Contemporary Art Center
Almendres, Évora, Portugal
contest: Arkxsite – Site Visitor Center, International Architecture Competition, 2016
location: Almendres, Évora, Portugal
architecture office: CRISAN ARCHITECTURE & ENGINEERING SRL
project, concept design: arch.Alexandru Crisan, arch.Ana Maria Crisan / collaborator: arch.Ioana Turcanu, arch.Ana Cristian
Intervention: Top of Form
The project aims to reassert the megalithic enclosure of Almendres with a minimal, concealed intervention on the site. The proposed building should be erected on the hill near the historic remnants, incorporating underground all the functional utilities. The designed rooftop continues and integrates the existing slope without major interventions in the vicinities.
The construction consists in an orthogonal geometrical volume clearly defined within the existing environment, an introverted single large object embraced by the surrounding landscape and sunken to follow the natural slope and the landscape silhouette.
The main access corridor marks a spatial continuity between the main historic remains and the building galleries. The axial corridor transposes on the ground the astronomical East-West: continuum pointing to the stars.
The ceiling is a horizontal plane suspended over the encapsulated interior functional disposal units. The rooftop extended over the surrounding vicinity acts like a tectonic table, defining the contemporary interpretation and formulating its iconic identity.
The underground functional disposal layout orientates the major spaces, such as the galleries for exhibitions and the educational space, towards the natural surroundings. The vertical glass wall makes a “meta-physical” transition between the built area and the specific environment, in order to accentuate a sought-after maximal transparency.
As a reaction to the existing surroundings, the materials used are mainly tectonic, with rough finishes. The materiality of the building is transposed in 3 different tiers: the tectonic heavy stone floors, the glass register opened towards the green vicinities and the rooftop reflecting and projecting the world below.
The ASTRO-GEOMETRY behind Almendres – ENTRAPED ON THE VISITOR CENTER SURFACES
The astro-geometry plays a significant role in understanding the functionality and the cultural aspects behind the stone monument. Besides the lunar significance of Almendres, one particular aspect of the site is that stones face both the sunrise and sunset of the equinoxes, due to the fact that Almendres draws two circles. In this regard, the “unseen geometry”, written in the sky, is redesigned, engraved in the large tectonic plaque that covers the cultural space.
Written signs and written visual language – imprinting: The surface is actually one of the most sensitive parts in understanding the art and geometry of the Almendres, from a human scale point of view. Thus the tectonic design imprinting the surface is to be interpreted in the sense of the mid-relief, bas-relief and alto-relief, in different parts of the centre.
The gallery and the exhibition areas consist in an exposed perimetral wall surface, imprinted in negative mid-relief with the geometrical signs form the sites, accompanied by written explanations, also in Braille.
The horizontal covering plate was considered a support, a map projection of the celestial sky. On the outside, it was imprinted in mid-relief with the movement of the moon and the sun, and in alto-relief, with the moon object and the sun sphere.
On the inside, it actually became a reflecting plane, mirroring from above the geometric configuration of the Almendres site. As part of the educational area, the ceiling was considered part of an observing “installation”. On the ground of the centre rests a large model of the site, reflected in the virtual “sky” above. The reflective surface acts like an ancient mirror that projects upside down the large model, thus recollecting the ancient times when people sought the stars.
The installation couple: model-mirror is treated as a binomial perspective: with the geometric configuration marked in alto-relief, observable from one particular point. The lesson behind this design speaks of the importance of observations made from certain positions: the visitors have the chance to scrutinize the movements and axes from particular spots, marked on the floor. It’s a practical lesson for visiting pupils, an introduction to the great mechanism that is the site.
Volume configuration – to be visible or not?
It would be an architectural blasphemy to attempt massive interventions on this site.
The corresponding stone circles complexes in Gobleki Tepe, The Xaghra Circle, Nabta Playa, are sensitively built and incorporated into the landscape. This space, considered by the archaeologists both a ceremonial and spiritual arena, has a particular silhouette in Evora, coupling the “simple sitting of the stone circles, in a composition with a mound”. And THE MOUND is a silhouette embedded with a height significance, as proved by associated sites in Orkney Islands, Boyne Valley, Newgrange – often compared to the “Mound of Creation”, while the stone circle is commonly associated with astronomy.
It is clear that, in this regard, the only possible intervention is a minimal one. An intervention that does not challenge the silhouette of the mound. An intervention that clogs neither the open axis of composition, nor the fluidity of the landscape. The rooftop of the new construction is a horizontal plane suspended above the natural slope, while the functions became structural pillars, hidden underneath the pedestrian level.
The minimal intervention would actually amplify the identity of the sites, by using the Neolithic architectural vocabulary: the Mound is only perforated by a passage (visually translating the significance of another Portugal site – that of the Anta Grande do Zambujeiro). A passage that continues the compositional axis, the astronomical East-West direction, translating it into the ground, into an architectural space formed in-between the two tectonic planes. It’s a descending and an introduction, between two walls of stone, with rough textures, leading to an open area at a lower level, on the other side of the Mound. This passage reinterprets the significance of the Stone Age passages, considered portals between the Earth Mother and the Solar deity.
The volumetric composition parts from a tectonic approach and develops into a cromlech-like structure. The entire exhibition space is envisioned as a free space, a type of a megalithic single-chamber. The structural proposition amplifies the sculptural identity of the dolmen solving: a large flat horizontal capstone covers the entire space, supported by the structural encapsulated functions. It is a trilithic composition, accessed by the cut portal into the tectonic scape. While the Physical entrance to the internal chambers of the original passage mounds invariably requires the visitor to crouch, stoop or even crawl, in this case it is slowly introduces under the table, comprised in-between the earth textured walls.
texts: Ana-Maria Crisan, Alexandru Crisan