Maputo [Lourenço Marques], Maputo, Mozambique


Between 1951 and 1953, Amâncio d'Alpoim Miranda Guedes (1925-2015) designs in Maputo his first collective housing building named as Prometheus because of the scale given to a block of only 5 floors. This designation comes from Greek mythology, in which Prometheus is a titan, a downward divinity of the Gods enormous and resistant.

This building belongs to the group that Pancho Guedes called "Stiloguedes" a "bizarre and fantastic family with beaks and teeth, beamed tearing the spaces around, with convulsive walls and recessed lights," based on the drawings and paintings of Pablo Picasso, from around 1928, for sculptures that were never materialized.

 Prometheus is situated close to the ocean, on the corner of large traffic roads with a key role in the the city, Mao Tse Tung Avenue and Julius Nyerere Avenue, parallel to the Marginal Avenue. It’s located in a consolidated urban area of orthogonal geometry near Santo António da Polana Chuch (1959-1962) designed by the architect Nuno Craveiro Lopes (1921-1972), and close to the Polana Hotel (1922), Polana High School (1970 -1973) and the Park building, also designed by Pancho Guedes.

The building consists of four housing floors and a recessed fifth floor, raised on pillars it results in a total volume equivalent to six floors.

The access is made by the northeast façade on the Mao Tse Tung Avenue. Initially the entrance floor was open and was intended to park, however it has been closed and transformed into a bank office in the 60's. Vertical circulations are located inside the volume, and not as added volumes, on the southwest rear facade, and consist of two stairs, the main one and service one, and an elevator. This organization is reflected in the facade through openings of reduced dimensions.

As all the buildings that are part of "Stiloguedes," the building's internal organization is simple and functional.

Linked to the vertical circulations, Pancho Guedes draws the collective distribution corridor for each of the three apartments per floor, with a door to the center and one on each side of the space. The four housing floors are equal, consisting of a T1 and two T2, in a total of twelve apartments with small dimensions, the T1 with 32.81 m2 and the T2 with 56.08m2, all facing Mao Tse Tung Avenue. T2 are located at the tops of the volume and the T1 in the center. All apartments feature a similar functional organization with a lobby providing access to the different rooms in the house, and that can be analyzed, in a simplified approach, as a square with a compartment at each corner. The top floor is recessed with small storage rooms, workshops and laundry area. The functional organization of the apartments allows the living rooms, the master bedroom and the balconies to be located next to the northeast main facade, receiving several hours of sun, while divisions with minor use, as kitchen and sanitary facilities are oriented to the southwest, not having so much sun exposure. In the T2 there’s a smaller bedroom, facing southwest, for which Pancho Guedes draws a window on both side walls of the building increasing sunlight.

The predominant building material is concrete. Structurally, the chosen solution was the pillar-beam system; however the pillars don’t have an ordinary design. They appear as walls that resemble human figures with multiple open arms prolonged in height, as can be seen in the side elevation. This system is repeated seven times along the volume and according to the structural modulation rule. The building is balanced on a central row of these strange pillars from which sprout, like in a tree, the cantilevered beams supporting the balconies of generous dimensions, emphasizing the peculiar balance of the building.

As in other works of Pancho Guedes, is possible to find sculptural elements imagined and created by himself. In the case of Prometheus, the pillar-beam system on the tops of the building is ended with six peaks on either side, designing the head of the odd creature with open arms.

According to Pancho Guedes, Prometheus presents itself to the city as a strange apartment block. The architect makes use of modern devices, such as the elevation of the building on pilotis, to accentuate the expressionism and the formal approach inaugurating an unprecedented work.

In the original project, Pancho Guedes had thought in another building with similar characteristics that would be deployed alongside, the Prometheus Wife, having been built in its place a housing block of 10 floors.

Currently the Prometheus is very much transformed: the ground floor was occupied by commercial areas, the gables lost their expressiveness,  and the top floor, which was set back, was enlarged and transformed into housing.

Original by Ana Tostões and Jéssica Bonito.

(FCT: PTDC/AUR-AQI/103229/2008)

Adaptation by Ana Tostões and Daniela Arnaut.