Architecture: Cowering before the forces of nature

(July 2011) Building on the Azores mean coming to terms with the forces of nature, with the cliffs, the ocean pounding against the rocks, with the steep slopes of the former volcano, and with the all-engulfing vegetation. Aires Mateus & Associados of Lisbon were commissioned to erect the Monitoring and Investigation Centre of Furnas on the main island of São Miguel. The result: a complex standing demurely, almost shyly at the water’s edge, sealed off by a protective wall but with a warm inner atmosphere.

This was achieved by means of simplicity of form and with use of local material.

Only the two most important buildings are discussed here: the labs and living quarters. Not far apart and similar in shape, their layouts are right-angled or cubes with varying angles. Toward the outside the buildings are marked off by means of a stone wall offering story-high openings.

The wall can be interpreted as a stockade of a fort. But the interior of the fort is highly modern. Each of the lab buildings has its own tract and identity as does each court, unmistakable to the beholder distinguished by the design of the windows.

The living-quarters, by contrast, emphasize communal living, whereby each unit has its own backyard for privacy.

Basalt was the material of choice for the façade. The volcanic stone was quarried by hand and chiselled to shape to clad the concrete walls. Basalt is the most prominent building material on the islands as all but one of the islands ensued after volcanic eruptions.

The interior walls are sided in wood. The courtyards are cobble stoned in basalt and the low roofs are tiled in the same material.

The Azores are an archipelago in the Atlantic approx. 1,500 km from the Portuguese coast or 4,300 km from Virginia (USA). The played an important role in seafaring times as a stop-over on the way to the new world.

Aires Mateus & Associados

Photos: Fernando Guerra