Drawing board: L'AND Vineyards villas, Portugal, by Sergison Bates Architects
Sergison Bates partner Mark Tuff on the challenges of designing vineyard-led holiday homes in Portugal
The L’AND villas are your first holiday homes. What is the context for the project?
Mark Tuff Our client, L’AND Vineyards, had owned farming land in the region for generations. As agrarian possibilities got less economically viable they decided to build a hotel and holiday homes surrounded by a vineyard - when you buy a plot you also buy the title to some of the vines.
The location is amazing, near the World Heritage Site of Evora in southern Portugal and near the castle town of Montemor-o-Novo. The site sits in a bowl looking towards the castle, which is an important tourist attraction.
The chief executive officer, José Cunhal Sendim, has always been passionately interested in architecture so he saw this as an opportunity to gather a number of architects and give them each a part of the masterplan to deal with. Instead of a vaguely suburban plan, the masterplanner Promontório identified a number of raised areas of land and came up with the idea of clusters of development that sit as pockets of density within expanses of vineyard-filled landscape. We are designing one of these seven clusters of villas along with Peter Märkli and three Portuguese practices.
What was the client brief?
MT Beyond specifying 10 villas with pools in a number of different types, the brief left it completely up to the individual architect how they arranged the accommodation in the cluster. We weren’t just designing a house that would be replicated, but houses with relationships to their neighbours.
The client wanted them to be single-storey, white and with flat roofs. Our approach is non-orthogonal. We thought of the villas as a loose arrangement of boulders nestling together in the landscape in materials that could be roughly hewn and with slightly canted forms. The swimming pools and terraces add a further geological strata.
How does your design respond to the climate and the site?
MT When we first went to the site, it was incredibly hot. In August it can easily reach 42°C with no sea breezes, but at night, because it’s so clear, this drops and it becomes cold. The very visceral experience of being so unbelievably hot quickly led to the idea of designing each villa around its own central open courtyard for coolness, with living accommodation flowing through the “loose” space around it and bedrooms on the peripheries. Ours is the polar opposite to villas by João Luís Carrilho da Graça in another cluster, which take the form of single bars of accommodation.
Our cluster is located on the north side of the site, close to the main entrance and tilting to the east towards the lake and castle. Because it occupies a hillside site, the buildings will be seen against the landscape rather than the sky. The villas are clustered to form a central communal courtyard and parking, with a communal shelter where people could get together and have a BBQ. We also had the idea of a big water trough that would give a sense of coolness. On the other side of the villas, you look out onto your pool and vineyard plot.
What was your approach to composition and materials?
MT Each house has a loose and organic form reminiscent of a single, carved object rather than an assembly of elements. We thought of the villas as having three strata — the ground, the middle with the bulk of accommodation, and the roof. We wanted subtle relationships between the three so they felt like they were related but different. These strata adjust themselves both externally and internally as the land falls away across the site in a negotiation between the sloping site and the sensible requirements of how you organise the space. This creates a landscape of roofs that amplify the existing character of the ground.
The client insisted the villas should all be principally white render as he felt this was recognisably modern. We were interested in how we could bring a degree of materiality to it. So we introduced a concrete base and a roof element in in-situ concrete washed with pigmented slurry. In this way, the rawness of concrete is evident but not as a dark grey element. Within these big expanses of wall we had some quite small openings, as well as big areas of glazing looking out over the vineyards and internal courtyard.
The houses will be concrete-framed with blockwork construction and a concrete ring beam around the top. We have done a lot of work on how to avoid cracked render, which you get a lot of in this kind of climate. We explored everything from exposed concrete columns to concealed columns within “tectonic plates” of rendered wall. We ended up with planes of render accommodating the columns within the wall.
How are the interiors arranged?
MT All three villa types have at least one courtyard and the larger one has a very permeable plan with a second patio. When you’re on holiday you have a more fluid way of living and space is less defined. So we had the idea of living space flowing around the courtyard to form an interconnected assembly of rooms and spaces with bedrooms and bathrooms organised in an orthogonal manner around the edge.
The courtyard forms the heart of the home, in the manner of an ancient Roman villa. It provides a shaded and naturally ventilated space that allows outdoor living in the heat of the summer and protection from wind in the winter.
There are long views across the house so you can see through from the front door to the courtyard and out the other side. In this way, the house feels generous and open on the one hand and contained and intimate on the other. Common to all projects is the courtyard fireplace so that even on summer nights when it drops to 12°C you can heat it. The same flue serves the internal fireplace.
When will these be built?
MT They will only be built when there is demand and so far houses by the Portuguese architects have sold better. However the client has talked about building a demonstration house.
Source: Sergison Bates Architects
L’AND Vineyards Villas
A modern interpretation of an ancient building type
Faced with an inland site and uninterested in building a golf-led resort, L’AND Vineyards instead decided to capitalise on its viticulture knowledge and build a design-led wine retreat in the Alentejo region. This offers both hotel and villa accommodation plus a spa, winery and wine club.
Client José Cunhal Sendim was keen to use modern architecture to differentiate the product. Within a master-plan by Promontório, he commissioned different architects to build clusters of villas: Sergison Bates, Swiss architect Peter Märkli, and Portuguese practices João Luís Carrilho da Graça, José Paulo dos Santos, and Promontório. “We wanted a common soul for the project in terms of architecture. The strongest aspect of the brief was to re-interpret the Mediterranean patio house/ Roman villa,” says Sendim.
The approach gives more variety. Both the villas by José Paulo Dos Santos and Sergison Bates enclose central courtyards, while JLCG’s has a strong horizontal form and large patio. Promontório’s lakeside houses are L-shaped around a pool. Märkli’s houses are in two facing rows linked by a vine-covered terrace.
The hotel opened this year and so far 20 of the 35 town-houses have sold with demand mainly from the domestic market. When the resort is complete, there will be 136 villas. Work has started on several of the clusters though not the Sergison Bates or Märkli villas. Sendim says it should just be a matter of time before these follow.
Architect Sergison Bates
Structural engineer AFA Consult/Englis
MEP engineer AFA Consult
Environmental consultant Natural Works
Landscape architect PROAP