Cultural Center in Castelo Branco, Portugal

Cultural Center in Castelo Branco Portugal, Largo da Devesa City Square, Building

Cultural Center in Castelo Branco, Portugal

Portuguese City Square and Culture Building – design by Josep Lluís Mateo

5 Dec 2013

Cultural Center and the Plaza in Castelo Branco

Design: Josep Lluís Mateo

MATEO ARQUITECTURA,
Josep Lluís Mateo

Largo da Devesa City Square and Cultural Center in Castelo Branco – 2007 & 2013

First prize. Invited competition. 2000

Cultural Center in Castelo Branco
photo © Adrià Goula

The plaza is a surface, a topography drawn out in relation to the movement of the water and built by pedreiros, following patterns that are abstract but not random.

Floating on this surface is an object. At its base, water, frozen here to form a skating rink.
Josep Lluís Mateo, 2013

Cultural Center in Castelo Branco

Interview for the Portuguese newspaper Diário de Noticias

1- What was your inspiration for this Cultural Center?

The project appeared as a continuation of our remodelling of Praça Largo da Devesa, a large public space. It sets out to complete it, then, to continue it. It also looks to its neighbours, the old theatre and the former barracks.
These were the initial stimuli.
We wanted to make the building float so that the plaza would pass beneath it, and to produce a unitary, continuous building, with roofs, floors and façades that were equivalent to each other.

Cultural Center in Castelo Branco
photo © Adrià Goula

2- What were the greatest difficulties?

The greatest difficulties were certain technical issues, the structure for instance, which a true constructor actually enjoys solving; and, most of all, the passage of time, the great distance between idea and work on site. Though in this case, my faith in the idea is unshaken, and we have worked hard to ensure that it looks new and virginal.

3- Since this space will house Culture and Art, what is the relation between Art and Architecture?

Without the architecture intending to overpower the artwork, this is a strong, singular space, always the best setting for artistic creation.

Cultural Center in Castelo Branco
photo © Adrià Goula

4- How did you deal with such a warm, dry climate as Castelo Branco’s?

The climate is extreme, yes. I’m very pleased with the ice rink at the base of the building, it’s a playful relationship with the climate and the plaza.
The building is compact and well insulated, a bubble of sheltered activity, but still related to the exterior.

Josep Lluís Mateo, 2013

Cultural Center in Castelo Branco
photo © Adrià Goula

2- The relation between the Cultural Center and the Plaza

The project presented the challenge of addressing the great complexity of the public space and the various traffic and urban problems of the historic center of Castelo Branco. The aim of the Cultural Center, furthermore, was to turn the old town into a cultural nerve center for the city.

The plaza, designed in the first phase (2007), is moulded to the site to deal with the initial topographic problems and accommodate the various buildings designed to go there. Located on the slope of the hill that leads to the castle, it exploits the topography to form crosswise strips, giving rise in the central space of the project to a plaza whose gentle slopes give rise almost naturally to a pool of water in the center of the plaza, in front of the Cultural Center.

Cultural Center in Castelo Branco
photo © Adrià Goula

The Cultural Center, built in phase two, though part of the original project, floats on two piles over the plaza, like a bridge, freeing up at its base a covered ice-skating rink, and giving continuity to this large public space, to the plaza and to the adjacent park. It forms another part of the plaza, drawing on the Portuguese tradition of skating and the cold continental climate.

With its wooden façade, in contrast to the zinc-clad reinforced concrete of the suspended part, it is a bubble of activity, a roof and a floor that floats above the site, relating the urban sequence, the plaza and the park.

Cultural Center in Castelo Branco

Descending one of the ramps generated by the folds in the paving of Praça Largo da Devesa, we come to the main entrance of Castelo Branco Cultural Center. We move towards it, dazzled
by the great façade of wooden slats, adjustable at one point to regulate the lighting, that look down on us from their position in the air.

Almost without our realizing, this descent brings us to the reception, situated below grade and leading into a great gallery. This floor also accommodates the administrative area. Continuing with the variations in the floor level, a gradual slope takes us to the car park, for the public, which expands beneath the building and the plaza.

Cultural Center in Castelo Branco
photo © Adrià Goula

Inside the building, the ground floor is just a transition space, connecting with the floors above. On the outside, however, this floor is the manifestation of the connection between the plaza and the Cultural Center, housing an ice rink that extends from one side of the building to the other and interacts directly with its setting, becoming a hub of activity. It is an outdoor space that generates movement, colour, light at night and music.

Cultural Center in Castelo Branco
photo © Adrià Goula

Skylights exploit this opening at ground level to allow light into the basement floor, creating an ambience that is light and welcoming. We go back inside through another entrance on the ground floor, beneath the wooden façade. On the higher levels, we find the auditorium and a gallery that mimic the structure of the building, forming double-height spaces.

Cultural Center in Castelo Branco
photo © Adrià Goula

At one end, the exhibition hall occupies the first and second floors, with a ramp to change level that accompanies the structure of the building. In this way, the visitor has an overview of the space.

Cultural Center in Castelo Branco
photo © Adrià Goula

At the other end, the auditorium also moulds naturally to the curve of the building with its seating arrangement. All in black, it contrasts with the lighter tones of the stage to focus the audience’s
attention. In addition to these spaces, the first floor also accommodates the dressing rooms, with direct access to the stage.

Cultural Center in Castelo Branco
photo © Adrià Goula

On the second floor, opposite the stage, are the control room and a bar connected with the main entrance to the auditorium where visitors can relax. There is also a multipurpose space on this floor, enclosed between the exhibition hall and the auditorium. The top floor offers stunning vistas of Castelo Branco, with the castle that gives the city its name.

Cultural Center in Castelo Branco
photo © Adrià Goula

Finally, the roof, concealing all the machinery, opens up in a great skylight over the exhibition hall, providing natural lighting.

Cultural Center in Castelo Branco – Building Information

Author: Josep Lluís Mateo
Collaborating architect: Carlos Reis Figueiredo
Location: Praça Largo da Devesa, Castelo Branco (Portugal)
Client: Castelo Branco Council, Polis Project
Surface area of the public spaces: 60,000 m2
Surface area of the Cultural Center: 4,300 m2
Competition: 2000
Project: 2000 – 2006
Construction of the public spaces: 2006 – 2007
Construction of the Cultural Center: 2012 – 2013
Cost of the public spaces: 3,000,000’00 €
Cost of the Cultural Center: 9,000,000’00 €
Photographs: Adrià Goula

Cultural Center in Castelo Branco + Largo da Devesa City Square images / information from Josep Lluís Mateo

Mateo Arquitectura


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Cultural Center in Castelo Branco Building