It is almost impossible for an architect to rewrite the interior of a museum, gallery or cultural institution that by default simply require large white cube-like spaces in which to exhibit or create. The exterior of these buildings is where an architect’s philosophy is expressed. But with so much that has gone before – from Frank Gehry’s explosion of angles to the spectacular fluidity of Zaha Hadid’s signature structures – new ideas that resonate with strong architectural principles are rare. Which makes the recently completed International Centre for the Arts Jose de Guimarães by Portuguese collective Pitagoras Arquitectos all the more exciting.

Briefed to transform a traditional market square into a multifunctional arts space for the events surrounding Guimarães’ status as European Capital of Culture 2012, the Pitágoras team – led by partners Fernando Seara de Sá, Raul Roque Figueiredo, Alexandre Coelho Lima and Manuel Vilhena Roque – added to a row of existing buildings with a series of cube-like shapes that extend out from two levels. Nothing new there but it is what the architects did next that has critics unanimously praising the project. Using a grid of brass pipes, Pitágoras created a façade that truly shimmers. Depending on the light and the angle at which it is viewed, the International Centre for the Arts Jose de Guimarães appears in various shades of gold or bronze.

What’s more, the glistening planes are punctuated by walls of black glass that create mysterious voids within the exterior. A final vital component of the design is the mirrored underside of the jutting first floor which creates the illusion that it is floating.

The International Centre for the Arts Jose de Guimarães impresses inside too. The low profile appearance belies the vast galleries within that feature soaring ceilings and which are home to a permanent collection of works by local artist Jose de Guimarães. An auditorium and studio space for young artists complete the setup. But this is a building that was always about more than simply serving as a functional exhibition space. Guimarães needed a design that would encourage regeneration, an iconic design to put it on the map. The result truly sparkles and is testament to the power of good architecture