A house in the Portuguese archipelago of Azores is named after a Leonardo da Vinci manuscript and is conceived around womb-like qualities for a structure that is a striking assemblage of curves and blocks.
An architect who studies and is a regular visitor to the classical Italian buildings created by Palladio and Scamozzi seems an unlikely candidate as the designer of The House on the Flight of Birds. Built on the north shore of Sao Miguel island in the little known Portuguese archipelago of Azores in the Atlantic, the striking family home consists of a grand gesture of a curve balanced by walls of glass and an assemblage of box rooms. One façade consists entirely of a domineering pink wall punctuated by large picture windows. Yet for its creator Bernardo Rodrigues, it is pillared by classical laws of architecture – specifically, a perfectly square double height living room and, “A triptych in plan. That is the ‘law’ of Scamozzi's La Roca villa and Palladio's Villa Rotonda.” In an exclusive interview, Porto-based Rodrigues, a native of Sao Miguel, explains his vision for the house, from the use of skylights to create a constantly changing play of light to his unique philosophy for womb-like architecture.
Bernardo Rodrigues’s definition of luxury?
Italians have a wonderful word that I think sums it up. Sprezzatura: sort of a very well studied nonchalance.
If luxury were a place, where would it be?
In the mind. Sophistication comes from readiness to absorb and understand.
If luxury were an object, what would it be?
A book in the pocket of a well-cut suit.
If luxury were a moment, when would it be?
When the cork slowly starts leaving the bottle and a dish of fresh fish is presented in front of us.
If luxury were a person, who would it be?
My next client!
Where does the name of this project – House on the Flight of Birds – come from?
Leonardo da Vinci's study sketch folio on the flight of birds.
The house appears as a sculpture but was in fact designed with considerations for the local weather (strong winds) – was it designed from outside or inside?
It was designed from the dual aspects of responding, protecting and creating links to and with the elements outside and the idea of creating an almost uterine quality of comfort inside. On the outside we needed protection from the north winds (which we blocked with the wall), and needed interior courtyards due to frequent rain. Then we wanted to capture the light at the south, so the light chimneys almost fly, gently curving from the wall at the south, following the arch of the sun trajectory in the sky.
Despite its unique appearance, you have described the layout of the house as “almost classical Palladian and Scamozzi” – how is this the case?
The plan is inscribed in a 15m square. The organization of the house revolves around a double height central living space with lateral wings of stairs on one side of the large public element leading directly to the more private master bedroom. Then on the other side there's the kitchen and courtyard space and on the other, the slide for the kids inside the common staircase. A triptych in plan. That is the "law" of Scamozzi's La Roca villa and Palladio's Villa Rotonda. I travel and visit north Italy quite often so that has been a part of my "architectural" diet.
This was always a family house but with its pink wall and unusually shaped window seats was it designed particularly to appeal to children?
We started the project when the client’s daughters were very young, so after the typology and insertion in the place were considered, the interior comfort and a sort of playfulness occupied our mind, will and design. The idea of offering comfort and atmosphere through this sense of almost sub-conscious protection. Like when one is in bed or a baby in the belly of its mother.
You founded your architecture practice 9 years ago but this is only your second project that has been realised. You have said you prefer the philosophy of architecture – what is your particular philosophy?
We have designed over 60 different types of buildings, from small museums to big hotels in China, but, maybe to our own luck, building is a slow business and the ones that reach completion are few. With that in mind we can see a sort of pattern running through our ideas and designs: the idea of concentrating in a building the essence of dwelling, the origin of architecture. Common sense is that the question of dwelling is put to men the moment one is born. I defend that during the 9 months of pregnancy one is aware of sound, light and temperature. And emotional interaction with the world outside happens from then. So it's a design strategy that tries to absorb this sensorial apparatus in full.