Apartment Blocks

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.

Prometheus Building Balcony

The Prometheus Building is an apartment block conceived by Pancho Guedes sitting on the boundary of the Polana and Sommerschield bairros of the city of Lourenço Marques. Construction began in 1951 and was completed by 1953. Although it bears many characteristics of Guedes’ particular style it is one of the lesser popular of his works as compared with Leão Que Ri or Dragon House.

It is a six storey building with the top-most floor reserved as a residence for domestic workers. In those years and as it is today, the African population would travel to the city for work and return to their homes on the outskirts at the end of the day. Guedes’ design allowed domestic workers to live in the same building and thus be closer to the homes to which they provided their services.

The bottom floor had been designed as a garage but after a few years of the building’s completion the owners decided to convert the spaces into shops much to Guedes’ dismay. During that process, additional walls were built which had the effect of obscuring the perceived floating effect of the building.

Guedes’ had relied heavily on the use of pilotis to raise the building above street level allowing for a cavernous and airy space below. Although he was not the first to do this, he was certainly a pioneer in Mozambique. Elsewhere around the world at the time, pilotis were being used by Le Corbusier for his Unite d’Habitation.

The building sits on the corner of Av. Antonio Enes (Nyerere) and Av. Massano de Amorim (Tung) and is placed further back on its own plot giving it a fairly open space in the front. Views from the compartments in the rear provide an unobstructed view of the other side of the bay known as Catembe in the south-east. Closer and on the east is the relatively large block of the Hotel Polana.

8571608118_5bedb6ab5b_oThe protruding structures on the sides of the buildings also referred to as “combs” serve only a decorative function. Guedes’ was known to have included strange animal-like features into his designs and was also inspired by Antoni Gaudi’s work as young man travelling through Barcelona.

8535069794_4d72845ef8_oA report by a South African architecture publication described the design elements of the building

This is an early use by Pancho of his signature “comb” feature. In this instance the fingers of the comb are square. In fact, no curves are employed in this design. The end faces are completely flat with the structural frame expressed. The front face is highly articulated. Strong shadows are formed by long horizontal deep recessed windows. The outer tips of the cantilever beams extend beyond the point of structural necessity and become façade elaborations.

The articulation of the facade becomes more obvious when the sun’s angle changes throughout the day. For instance, during the afternoon the sun’s rays project a strong light from a westerly direction causing shadow which highlight the three-dimensional mass of the building.


There appears to have been a dramatic change in the building’s facade after Mozambique’s independence. This refers not only to the commercialization of the former garage level but also changes to the plastering and windows.

One cannot help but notice that a structure built in the mid-fifties had to have been inspired by the craze of the jet-engine era. In fact, Guedes did conceive of another private dwelling known as the “Aeroplane House” during this time not far from the Prometheus.

Returning to the Prometheus, Guedes had incorporated windows on the lateral facades of each of the apartments in an interesting wing-like shape. These are seen in the image below and serve to visually distinguish one floor from another. In images from later years, the windows have all been removed and sealed with blocks. The only plausible conclusion for such a change is that the windows, while certainly a novelty did not fair well against the elements. Water may have leaked through or the wood rotten from an accumulation of water on the sill.

8571646958_c66a7bbca5_oOnly time will tell how the building will look in the next few years. While Guedes passed away some years ago after living on a farm in South Africa, appreciation for his work continues to grow daily such as the Casa de Pancho Guedes co-work office as well as projects inspired by his work such as “Looking for Guedes”