Situated in the Upper Douro Valley in Portugal, where the special grapes that make the famous Porto wine have been cultivated for centuries, this new sporting centre for canoeing and rowing designed by Álvaro Fernandes Andrade is inspired by the region’s terraced vineyards and the haphazard white volumes of the estate buildings found there.
In the constructive endeavor, more often than not landscape relinquishes power to architecture, an instinct perhaps born of man’s more primal struggles with his environment, in the aspiration towards civilization. The memory of this is inscribed into our geography, in the unnatural disruption of land elevations or the weathered remains of buildings. This is precisely the condition of the Douro Valley, a World Heritage site in Portugal which still harbors the bones of ancient settlements. To engage with the landscape of Douro Valley becomes a deeply meaningful activity; any architectural intervention would be scrutinized not solely on how much it contributes to the land, but how much it takes away as well.
For Portuguese architect Alvaro Fernandes Andrade, this consideration becomes one of the drivers of his architecture. The Pocinho Centre for High Performance Rowing, half-buried in the soil of Douro Valley, seems more a replacement of land or even an extension of it, rather than a forceful imposition. Split into three zones, one for the training of Olympic rowers, one for social interaction and the last for dormitories, the structure is rendered in white concrete, with a single spine snaking down the landscape, interfacing clusters of volumes at certain points.
Described by the architect as a ‘dense, inextricable mixture’, Pocinho Centre is shaped by the specific peculiarities of Douro Valley’s unique topography, archaeological identity and the contrasting requirements of modern architecture, coupled with the programmatic considerations of specific function. Purely as structure, an inherently functional, well-designed facility has been constructed, nuanced in its mobility, spatial experience and programmatic sensitivity.