Casa dos cubos: from a normal past to a special future

The extreme proposal of Embaixada for a former warehouse of the order of the Knights Templar

by Malcolm Clark
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The Portuguese collective Embaixada (embassy) is made up of 7 young architects who met at University in Lisbon and decided to continue their progress in the profession and research together. One of the first fruits of this common experience was the Casa dos cubos, an intervention that undermines the basis of the concept of restoration to bring the re-reading of the past onto another plane.

Restoration so called is the worst manner of Destruction” This quote of Ruskin provides a useful starting point to understand what the young designers wanted to avoid at all costs: creating a museum of “minor” architecture, making it an empty container.

The original building was a former cereal warehouse, whose size and history represents an important urban fact of the small town of Tomar in central Portugal, despite being without significant architectural features. Built by the order of the Knights Templar, who also founded the town, this structure had gone through many changes and a long period of neglect before returning to a program for the protection and restoration of the town, called Polis.

The new facility has two distinct areas: a public area for meetings and exhibitions, with café, and meeting spaces, and a more private area consisting of classrooms and accommodation for a hospitality program for artists. The main structure has been preserved in the proportions and in the openings but inside it there is a new architectural body that breaks the original unity and multiplies it into a number of new places and situations.

The private areas are volumetrically defined within the historic structure, each according to the use and character that has been assigned to them. Public exhibitions and meetings are held in the interstitial spaces generated by the new volumes. These choices are even more enhanced by the use of the materials: the original building has been stripped of all accessories and made almost hermetic in its pure white while the new structure is entirely covered by a dark resin skin which makes it more abstract and more material at the same time.

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    Casa dos cubos 28

    Casa dos cubos

    Tomar / Portugal / 2006