. The layout of the house isn’t accidental. The architects have drawn on traditions of the ancient Roman villa and medieval monasteries. Owing to that inspiration, the building was given a large courtyard with a small water basin and orange trees. Thanks to the warm climate, that space becomes a kind of outdoor room, where life carries on as it does indoors. It’s not only a passage between the various parts of the house, but also a centre around which the life of the house revolves, simultaneously ensuring the comfort of privacy in the apartments arrayed on the first floor around the courtyard.

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The pristine, white shape of the building stands out against the beige, sunburnt oaks and olive trees, like a foreign object among the gentle lines of the landscape. That foreignness is illusory, however. The shape, which is strongly influenced by Le Corbusier’s architecture, only serves to emphasise the beauty of the surroundings; creating a poetic, sensitive composition.

The huge expanses of glass, linking the building’s inaccessible structure to the outside world, open it up to nature and are an invitation to enter. The ground floor and patio form a shared area for all the hotel’s guests. Guests can use the living room, kitchen and dining room, where they say that Portuguese, French and Mediterranean cuisine taste the best. Importantly, the rooms are connected to the garden by two wide terraces concealed in the building’s cloisters. The land around the villa has been preserved in its original form. Visitors can watch wild rabbits and a wide variety of birdlife.

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As far as possible, locally-available materials were used in the house’s construction. Concrete is the main building material; in some places left rough and in others given a smooth finish. But what makes the greatest impression is the cork lining the interior and the exterior facades. Apart from their interesting texture and natural colour, they guarantee excellent acoustic and thermal insulation. The famous Estremoz marble – known since Roman times – adds elegance to the rooms. All of the rooms have been personally furnished by the villa’s owners. The raw expanses of wall form the background to a collection of icons from the 1950s until today. Apart from iconic furniture by Jean Prouvé, Charlotte Perriand and Marc Newson, we can also find Konstantin Grcic’s geometric Chair One and designs by Pierre Paulin. Objects made by local artisans, such as carpets, blankets, cork bowls and ceramics give the interiors a regional, authentic feel. The furnishings, however, are only the backdrop. The interior’s central figure is nature, which penetrates inside through the large windows. This proportion works to the building’s advantage, giving it lightness and framing the natural landscape.

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The building’s upper floor has been given over in its entirety to five, spacious, minimalistically furnished guest bedrooms. Each room has access to its own, individual terrace with panoramic views over the surrounding countryside. Attention to the tiniest detail can also be seen in the bathrooms. Natural sunlight shines in through skylights, Italian rain showers have been fitted in the bathrooms, and there is underfloor heating.

The architecture of the Extramuros Villa extends well beyond its material structure, melding into the landscape and drawing it into its interior. Relaxing in a place like this is a pleasure, which flows from the equilibrium preserved between the relationship of remarkable architecture and untouched, pure nature. www.villaextramuros.com

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