architect_ Mateo Arquitectura
collaborators_ Carlos Reis Figueiredo
location_ Castelo Branco, Portugal
construction year_ 2012/2013
area_ 4300 m2
photography_ Adrià Goula
from the architects_


The plaza is a surface, a topography drawn out in relation to the movement of the water and built by pedreiros, following patterns that are abstract but not random.

Floating on this surface is an object. At its base, water, frozen here to form a skating rink.

Josep Lluís Mateo, 2013


Spain-based Mateo Arquitectura architecture firm has designed the 46,000-square-foot Cultural Center to float above the Praça Largo da Devesa in Castelo Branco, Portugal.

The project presented the challenge of addressing the great complexity of the public space and the various traffic and urban problems of the historic centre of Castelo Branco. The aim of the Arts Centre, furthermore, was to turn the old town into a cultural nerve centre for the city.

The plaza, designed in the first phase (2007), is moulded to the site to deal with the initial topographic problems and accommodate the various buildings designed to go there. Located on the slope of the hill that leads to the castle, it exploits the topography to form crosswise strips, giving rise in the central space of the project to a plaza whose gentle slopes give rise almost naturally to a pool of water in the centre of the plaza, in front of the Arts Centre.

“The project appeared as a continuation of our remodelling of Praça Largo da Devesa, a large public space. It sets out to complete it, then, to continue it. It also looks to its neighbours, the old theatre and the former barracks”, explained principal Josep Lluis Mateo.

The Arts Centre, built in phase two, floats on two piles over the plaza, like a bridge, freeing up at its base a covered ice-skating rink, and giving continuity to this large public space, to the plaza and to the adjacent park. It forms another part of the plaza, drawing on the Portuguese tradition of skating and the cold continental climate.

“The climate is extreme. I’m very pleased with the ice rink at the base of the building, it’s a playful relationship with the climate and the plaza. The building is compact and well insulated, a bubble of sheltered activity, but still related to the exterior,” added Josep Lluis Mateo.

With its wooden façade, in contrast to the zinc-clad reinforced concrete of the suspended part, it is a bubble of activity, a roof and a floor that floats above the site, relating the urban sequence, the plaza and the park.

Inside the building, the ground floor is just a transition space, connecting with the floors above. On the outside, however, this floor is the manifestation of the connection between the plaza and the arts centre, housing an ice rink that extends from one side of the building to the other and interacts directly with its setting, becoming a hub of activity. It is an outdoor space that generates movement, colour, light at night and music.

Skylights exploit this opening at ground level to allow light into the basement floor, creating an ambience that is light and welcoming.

On the higher levels, we find the auditorium and a gallery that mimic the structure of the building, forming double-height spaces.

At one end, the exhibition hall occupies the first and second floors, with a ramp to change level that accompanies the structure of the building. In this way, the visitor has an overview of the space.

At the other end, the auditorium also moulds naturally to the curve of the building with its seating arrangement. All in black, it contrasts with the lighter tones of the stage to focus the audience’s attention.

In addition to these spaces, the first floor also accommodates the dressing rooms, with direct access to the stage.

On the second floor, opposite the stage, are the control room and a bar connected with the main entrance to the auditorium where visitors can relax. There is also a multipurpose space on this floor, enclosed between the exhibition hall and the auditorium.

The top floor offers stunning vistas of Castelo Branco, with the castle that gives the city its name.

Finally, the roof, concealing all the machinery, opens up in a great skylight over the exhibition hall, providing natural lighting.

Courtesy of Josep Lluís Mateo.