Maputo [Lourenço Marques], Maputo, Mozambique


Ecletism is an outstanding factor in the wide work of Amâncio d’Alpoim Miranda Guedes (1925-2015), who claims to have worked various styles simultaneously. Revealing the direct influences of the Modern Movement, the Tonelli building is inserted in the fifteenth book “Shelves and habitable boxes for many people“ introduced in "Vitruvius Mozambicanus: the twenty-five architectures of the excellent, bizarre and extraordinary Amâncio Guedes" (1985). According to the author “this boxes and shelves have as inspiration the first works of the Modern Movement, that are like huge cubical boxes, “Machines à habiter”, but they are mostly white brightly painted. In some of them I identified each apartment by expressing it as a unit on the cellular façades. In all of them the access and circulation are schematic and direct.”

The building responds to the private commission of the Engineer Franco Tonelli, of Italian nationality, for a plot on Maxaquene area in Maputo, located next to the Botanical Garden Tunduru, the only large public garden existing in the center of the capital, and at the intersection between two structural avenues of the city, Vladimir Lenin Avenue, already existing in Araújo Plan (1887-1892), and the Patrice Lumumba Avenue, on top of Maxaquene designing the curved edge of the topographic barrier.

The program required the construction of a mixed building of collective housing and commercial areas.

From the building, that rises at a high point of the city with great urban presence, two moments stand out, the three storey ground floor planned to the commercial areas, warehouse and parking and the one of the nine storey block intended to collective housing. This dynamic is emphasized by the third floor mural and by the building’s volumetry, once the tower’s façade pane swings slightly over the ground floor. Pancho Guedes plays between the horizontal nature of the circulation galleries, and their empty horizontal lines placed at different levels, and the verticality of the recessed staircase and elevator’s volume, dividing the building in two symmetrical bodies. Through this recessed volume and by the horizontal concrete slab that divides de ground floor from the vertical volume, Pancho designs the main entrance of the building on Patrice Lumumba Avenue, from where the inferior floor is not perceptible. The architect takes advantage of the slope to create an interior courtyard and insert the warehouse and packing floor. Thereby Pancho strengths the contrast between the volume weight and verticality in opposition to the horizontal ground floor. The other two floors, visible from the street, are intended to commercial areas and mezzanines, the first with double height ceiling.

The façades answer to a modern aesthetics and reveal the concept of shelve, with its wall panes laying on its prominent slabs in a constant rhythm, obeying a modular structure with 5.30m from axis to axis. Inside these axis the “habitable boxes are inserted”. These have 5.20m width and 10.30m length, with a proportion of approximately 1:2. One can find a parallel in these relations with the Unité d´Habitation de Marseille de Le Corbusier, in which unit was described as a bottle that could be constructed individually and inserted in its container. The proportion of 1:2 is also present in some of the cells of the Unité, once their construction is based on the Modulor’s double square. In a permanent game of mass-empty space, positive-negative the prominent slab of the apartment blocks connect with the staircase spans.

Nowadays the building has 56 apartments, 40 T1 apartments (Bachelor – for bachelor and young couples) with 52 m2 and 16 T4 apartments (Duplex) with 104 m2.

The T1’s functional organization is very simple, with an entry hall for the balcony, a kitchen, a utility room/laundry, bathroom, bedroom-living room and balcony. The lower floor of the T4 apartments has a living room, balcony, utility room / laundry, kitchen, storage, a larder, washing area, gallery to access the clothes rack and in the upper floor, a hall, two bedrooms, a sewing room, bathroom and balcony. The bed and living rooms are Northeast oriented are well illuminated receiving the Northeast and East wind.

The service areas, Southeast oriented don’t have so much solar exposure. With minor dimension windows and beta windows is possible to regulate the light and wind that comes from Southeast. In the T4 apartments one can find an exception on the upper floor where one of the bedrooms is also Southeast oriented and, in order to capture more light, this room’s window has a bigger dimension than the kitchen ones. The bathrooms are interior and have forced ventilation.

Pancho favors the correct solar orientation opposed to favouring the view over the sea. Only the horizontal circulations featured by the long open balconies take advantage of this clear view.

One of the key aspects for the definition of this building’s image is the height’s variation.

On the rear facade different galleries that match social hierarchy and typology: 3m (galleries access to apartments T1); T4 The apartments are served by two different galleries: service areas with 2.1m; noble areas with 4m allowing the creation of a lobby with double height ceiling that distributes to the bottom floor with the common areas and superior floor to the bedrooms. For T4 apartments there is a complete separation of circulation between europeans and ‘indigenous’ and the access is made through an intermediate level.

This difference is absorbed in the interior of the duplex apartments; the heights of the balconies in the Northeast façade are constant.

The spaces are divided with walls with glass on the superior top, near the ceiling allowing the light to cross all the spaces. The kitchen is illuminated through two horizontal spans, one near the ceiling and one between the cabinet and the kitchen bench. The ventilation is made through four top-hung windows besides the forced ventilation of the chimney and stove. The interior room is illuminated by the superior gasps in the division walls of the kitchen and bathroom and by the corridor. Although being possible to make cross ventilation its mechanical ventilation is planned for the living room and for the bathroom, one must highlight the quality of the materials and the detail design.

One must point out how ten years later the same architect changes the spatial organization within the same typology. On the initial project the plan develops in cross and, in 1968, in sequence.

The design of the entrance spans on the main façade will also suffer formal and material changes and this floor remains an exception on the ensemble’s symmetry. However, some alterations have been made by the inhabitants, altering the perceptions, for example through the construction of marquees in some of the apartments.

Strongly connected to various forms of artistic expression, Pancho Guedes speaks many times about his murals as the possibility of expression, projection and integration of his graphic universe. In the case of the Tonelli building, the geometric patterns, engraved and painted on the plaster, may be compared to those of the Mapogga tribe or to some motives of the caniço doors, photographed by the architect. Analysing Pancho’s work the mural along the Leão que Ri façade (1958) is probably one that is more directly related with the murals designed for Tonelli. Unfortunately, the impact of the murals was compromised due to the alterations suffered through the years.

The importance of this work lays on its interpretation of the Modern Movement’s architecture. Having an emphasis on functionality and rationality, obeying many aspects of the modern lexicon, has many subtleties that reject the canonical formalism of the International Style.

In all façades hints can be found to distinguish the different functions that hide behind the façade panes. The spans modulation in the front façade, the height differences in the circulation galleries of the Southwest façade and the plastic composition of the lateral façade with its different dimensions prominent windows capturing the views over the Tunduru Botanical Garden, that subtlety reveal the difference of typologies present in the building.

The prominent staircase volume and the water deposits constitute another plastic gesture that interrupt the apparent rationality of the forms.

This small variations that break monotony, not questioning the coherence and homogeneity of the ensemble make this a reference work by Pancho Guedes.


Original by Ana Tostões and Ana Braga

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

Adaptation by Ana Tostões and Daniela Arnaut.