The Tipografia do Conto (Typography of Tales) is a small design boutique hotel on Rua Álvares Cabral, a new and unconventional address in contemporary Porto, within easy reach of places of interest such as Rotunda da Boavista, Casa da Musica, the university, antique bookstores, cafes and restaurants.
When it was built at the start of the 20th century the building contained small industrial workshops, a graphic arts studio and a print shop. Times change, the historical city evolves in terms of typology and morphology, and today the same building – renovated and revised in its functions – has a completely new, original identity that pays tribute to what existed here before.
“We have imagined it as a container of multiple spaces and activities, connected to high-level tourism offerings, with the plus of the possibility of organizing cultural events in the fields of visual arts, entertainment and publishing, including book presentations, to also involve local residents,” says Nuno Grande, co-founder and partner of Atelier Pedra Líquida, the team of designers that with coordination by Alexandra Coutinho, from 2015 to 2019, has reinvented a townhouse with a C-shaped footprint that surrounds a spacious patio.
This was where Nuno Grande, an interesting figure in Portuguese architecture (known for his curatorial experience in the communication of the work of the great master Alvaro Siza and the Porto school), printed his doctoral thesis. Today in this location a shared effort has become a paradigm to sustain the process of urban regeneration and creative/cultural exchange that began many years ago in the city, specifically connected with the reuse of an artifact of its historic-architectural heritage. With full awareness of the value a hybrid of services and comforts is able to offer as a reference point not just for tourists but also for locals.
“The project builds on the experience of the Casa do Conto (House of Tales), opened eight years ago in Porto, which offered a home and exhibition space for artists and interpreters, leaving them free to express their visions in site-specific works that establish a dialogue and interact with that particular situation and architecture,” the members of Pedra Líquida say. The Tipografia do Conto, physically and conceptually close to that first project – an intimate, well-furnished house that mixes the historical context of a revitalized urban area with chic and highly artistic design – is composed of ten housing units on three levels and a large ground floor organized in two parallel wings.
One contains the two stairwells and elevators leading to the private spaces above, together with a sequence of shared spaces featuring full-height visually permeable glass partitions; the other extends seamlessly to form the space of the Café Culturale, which combines a dining zone with a multifunctional area for exhibitions, encounters and musical performances, around an elegant grand piano. This level of the former workshop once filled with printing presses conserves traces and memories, such as printing plates and the splendid wooden cases for movable metal typesetting.
“The structure of the building had decayed over time, meaning that complete reutilization was impossible,” say the designers, who have attempted to fully conserve the memory of the place, from the micro to the macro scale. The tall, narrow main facade is on Rua Álvares Cabral, with the entrance, and conserves the original stone image with a simplified Art Deco style, while the new facades on the internal patio, with full-height glazings, suggest the past through the punctuation of a composition that recycles the Riga wood beams of the former print shop.
Concrete, with different finishes on walls, floors and ceilings, together with brass and other metals, form the material-chromatic vocabulary of all the spaces. As a whole, the constructed area is relatively small: 752 square meters, joined by 88.5 for the courtyard-patio and 200 for the garden, featuring a bucolic pool of water at the back.
On the three upper levels set aside for hospitality, with ten private units reached by way of two separate, symmetrical service blocks (staircases and elevators), we find the strongest, most authentic character of the place. Each unit has a personalized, tailor-made layout featuring warm colors, fine fabrics and soft beds, with both contemporary and more traditional vintage pieces, with selected Nordic design from the 1960s and 1970s, presences that establish a dialogue with the enclosure in texturized concrete, reflected in the mirror-finish external walls that isolate the spaces of the bathrooms, conceived as rooms inside rooms.
Everything states its character as a whole if we observe the decorative features of the ceilings, transformed into pages on which to expound: ten ceilings, ten text projects written by Álvaro Domingues, André Tavares, Diogo Seixas Lopes, Jan Middendorp, Jorge Figueira, Nuno Grande, Pedro Bandeira, R2 Designers, Silvia Sfligiotti and Vanina Pinter, a circle of thinkers, architects, designers and artists of the avant-garde on the international scene.
In the contents, etched with letters, characters and cuts of golden metal in the concrete, the ceilings represent small reflections on the use of typography and the value of the graphic arts in the world. Like fossil memories, they crystallize the spirit of the place and its memory, reinforcing the experiment that began with the Casa do Conto: a tale retold.
Project by Atelier Pedra Líquida - team Alexandra Coutinho, Nuno Grande, Guiomar Rosa, Ana Sousa, Jorge Gomes, Rita Basto - Photos FG+SG Fotografia de Arquitectura