#1 Field Trip: Learning from Alexandre Bastos @ Odemira

On Saturday 13th May, after a rainy Friday (that became a Sunday after the consensus of all participants), we gathered early to get the bus. Direction São Luís, Odemira, to meet one of the references of rammed earth technique in Portugal: the architect Alexandre Bastos. He was one of the founders of Centro da Terra in 2004 and an active researcher of traditional building techniques, collecting knowledge directly from the source: the old master builders. Alexandre joined us at the São Luis market, one of the first public structures in Portugal built with contemporary rammed earth, in 1997/1998. It was done inside the context of a professional course promoted by Odemira Municipality and the Employment Center of Sines. The students made the rammed earth and the lime plasters, the roof was commissioned to a local building company. The architect made us notice the lack or unappropriated maintenance that is causing some defects on the structure, as well as the difficulty to achieve the action from the public services to do the necessary reparations. The market facade has some interesting details like fish negatives that recalls the building function.

After the market we visited two particular houses lost in the beautiful landscape that surrounds Mira river. Unfortunately the owner of the first house was not there to welcome us, but already the exterior was suggestive. The house was an extension and renovation of an old rammed earth house. The second house is Alexandre’s retreat. A cozy house that resulted also from the extension and renovation of an old stone ruin on the top of an hill. The house frames Mira river and the marshlands that once were cultivated. We were amazed by the design details: since the constellation sculptured in the patio movable rooftop that allows the full moon light to project its light on the floor and walls; to the arch that supported the weight of the main roof beam and at the same time is the key to the mechanism that opens an immense window on the living room, enlarging it to the landscape, through this, the barriers between interior and exterior vanishes; the chimney above the kitchen work-space that is open to the sky allowing the ventilation, especially during summer where it becomes a wind tower; finally the room and closet with a singular light, taken from a Rembrandt painting…

We finished the day visiting his own painting and architectural studio where it was impossible not to be touched by the Renaissance feeling. Oil tubes on the table, fresco paintings here and there, a guillotine window communicating directly with a water tank where one can jump laughing from the Alentejo’s heat, an arch window framing the landscape; another arch that apart from structuring the roof can also support in progress big paintings or scenarios… The studio was built in 1992/93 with non stabilized rammed earth, challenging the disappearance of the technique in a moment where the prejudice towards traditional architecture was in its highest peak.

Thank you so much Alexandre for inspiring us and giving us this huge architectural lesson.

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