6th May, 2020.
As a writer, it is my passion and my vocation to articulate. To string combinations of letters and words together in a way that captures the essence of things. Recently this notion of distinguishing between an action and a pursuit (in my case, separating writing as a tool from the art of being a writer) was solidified by a man, an architect, whose approach to his own profession put end to the white noise surrounding the discipline of architecture in its purest form. Ultimately, we build with the intent to construct environments that endure.
On a recent trip to Australia, Portuguese architect Manuel Aires Mateus met with Open Journal to discuss his work and the opportunity for exploring the notion of designing within the landscape of Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula. When he speaks of his work, Manuel has a gentle humility in its articulation. As an architect, his approach to the built environment rests in the convergence between pragmatic thinking and a deferential conceding to the myriad influences that culminate in the realisation of each of his projects.
Manuel was born and raised in Lisbon. His father was trained as an architect, yet he worked in agriculture, while his mother was a painter. Given the creative influences around him, it was a natural outcome for Manuel, relieved of the burden of carrying the family’s agricultural legacy when his sister stepped into the role, to become an architect.
Manuel began his working life running for sandwiches and coffee in an engineering firm as an impressionable teen. By the age of 17, he stepped sideways into design and then moved across again to the field of architecture where he spent the next decade systematically working his way through the ranks. Manuel acquired a multi-faceted and holistic list of skills thanks to the simple logic of being surrounded each day by different disciplines and their broad range of applications to design and construction.
Today, Aires Mateus is the culmination of three decades of Manuel’s influences combined with those of his brother. Their unified capacity to select from the myriad influences holding place in their creative thought processes, and the considered application of them in their work, instil the studio’s projects with a sense of purity and alchemy often lacking in today’s public buildings and institutions. Modern thinking converges with ancient practices resulting in contemporary buildings that harbour a discerning beauty in both form and function. Schematics based on the cruciform plan are reinstated in new builds. Residences are designed in homage to the practice of living, rather than the notion of decoration (which Manuel equates as the result of successful architecture rather than its purpose).
Elevations are subjected to precise incisions that allow just the right amount of light to flow into the interior sanctum of a building in just the right place. Contemporary furniture in natural materials anchors ornate interiors to imbue modern relevance. And so the genesis of architecture comes full circle, a consolidation of centuries-old practices sharing space with today’s fundamentals which really haven’t changed all that much.
Open Journal will be following the progress of Manuel’s future residential project on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula. We will be featuring a series of stories that will document the considered and organic process of realising a design that meets the requirements of both client and environmental context. Stay tuned!
Words: Tiffany Jade