Collective Dwelling Block (Public servants building)

Collective Dwelling Block (Public servants building)

Luanda [São Paulo de Luanda], Luanda, Angola


The Servidores do Estado building (1965 – 1968) designed by Vasco Vieira da Costa (1911-1982) in 1965 to house public employees working in Luanda is positioned parallel to Amílcar Cabral Street, one of the busiest streets of Luanda connecting the city center to the airport. The collective housing block is a mega-structure oriented East-West, unfavorable direction regarding insulation and ventilation, limitations that are overcome by the ingenious designed climate control mechanisms.

The block stands out in the urban context for its dimensions: at the West side is surrounded by an urban set of organic expression consisting of massive construction of low height, the musseque (slum) Prenda where is located the Neighbourhood Unit nº 1 (1963-1965), designed by Fernão Simões de Carvalho (1929), at the East area surrounded by an orthogonal grid essentially filled with a urban complex organic expression consisting of low density housing buildings with three floors which extends to Alvalade neighbourhood, and where Francisco Gouveia Street represents the immediate border, on the back, with the low density of Maianga neighbourhood.

 The Servidores do Estado building corresponds to a volume composed of five floors on pilotis that create a leaked ground floor, and together with the steep slope of the Amílcar Cabral Street, allow the creation of an open and permeable public space connecting the two streets, providing access to the parking area under the building, and a protected entrance from a major traffic route by Padre Francisco Gouveia Street. Through a symmetrical composition, the entrance is defined on the central axis of the volume where the elevator is placed, and where two stairs lean, separated by a wing, to the horizontal distribution galleries on each floor.

The galleries, with 2 meters wide and 80 meters long, are semiprivate corridors away from the main volume 1.5 meters. Vasco Vieira da Costa establishes the access to the apartments through an uneven private entrance which consists of three steps evidencing the transition between collective space and private space, while promoting the apartments privacy for the areas in direct contact with the galleries.

The 23 structural axes, placed 3.5 meters away from each other, are the basis of modulation and organization of each floor, consisting of five T3 (166.10m2), and a T1 (81.30m2) located at the north end of the building completing the idea of symmetry developed by Vasco Vieira da Costa in this work.

Each dominant typology (T3) is drawn between four structural axes. The functional organization is subdivided between the social and private areas placed between two structural axes each. The functional division is also defined according to the relation with the facades: facing the East facade, in contact with the galleries are placed the service areas, such as the kitchen, bathrooms, storage room and one bedroom; and on the main facade to the West, the noble areas of the living room, dining and balcony as well as the two main bedrooms.

The generously sized living room (35m2) and terrace (21m2), and the relationship between them, are among the innovations of this project, where Vieira Vasco da Costa defines the living room as a protected environment by designing the balcony as a shading and ventilation system. The architect allows the complete isolation of these two spaces, separately, by positioning sliding doors.

The balcony facing the main façade, keeps a permanent relationship with the outside through the closing, shading and ventilation system, which is achieved through adjustable slats of wood ensuring the permanent ventilation and relationship with the exterior. In the same West facade concrete grids are used, indented relative to the main plane of the facade, to protect the bedrooms and the respective balconies from sun exposure and to promote natural ventilation. Vasco Vieira da Costa demonstrates in this work his creative genius, solving the limitations from unfavorable exposure by designing effective devices through which defines the formal language and the unique character of this building.

In the East facade, functional areas are protected from sunlight through the galleries that create a protective shadow, and adjustable slats of wood (beta-windows) that allow natural ventilation of the bedroom, kitchen and bathrooms. The cross natural ventilation is additionally assured inside the apartments by a free strip between the ceiling and the walls, where an ingenious solution of adjustable slats of wood is applied: in the wall that separates the living room from the balcony, in the wall that separates the hall of the rooms, in the entrance wall in the apartment next to the door, and in the interior doors.

The formal contrast between the two main facades results from the location of the different functional areas, from the relationship with the urban context, and also from the different solutions conceived to avoid sun exposure and unfavorable natural ventilation which Vasco Vieira da Costa decides differently developing expressive building systems. In the main façade, a second skin is created through a sequence of horizontal lines interrupted by concrete grids, on the opposite facade the structure is the subject of the composition along with the ventilation systems of vertical accesses and horizontal galleries, conceived as a folded plan extending beyond the physical limits of the building, in a clear reference to the work of Le Corbusier, the sky streets of Alison (1928-1993) and Peter Smithson (1923-2003), or the building tradition in many Asian and African tropical areas.

Vieira Vasco da Costa design accentuates the horizontal volume of the building through volumetric games of light and shadow, defines the design of advanced and retreated plans, uses rough concrete grids, and states the structure elements through the beams that expand the boundaries of building creating rhythm and conferring a brutalist expression, where the structure is crafted as a plastic element. The condition of low construction costs led to the development creative solutions and a rigorous design that is the basis for a constructive precision and approach to a "dry construction", based on the use of rough concrete and wood, without mortar, proposals referenced to the with brutalist concept of the 60s.

The Servidores do Estado building has changed, the initial assumptions were overturned: today public spaces and semi-private were occupied and transformed into small apartments or shops, and the balconies were mostly closed and mechanical air conditioning systems were introduced.

Original by Ana Tostões e Jéssica Bonito

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

Adaptation by Ana Tostões e Daniela Arnaut.