Article magazine # 53


Promontorio arquitectos: mora river aquarium

Post de: Promontorio Arquitectos

PROMONTORIO was founded in Lisbon, in 1988, by Joao Perloiro (Lisbon TU, 87), Joao Luis Ferreira (Lisbon TU, 88), Paulo Perloiro (Lisbon TU, 88), Paulo Martins Barata (Lisbon TU, 88, and Ph.D ETH Zurich, 00) and Pedro Appleton (Lisbon TU, 93), shortly after graduation, having recently opened an office in Madrid with Adrian Beloso-Baker as partner. Underlying its approach to the urban form, the work of PROMONTORIO has often been identified with the pursuit of a system of robustness (solidity, stability and durability) both in terms of representational meaning and technical research.

Mora is a small municipality in the Northern Alentejo region of Portugal. Given the need to shift regional development from the dependence of an increasingly weaker agriculture economy into the environmental tourism and leisure market, the municipality launched a design-and-build competition for an aquarium that could somehow embody the paradigms of biodiversity of the Iberian river. Integrated in the Ecological Wild Park of Gameiro and bordering the Raia stream, the building stands amidst a secluded field of cork and olive trees. The plot’s gently undulating topography forms a basin at the confluence of two small watercourses. Placing the aquarium at the edge of this quasi-natural retaining lake brought together the fundamental relation between its thematic contents and the presence of fresh water. Given the blazing Alentejo sun and the need to create shade, the building was devised as a compact volume with a pitched shelter of thin white pre-cast concrete porticos with single spans of 33 metres, evoking the profile of the canonical Alentejo whitewash barns known as “montes”. The shading and cross ventilation systems along with the water circuits foster the reduction of cooling energy, the sustainable increase of humidity and the wellbeing of animal and plant life. Standing on a massive concrete plinth with a built-in stairway-cum-ramp entry, the pitched shed veils a set of mute boxes that contain the programme – reception, ticketing and shop, cafeteria, changing exhibits hall, documentation centre, research and education, live exhibits, multimedia and a small auditorium. Inside, the dark exhibition spaces minimize UV impact on the live exhibits and allow visitors an in-depth viewing of the aquariums. The outdoor void between these programme boxes and the shed generates not only accelerated viewpoints onto the outside but also a promenade that culminates in the passage through a bridge over the lake which in itself is also a live exhibit of animals and plants collected and nurtured in the region.
The live exhibits reproduce, through complex life support systems mainly placed in the basement, the habitat conditions of different regions. The water is taken from a well on the plot, pumped into a deposit and regenerated after use. In addition, areas for animal quarantine, food preparation, laboratories, staff facilities, and logistics complete the technical floor.

Other than the in-situ concrete cast plinth and the white pre-cast porticoes, the programme boxes are built in polished finish plastered terracotta masonry with steel frames and varnished MDF carpentry. With a total built area of 2000 sq.m, the Mora River Aquarium includes more than 500 live specimens and is expected to receive 200,000 visitors per year.
Architecture: PROMONTORIO (Joao Perloiro, Joao Luis Ferreira, Paulo Perloiro, Paulo Martins Barata and Pedro Appleton)
Collaborators: Joana Cancela, Antonio Braga, Ricardo Correia, Sofia Reis, Rita Henriques
Museology: Cosestudi (Michael Oleksak and Ginette Castro)
Structure: Nuno Costa
Hydraulics: Jorge Mello Vieira
Electrical, Telecom and Safety: Jose Cardoso
HVAC: Jose Galvao Telles
Landscape Architecture: Otilia Freire
Client: Municipality of Mora
Contractor: Teixeira Duarte
Photography: Fernando Guerra, FG+SG Fotografia de Arquitectura