There is all the harsh and wild spirit of the Azores in this project by the Portuguese duo Sami – Arquitectos. What used to be a stone ruin of the 18th century, abandoned for years in the middle of windswept grazing lands, has now regained life and become a new house.

Merging powerfully into the landscape, this house reflects the history, culture and nature of this distant archipelago: nine volcanic islands with their black reefs plunged into the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

“We wanted the new indoor and outdoor spaces to establish an intense relationship with the natural environment – which is impossible to disregard due to the strength of its beauty – by offering wider views and a lot of light”, declared the two architects speaking about their project.

A couple both in life and work, Inês Vieira da Silva and Miguel Vieira set up Studio Sami – arquitectos in 2005, gaining broad support and recognitions since the very beginning of their activity both within and outside their national borders.

Today, not yet in their forties, they are one of the emerging names in the international scene of projects, as witnessed by their many participations in exhibitions and conferences. On one of these important occasions – the 4th Lisbon Architecture Triennale (October/December 2016), where they played a leading role with their magnificent exhibition ‘Building Site’ – we met them to speak about this original and already multi-awarded project.

In the space of just two years, the house, known as EC/House, received two awards in Spain and Argentina, two nominations in two other international competitions, once again in Spain and in Switzerland, an honorable mention at the European Union Prize for Contemporary Art – Mies Van Der Rohe Award 2015 and, a few weeks ago, the first prize at the AADIPA – European Award for Architectural Heritage Invention.

The E/C House is situated on Pico Island, the second largest Island of the Azores, on a soft slope overlooking the sea. “Our initial idea was that of conceiving a new house  starting from the remains of a dark stone building, which is typical of the island, while simultaneously trying to enhance them by integrating them into a new reinforced concrete volume”, explained Inês.

That’s not all: “If the old house was small-sized and dark”, added Miguel, “the new one had to rely on a renewed and strong relationship with the sea and the landscape, opening its spaces to light and air”. The result is a fascinating architecture, able to alternate the lightness of empty spaces and glazed surfaces with the roughness of concrete and stone.

“We also wanted to preserve the character of the old  house”, reminded Miguel, “by placing the communal areas on the upper floor so as to enjoy the splendid (and new) views on nature, while the ground floor is devoted to bedrooms that overlook a more intimate landscape. The roof has been turned into a sort of deck, a panoramic terrace from which you can contemplate the sea …”.

Because the relationship between indoors and outdoors corresponds to that between the past and the present, becoming the life-blood that feeds all the project with life and charm.In this connection, Inês remembered: “Sometimes we have aligned the new openings with the pre-existing ones, sometimes we haven’t: the idea was that of creating ever new relations with the original building, even with those aspects that have been clear limits”.

All the project plays on a balance between opposites. Also in furnishing choices: if outdoors the “rough” texture of stone and concrete is dominating, what prevails indoors is a total sensation of cleanness and whiteness. In perfectly smooth walls and floors, white is prevailing and the only exceptions are the wooden floor in the living-room and a few pieces of furniture scattered in space.

The distinctive feature of the Portuguese duo is in their ability to think of buildings as if they were landscapes and of landscapes (including ancient ruins) as if they were buildings, so that architecture and landscape are considered on the same level and one may contain the other. Without hierarchies and always in perfect harmony.

Photos Paulo Catrica – Article Laura Ragazzola