Picturesquely built upon a hillside on the east bank of the Rio Mondego, the Portuguese city of Coimbra is known for its university, the oldest academic institution in the Portuguese-speaking world, but its charm lies in its kaleidoscopic architecture that features a mixture of buildings spanning nearly a millennium. Part of this historical spectrum is the “Redondo”, a four-storey terraced house built at the beginning of the 20th century which has been thoroughly renovated by Portuguese architects João Branco and Paula del Río of Branco-Delrio Arquitectos and artfully photographed by Lisbon-based architectural photographers do mal o menos.
As the last in a row of four houses, located at an awkwardly oblique street junction, the building was designed with a rounded, semi-cylindrical façade topped with a curved, circular gable bestowing upon it an elegant monumentality. Subtly ornate, the building’s exterior has been meticulously restored to its original glory while the interior has been thoughtfully transformed to cater to the modern needs of its occupants while preserving the stately ambience of its distinct heritage.
The building’s original organization that divides the house into a one-storey apartment on the ground floor and a two-storey residence with an attic on top has been preserved whereas the original floor layout, which consisted of many small rooms centred around a larger hall, has been tampered with in order to create a more balanced sequence of spaces. Taking advantage of the building’s impressive ceiling height, the architects have cleverly marked the existence of the original walls they demolished by retaining a substantial horizontal band below the ceiling, and in doing so, have succeeded in keeping the decorative wall mouldings intact.
The interior design is based on a non-interventionist approach that aims to maintain the original character of the spaces. For this reason, all building services have been either integrated into the building fabric or ingeniously hidden giving the impression that nothing invasive has taken place. Moreover, a series of free-standing furniture that provides centralized functionality such as storage and partitioning keep the rooms clutter-free and avoid the addition of awkward design elements in the spaces with rounded floor plans.
Made from oak and sucupira wood and designed in a modernist sensibility of clean lines and rectilinear geometry, these bespoke, free-standing pieces create a uniform aesthetic throughout the two residences, perfectly complemented by a neutral colour palette of white for walls, door frames and balustrades, and honey for the timber flooring.
The architects’ only dramatic intervention can be found in the attic, a space that has been completely transformed by having a large, triangular piece of the roof removed in order to create a unique, rooftop patio. Seamlessly connected with the furnished interiors through a pair of sliding doors, which can be completely retracted into the building fabric, and a stone bench that runs uninterrupted between the two areas, the attic has been transformed into a bright, sui generis space, both indoors and outdoors. Blessed with panoramic views and natural ventilation, and equipped with an exterior shower, it is an ideal place, in the middle of the city no less, to enjoy the long hot summers.