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The Tea House

Leca Da Palmeira, Portugal
1 of 29

The Boa Nova Tea House is one of Siza's earliest commissions. Fernando Tavora had won the competition organized by the City Council in 1956. He delivered the project to his collaborator, the young architect Alvaro Siza. With this work Siza emphasizes the way initiated by Tavora, to combine figures and materials of the traditional Portuguese architecture adapting them to the contemporary necessities. Set in a challenging topography, the building stands as a symbol of the identification of architectures with an active interpretation of the landscape. The composition of its low volumetric expressiveness and the surrounding rocks call for respectful attention, which has deteriorated over the years.

In this project all the signs of what was to be Siza's distinctive way of approaching reality are presented, the whitewashed walls give life to the geological structure of the rocks, the foundations form the concrete base, the Walls come out from the rocks and the roof hugs the whole building, as to protect it or hold it firmly to the rock. All this is combined to show the architect's sophisticated ability to impose modernity on nature or integrate it into the history of the place, with the least imperious gestures possible. "... Architects do not invent anything, they transform reality ..." According to Siza, this is his guiding principle.

The house is located close to Siza's home town and is connected to the nature due to the architect's intimate familiarity with the landscape. This is noticed in his incorporation of the rock formation, the ocean, and the greenery within the project, revealing a vivid understanding of the qualities of the local landscape. Alongside the Leca Swimming Pools, this project represents the foundation of Siza's architecture with a compelling regard for nature.


The house sits on the rocks 300m from the road and under the promenade Av. Da Liberdade in Leca da Palmeira. In the location between the lighthouse and a Franciscan church of 1369, nature descends towards the sea, joining the surrounding meadows to the nearby beach, creating a particularly evocative place. As he recalls: "The project was the result of a focus between the natural balance of the area that stretches between a small church and a lighthouse at a later time. Therefore the building is not tall because of its nature and to avoid to collide with the proportions of the church."

In the 60's in Portugal was still possible to make architecture working in close contact with the place, its conditions and surroundings, and this project, like the Pool des Mares in Leca da Palmeira in 1966, tries to build the landscape of the marginal zone in the Atlantic. Siza uses the relation with the landscape to bring to light the conflicts that the architectural operation produces objectively in the action of superimposing the geometric rigor that is an integral part of any work of architecture on the topography and the natural forms of the site.

Siza's Guiding Principles

The organization of the plan is developed according to the site and function. The kitchen and service spaces are in the rocks, and the dining room and tea house, joined by an atrium, are oriented toward the view. The dining room opens up to a large outdoor surface, separated from it by a layer of glass that slides into the ground, eliminating the barriers between interior and exterior. The tea room benefits from large windows atop a visible concrete base. In this case, the interior space imposes the feeling of sitting between the rocks and observing the view from a distance, creating an almost spiritual experience.

Transforming Spaces

The lines and angles of the structure, as well as the massive use of red tile on the deck are characteristic of the constructions of the time. From the road is an architectural walk created with a system of platforms and stairs that is born in a nearby parking and leads to the entrance to the house. The sinuous route that in some sections shows the sea is flanked by the stones of the place on one side and walls of concrete painted white on the other. Access to the house is protected by the same roof that hugs the concrete building, keeping it cool in summer and protected from waves and storms in winter. In the interior the spaces distributed in several levels have 2 key wings, the dining room oriented to the west and the living room of the south zone. The two main spaces, whose plants form a butterfly, open gently to the sea, following with their exterior walls the natural topography of the place.

The dining room and tea room are situated just above the rocks, and are joined by an atrium and a double height staircase, with the entrance on a higher level. The kitchen, warehouse and employee areas are half-sunken at the rear of the building, marked only by a narrow window and a mast chimney lined with colorful tiles. This location of the auxiliary spaces responds to the idea of the architect to hide everything that was unnecessary for the view. The tea room has large windows on an exposed concrete base, while the dining room is fully glazed, opening onto an open-air plateau. In both rooms, the window frames can slide on recessed guides towards the long projected eaves, continuation of the ceiling. This creates an amazing effect in the summer, when it is possible to leave the dining room directly to the sea, as the building seems to disappear.


On the foundations that create a concrete base, the walls, also of exposed concrete, are raised, which become an exterior facade and serve as support for the cantilevered ceiling, marked with a thick wood in the upper band. The extension of the roof serves as protection for the continuous succession of openings of different sizes. In the interior, the wood plays a connective role with certain elements of facade as the windows and the roof coating inclined in tables of red Afzelia that continues outside and marks the light of the skylights with a game of descending battlements.


Siza plays with various materials for the construction of the tea house, masonry walls covered with white plaster, exposed concrete pillars on the facade facing west and an abundant use of African wood Afizelia in the lining of walls, ceilings, frames and furniture. The same material, in an elaborate set of interlocks and connections, is used for the floors, the staircase and the panels of half height. The upholstered leather chairs and service trolleys also made with Afizelia red wood were made from the design And original materials by Siza Vieira. On the outside the lining of the projected eaves is made with long woods varnished with copper flashes. The roof is a concrete slab covered by red terracotta Roman tiles and a suspended wooden ceiling. The house is a conversation between nature and people that strengthens the dialogue through space, experience, and materiality. This project marks the origin of Siza's characteristic architecture.

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malina, October 7th, 2019
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