The Centipede is a Tea House in the Basílio Teles Garden, located in Matosinhos, the city where Álvaro Siza was born, in the North of Portugal. The garden stands in front of the beautiful City Hall building, designed by Arch. Alcino Soutinho in the late 80’s. This, once, romantic garden of the ninetieth century is now the sum of continuous interventions with poor architectonic quality and obsolete urban equipment.
All Photographs by Leonardo Finotti
When approaching the project, the first thing that came to mind was to recover the original garden design and demolish all the equipment that had been built in the last decades. That proposal was not approved by the city administration and the intention they had of making a building in the garden persisted.
From that point on, the idea was to make a building with a pavilion look, that could be removed at any time and build any place else in case the administration changed their minds.
Something that looked light and as abstract as possible in order not to connect it with a building, but if possible, with a sculptural or natural object in a garden.
It was taken the option to put the Tea House next to another existing building, in order to concentrate all constructions on one side of the garden and maintain the rest as it is supposed to be, natural space. The building occupies a green triangular shaped plot.
It was pretended to make it look organic and adapted to the existing space. As all the trees were kept, the building would have to avoid them. In the end, it should look like a curved spine or a Centipede in a garden. To obtain that, the search was for a combination of elements put together in a way to create repetition and rhythm.
The search was for one constructive element that could be used for the entire building in order to make it a prefabricated process. The idea was to make a custom designed prefabricated work.
The option went to glued laminated timber (Glulam) as it is a very clean and rigorous production process with a natural element obtained from self sustainable Nordic forests. Timber contributed to make the whole object look more natural and comfortable. The same piece, but in different sizes, was used to floor, roof and walls.
This wooden structure, like a skeleton that supports and give shelter to the organs, would support the functionalities of the Tea house. These spaces, bar and toilettes in black boxes, fit in the voids between the timber structure and function as space organizers themselves. The toilette boxes are on one side and the bar box is on the other being the space between them where the tables are. One can enter on both sides and cross this structure and exit to the exterior esplanade.
Inside, glass was used to fill the gaps on the floor and roof and to cover the North side façade in order to protect people from the predominant winds. There are no frames, only these small stainless steel pieces, to make it almost an invisible element. On the roof as well as on the floor the glass was glued with polyurethane mastique.
The black boxes are made with stainless steel structure covered with painted Viroc plates on both sides. The boxes come out of the timber structure to capture, through small voids, natural light to the interior.
The ‘Centipede’ works as a flexible structural element that allows the number of boxes to increase or change place, reorganizing space, as different programs appear.
Centípede in the Garden (Tea House)
Client: Matosinhos City Hall
Place: Matosinhos, Portugal
Project: 2002 2004
Architect: Guilherme Machado Vaz
Consultants: Flexilam – laminated timber, Carla Martins – structural and hidraulic Engineering, Pedro Sanches – Electricity Engineering
Surface area: 220m2
Cost: 200.000 euros