How do you create remembrance for a battle that happened seven centuries ago? How do you interpret Medieval people, armory and fight in the digital age? How do you picture the roughness of times and the desperation of the combatants in the Battle of Atoleiros, fought between the kingdoms of Portugal and Castile on April 6th 1384, which established Portugal as a leading maritime power for the forthcoming centuries?
Portuguese architects Gonçalo Byrne and José Laranjeira (Gonçalo Byrne Arquitectos) had to face with these questions when working on their latest project, Centro de Interpretação da Batalha de Atoleiros, a cultural center dedicated to this historical event. Guess what, they found the solution: concrete.
Although the site chosen for the building was not the original battlefield, but an urban park in the center of the nearest town, Fronteira, the architects decided to put an emphasis on the landscape. The building itself acts as a wall with a gate, opening up with glass surfaces on the ground level, but closed on the upper fronts. During a regular visit, visitors can explore different interpretations of the battle, on the works of contemporary artists and paintings of the renowned Portuguese artist Jaime Martins Barata (1899-1970) as well.
At the end of their tour a large bench awaits, with a spectacular view on the surrounding park from the inside, recreating the sense of the original battlefield as a simple meadow and offering space for the personal fantasy.
The body of the building recalls the tactility of the traditional medieval construction.
Its rough textured surfaces, cast of pigmented concrete with raw and irregular expression, are very close to the primal textures achieved by human hand. This texture is enhanced by interposing lines of schist slabs in the horizontal joints.
Photo above: José Laranjeira
As a whole, the building generates a gravitational presence; almost an earth sculpture dyed in its own tonalities, evoking time in the spontaneous patina patterns, resembling a stained vertical battlefield, between a small and a larger body, like the two armies in conflict.
The combined use of concrete walls and a structure formed by a concrete column / beam / slab system allows maximal area exploitation and generous exhibition areas. Through the completion of consoles the structure had acquired more complexity, allowing lateral glazing and motivating an open relationship between inner and outside areas, between exhibition and urban park.
The landscape of Southern Portugal has a golden-reddish tone.
The reddish wash of the building tries to emulate those colors and patterns, therefore reinforcing a sense of belonging. Color and textures are also enhanced by the usage of the same pitch used on the urban park paving system, serving as an essential framework for the Interpretation Center, yet reinterpreting the battlefield original landscape.