Centro de Artes Nadir Afonso, in Portugal

Merging architecture and landscape, the recently completed Centro de Artes Nadir Afonso links an emerging urban center with its pastoral environs.

The 20,000-square-foot single artist museum fuses a light, lucid contemporaneity with the rich materiality and sustainability of Portuguese design to honor one of Portugal’s most beloved native sons, the artist Nadir Afonso (1920-2013). As well as paying homage to the artist, who formerly practiced architecture with Le Corbusier and Oscar Niemeyer, the Centro, along with the artist’s foundation in nearby Chaves, will serve as an engine driving economic, cultural, and community development in the region. Sliced into a steep hillside, the new museum is divided into two distinct, but connected, parts:  a light-filled cultural center looking out upon the intersection of a national highway and City Hall; and, nestled in the back, a vast, below-grade exhibition space topped by a green-roof park.

The Urban Face
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.

The Pastoral Side
Embedded in the hillside below a sustainably planted green roof, the exhibition hall is the heart of the museum. Since the exhibition walls are shorter than the exterior walls, visitors can view the art against a background of the surface of the rustic stone of the recycled cyclopean retaining walls, creating a unique feeling of viewing art within a lavish grotto. While encouraging the perception of an indoor/outdoor layering of space, the proximity of the walls to the interior both blocks degrading direct sunlight and allows indirect daylight to reduce the museum’s carbon footprint. The green roof park, designed in the spirit of Nadir Alonso’s geometric patterns and the tradition of Roberto Burle Marx, also naturally modulates internal temperature while offering aesthetic delight to the community.

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