The Dragon House

The Dragon House by Pancho Guedes is one his earliest works. It was completed in 1951 and incorporates several motifs inspired by Antoni Gaudi, the famed Spanish architect who projected the Casa Batllo and the Casa Mila over fifty years earlier.

Pancho Guedes did not travel to Europe until 1952, but he had already been following the work of Le Corbusier who became popular for his concept of developing high density housing blocks as well as that of Gaudi who had been influenced by nature and animal-forms. Guedes found Le Corbusier’s work too clinical for his African and Southern European roots and developed later what he called the Stiloguedes – his own design language which employed curves, sculptures, murals and ceramics amongst many other forms of art.

The Dragon House then is a four storey apartment block on the edge of Av. Pinheiro Chagas (Mondlane) placed at a slight angle. As with the Prometheus building, it is positioned on top of a pilotis structure with the space on far edges of the building’s ground floor reserved for parking.

At the centre of the ground floor is a large, raised entrance hall providing access to the apartments via a stairwell known as the “covered atrium”. Besides the utilitarian function, the entrance may have also been designed as a social gathering point. It is on the posterior wall of this compartment that the building’s namesake, the dragon is found – a mural some fifteen meters wide.

The main stairwell has been designed and finished more elaborately for the dwellers. However, as it was the norm in many buildings at that time, there are two additional stairwells at the rear of the building. These have been constructed for a more utilitarian purpose and allowed servants and building staff to gain access without interfering with the main stairwell. As discriminatory and socially retrograde as it may seem with respect to current social norms, it was the reality of the era and permitted both staff and dwellers additional comfort in terms of privacy and reduction in noise.

Air-conditioning was reserved for more expensive applications still in the 1950s which forced architects to look at alternative solutions for cooling. Pancho Gudes was besides many others around the same time in Mozambique, Angola and other colonies of Portugal who considered closely the movement of the sun and the wind.

The Dragon House has twelve apartments, four on each floor. The apartments are simple with two-bedrooms, a sitting area, a kitchen and bathroom. A hallway (corridor) separates the kitchen from the sitting area.

In order to maximize any opportunities for cooling, the bedrooms were located in an ESE (facade of building) and WNW (rear of building) compass heading. Verandahs of each of the bedrooms extended almost two meters which further reduced exposure to the sun between 30-50%.

Concrete grills in x-shapes were installed on both verandahs permitting reasonably good visibility and light whilst still offering protection from the sun. At the rear of the building in NNW compass heading, where the sun was fully exposed upwards of seven hours per day, brise-soleils fabricated from reinforced concrete are mounted. The angle of inclination is at 30º in relation to the horizontal plane.

Wind circulation was not particularly good at this site, therefore further ingenious design is incorporated through the installation of small tubes functioning as conduits of the breeze at various points. For example, conduits are present on the verandahs carrying the breeze flowing in an ENE compass heading. Such conduits are also found on the north facing facade which carry the breeze into the stairwells.

Today the building is still discernible and many of its defining features can readily be noted. Changes include the conversion of car spaces to shops; use of metallic sheets for additional privacy; security bars on verandahs and air-conditioning units. It may be possible to return the building to the condition envisioned by Guedes with very little intervention.

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