Exyzt, ConstructLab: Casa do Vapor

The temporary cultural centre, entirely built from scratch in the heart of the Portuguese fishermen’s village of Cova do Vapor, was able of welcoming and activating a very rich programme of activities and events.

It never ceases to surprise me when a cultural project has the capacity of triggering the one’s desire to get closer to a previously avoided location, and it does so while assuring the continuity of the place’s character and identity, by bridging the pre-existent social tissues with the differences created by such intromission.
Casa do Vapor
Top and above: Exyzt and ConstructLab, Casa do vapor , Cova do Vapor, Lisbon, 2013. Photo Alex Roemer

Perhaps this reaction of astonishment – which arrives from a phenomena that is as ancient as man’s relationship to the places he crosses and occupies – results from the saturation of the phenomena of standardization of many urban areas, which are transformed and adapted as to make them suitable to certain stereotyped criteria of aesthetics, functioning and use.

As it happens, aggressive processes of gentrification have way too many times characterised the dynamics that emerge from the transformation of poor areas through residential shifts and urban planning that affect - and alter - the composition of a neighbourhood.

Casa do vapor
Exyzt and ConstructLab, Casa do vapor , Cova do Vapor, Lisbon, 2013. Photo Alex Roemer

The widespread of similar processes of radical alteration of pre-existent communities have determined such a suspicion towards the development of culture-related architectonic projects in poor areas.

Steam House, a temporary cultural centre entirely built from scratch in the heart of the Portuguese fishermen’s village of Cova do Vapor (literally Steam’s Cove), appears thus as a big surprise. Not only because it allowed for a radical change of the perception of a location that was widely ignored, but first and foremost because it attested how a place with such a low-profile connotation was able of welcoming and activating a very rich programme of activities and events.

Casa do vapor
Exyzt and ConstructLab, Casa do vapor , Cova do Vapor, Lisbon, 2013. Photo Alex Roemer
The project was able of uncloaking deeply rooted prejudices and of challenging them, not through major renovation programmes and large-scale architectonic plans, but by giving a well-deserved visibility to the peculiar and unique configuration of this location. Cova do Vapor is a village and seaside resort located in the estuary of the Tejo, where the river meets the Atlantic Ocean, at about 20 km South from Lisbon. Characterized by several waves of building and occupation, concentrated in the 1940s and after the Revolution of 1974, the small town is mostly composed of self-built architectures, small constructions that are arranged around a limited number of streets and alleys. It has about 350 houses, 90 of which are permanently occupied by its approximately 200 inhabitants.
Casa do vapor
Exyzt and ConstructLab, Casa do vapor , Cova do Vapor, Lisbon, 2013. Photo Alex Roemer
Steam House was conceived and erected accordingly to Exyzt /ConstructLab's philosophy of surpassing the conventional building processes of detachment between the project and edification tasks, and uniting concept and construction as an ongoing, merged process in which the designers/builders combine the creative and practical thinking with the doing in the exact building locations. Steam House was built with the pinewood that was previously used by Exyzt/ConstructLab for the support structure Construir Juntos (Building Together ) which hosted the Curator’s Lab of Guimarães Capital of Culture 2012.
Casa do vapor
Exyzt and ConstructLab, Casa do vapor , Cova do Vapor, Lisbon, 2013. Photo Alex Roemer
This wood was subsequently taken to Cova to be reused in the construction of two temporary edifices: the Casa do Vapor (which hosts a common house, a surf school and an artist’s residency) and the workshop place. Both have a large area supported by wooden pilotis, which serve as shaded social areas to protect from the sun and heat. The area defined by the confluence of the constructions hosts live events as well as a skate ramp and a bicycle workshop.
The construction and maintenance of the Steam House was done in close collaboration with the Cova do Vapor Residents Association, which is responsible for coordinating the all the activities and maintenance works of village.
Casa do vapor
Exyzt and ConstructLab, Casa do vapor , Cova do Vapor, Lisbon, 2013. Photo Alex Roemer

The architecture of the Steam House mirror the strong community-based context that hosts it by assuring the confluence of the internal and external spaces through the pillars of the houses, and by establishing a continuous communication between the several areas and functions of the cultural complex.

Hosting the above-mentioned artistic residency, surf school, but also a common kitchen serving typical food from Cova, a concert venue, an open-air cinema, and being a meeting place for the Community of Cova and for those who come and go to engage in the workshops or to to pay a visit to this place, Casa do Vapor is a model of how the intertwining of experiences, knowledge and modes of operating can exist and benefit everyone alike.

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