Designing a Retirement Home Requires Moral Responsibility and Foresight

Project Snapshot

  • Architects: Francisco and Manuel Aires Mateus, Lisbon Picture1
  • Project: Old Age Home
  • Location: Alcacer do Sal, Portugal
  • Completion Date: 2010
  • Useable floor area: 3,640 m2
  • Brick type: Clay block


Architecture & Design

Designing a retirement home that is both functional and cosy requires moral responsibility and foresight. In this respect, the project by the brothers Francisco and Manuel Aires Mateus, for several years renowned protagonists on the international architectural stage, demonstrates an exceptional sensitivity: the Portuguese practice has responded to the needs of a community of elderly people (in a way a micro-society with its own rules) with a solution that reinterprets the word pair “societal /private”.


Furthermore, it proves that architecture can be an instrument of great social benefit without compromising the architectural quality.

The building project comprises the extension and upgrading of the existing Santa Casa de la Misericordia complex: a halfway house between hotel and hospital. The priority objective was to guarantee the residents a balanced relationship between living in the community of elderly people in need of care and the respectful protection of their privacy.


The ground plan of the residence on the outskirts of Alcacer do Sal is laid out like an interrupted line, whereas the elevations follow the terrain typical for this country, from which they emerge with their chessboard-like structure. The elevations differ according to their function, because the “full” areas formed by the individual residential units alternate with the “empty” one of the terraces. This alternation is enhanced by the sunlight, which projects the profile of ancient battlements onto the ground. The fragmentation of the facades in the area of corridors leading to the rooms is, however, emphasized by means of narrow recesses with deep reveals.



The building nestles against the ground and follows its slightly undulating contour, so that whilst maintaining a constant roof line, the number of floors varies. The building volume with a maximum of three above-ground floors leaps out because of its dazzling white colour contrasting the brown of the earth and blue of the sky.


The design provides interiors, which allow for an absolute freedom of choice as regards the interpretation of living and common rooms, depending on the desired level of intimacy. Besides the reception and service rooms, the ground floor also accommodates the dining hall as well as multi-purpose rooms, and it is directly linked with the existing building. Common rooms and inviting bedrooms all with their own ensuite and a trapezoidal terrace, which is accessible via generous glazing, are located on both upper floors. The single and double rooms are protected from views as well as from the intense Portuguese sunlight, that can never enter directly.


The common rooms and connecting passageways are elegant and designed with high-quality materials (e.g. floors from white marble), whilst the rooms feature the hospitable size of a Lusitanian house. In the north-west, the exterior spaces, which are connected to the interiors without any interruption, are structured towards a spacious central courtyard, a reference point for the community life and to the previously existing building. In the south-west, the outdoor areas open onto a small garden which seems to be hidden away. At some points, the surrounding area reaches up to the height of the flat roof.

14521-6The structural decisions reflect the use of simple and natural materials in order to ensure comfort for the users and the durability of the building. The building envelope was designed as a waffle-panel wall with a cavity masonry wall from clay blocks and hollow spaces partly filled with thermal insulation.


The flat roof is a surface finished with white Estremoz marble and a gravel bed, thus allowing perfect integration into the natural environment.

Excerpts has been taken from Brick Book 2010 (Wienerberger)

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