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On the waterfront: these sleekly industrial metal containers sit lightly on the Oporto quayside.

Clinging to the gorge of the River Douro, Oporto's waterfront is one of the most dramatic in Europe. The city tumbles down the steep slopes to the river's edge where it coalesces into a raffish assortment of bars, cafes and restaurants housed in tottering waterfront terraces. Teeming with life day and night, these river edges have a strong folklorique character, which tends to overwhelm contemporary interventions. Some architects are still intrepid enough to try, however, as such small scale but high profile projects can act as an important benchmark in the development of younger practices.

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Local architects Cristina Guedes and Francisco Vieira de Campos set up their studio in 1992, following spells working in the offices of the Oporto masters (Guedes with Siza and Vieira de Campos with Souto de Moura). An earlier project on the Douro's northern riverfront, the Cafe do Cais, was conceived as a simple yet precisely detailed steel and glass pavilion, at once lightweight and autonomous evoking the functional language of street kiosks and furniture.

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A more recent project for a bar on the south side of the Douro, in the Vila Nova de Gaia, develops these principles into a series of streamlined elongated volumes like train carriages or industrial containers, again using metal and glass, but this time the outcome is more abstract. The Vila Nova is dominated by the port lodges or armazens, where port is blended and aged, and the long, low slung volumes of the red-roofed lodges form a picturesque backdrop to the sleek new interlopers.

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The basic arrangement consists of two free-standing boxes, one short and one long, linked by a concertina joint. The short box houses the business end of things, with cooking, preparation and washing facilities efficiently compacted into the tight space, in the manner of an Airstream trailer or space capsule. The larger volume functions as a seating and serving area. Depending on the ambitions of the bar proprietor, various permutations can be achieved by combining the two types of unit--the one pictured here has two service components connected to a single seating module.

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Cladding is used to denote function--opaque aluminium panels for the service capsule and smoky mirrored glass for the larger, publicly accessible volume. Quite untypical of most Portuguese contemporary architecture, the project inventively embraces standardization and industrial design, mobility and minimal detailing. Yet the commercial success and popularity of the concept has proved its slight downfall--the inscrutable, functional containers are now augmented by festive awnings on the riverside facade to cater for al fresco drinking and dining.

Architect

Guedes + deCampos, Oporto

Photographs

Paul Raftery/VIEW
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Article Details
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Author:Slessor, Catherine
Publication:The Architectural Review
Date:Jul 1, 2004
Words:442
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