Saint Sebastian Street is a singular artery in the urban History of Braga.
Its layout coincides with the Decumanus Maximus of the roman Braga, rising from west to east towards the Forum, and it’s the final leg of both the Via XX (connecting Astorga to Braga partially by sea) and the Via XVI (connecting Lisbon to Braga by land). In consequence, this is an area of high archeological sensitivity.
Designer: Tiago do Vale Architects
Photographer: João Morgado
As the medieval city moved towards the north, embracing the cathedral, the territory around Saint Sebastian Street became more ruralized, supplying the city with crops and livestock.
Finally, the 20th-century city expansion imposed a strong transformation, forcing an uncomfortable relationship between, on one hand, the street’s great archeological sensitivity and the rural matrix of the existing construction and, on the other, the strong urban pressures, programs, image and building techniques of the contemporary city.
The construction that gives Saint Sebastian Lodging its starting point is a synthesis of these historical circumstances and of the rapid changes that this street went through.
In ruins, with only the ground-floor and first-floor façade surviving with some integrity, we can identify a building of great constructive modesty, displaying features that point towards a late 18th-century foundation, with a minute footprint and envelope.
From surviving remains on the façade and the sharecropping wall, a later second floor is identifiable, with a façade made of a plaster cast thin wall and a more ambitious volume, noting in a short-lasting construction a willingness to expand the capacity of the building.
The commission’s program (a lodging) required strong efficiency in the use of the limited available footprint and possible volume, in a very low-cost exercise, while the great archeological interest of the area required minimally invasive constructive techniques.
The solution presented itself with a highly systematized design, allowing for economies of scale through the repetition of standardized elements, and a great area usage efficiency by integrating all of the units’ functions and needs in their modular furniture design.
A big ceramic basin simultaneously serves the bathroom, the kitchenette and clothes washing (though shared washing and drying machines are provided on the ground floor). This basin is part of a cabinet that also supports the unit’s entrance with a large mirror and spaces for footwear and keys, for instance.
This piece is part of a linear set of modular furniture that equally solves a kitchenette, folding bed, storage and closet.
On the opposite side of the unit, the compact bathroom shapes its entrance hall.
Aiming to achieve the most efficient unit distribution and interconnections, the floor slab level alternates between both fronts, allowing for a vertical circulation core with the smallest footprint.
This solution is crowned by a pyramidal skylight, reproducing a recurrent typology in Portuguese city dwellings.
The main façade restores the surviving elements from the original elevation while, on the top floors, citing the memory of the lost volume’s urban presence, simultaneously looking for its integration with today’s street, its scale, languages and dominant heights.
The back façade positions itself at the alignment of the lost construction and though it’s a totally new edification it also quotes recurring elevation typologies of this urban context.
In the end, the Saint Sebastian Lodging is shaped between the need for maximum efficacy and the due respect for both the surviving remains of the existing construction and the long and complex history of Saint Sebastian Street.