The design of the CAA / Águeda Arts Centre is the positive outcome of the difficult challenge of creating a solution well adapted to the context, not only physical, but also cultural, economical and political, while creating a world-class cultural platform. To achieve this we needed to rethink the architect role, methods and mindset.
With a rational and creative approach, we translated the program into a system designed to maximize functionality. The building, with 4,500sqm, consists in three dynamic physical forces, which house and organize the three major valences of the indoor program – auditorium with 600 seats, exhibition hall and concert-cafe – spreading out from a central distribution core. In addition to the main program, the building also houses a studio room, book store & shop, conservation, administration, production, among many other support spaces.
The exterior architectural image is characterized by a volume of exposed concrete that embraces the site and creates a new public square that qualifies the city. The volume seems to levitate on a transparent glass mass, permeable and inviting to the public.
The architecture that formalizes the building is stripped of iconic artificiality, without losing the institutional relevance that the equipment deserves. It tries to reach a fusion between the pragmatic technique of execution and the poetic of space, which takes the visitor on a journey through the built body, understood both as a receptacle and a generator of culture.
Águeda Arts Centre was carried out in the peak of the financial crisis in Portugal, requiring a new strategic practice and an extra effort made by all the designers, engineers and specialities involved in the making. The challenge was clear: achieve the best possible solution with a limited budget, with the aim of creating a public relevant infrastructure, without losing quality and consistency, one that could promote culture, engage with the citizens, attract new public and elevate the city through its cultural relevance, creating shock waves beyond the building physical body.
On this set basis, the project and construction of CAA symbolized a new paradigm of resistance, a new way to be in architecture, a new mindset, a wider understanding of context, a new posture facing conjectural difficulties, embedding the will to overcome political and economical constrains, reflecting a change in the architect role, not only as a designer, but as creative manager, embracing a wide range of concerns, not only related to the design itself, but also regarding all the variables of cost control, program feasibility, the defence of public interests, the defence of the present and future integrity of the building, also the defence of professional integrity and, not least, the management of expectations.
Today, CAA represents a kind of a (not that small) miracle, result of an era of difficulties that led to the reinvention of the praxis itself, embodied in a building that, in the end, fully responds and goes beyond all the ambitions it set out to fulfil.
The materials were kept simple, striping the building of visual noise, shifting the attention from the receptacle to the content and, at the same time, allowing a rational control of building costs. This way, the ground floor, in direct contact with the city and the public, is made of glass, promoting a welcoming embrace, engagement and permeability. The upper mass is structurally made of concrete. We wanted it raw, real, with nothing to hide, making it the statement of an assumed position that revels the honest truth of the building. Although it is striped of visual superficial artificialities, it does not go unnoticed. “It does not go gently into that good night”. The apparent floating mass of concrete is also a provocative gesture, one that creates tension and a dramatic setting, one that embodies the strong personality of the building and the context from were it has risen.
See also the visual identity developed by AND-RÉ design here.
photos by: FG+SG / AND-RÉ / José Caldeira