The Place You Call Home

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.

Igreja+Sto+Antonio+da+Polana_1965In the bairro of Sommerschield is the Church of Santo António, also known as the Igreja de Polana (even though it is really in Sommerschield). The streets of this part of town are unlike those elsewhere in that they are not the wide tree-covered walkways known as the avenidas. The wealthy residents of this community who most likely had graduated to motor vehicles at the time enjoyed much larger plots of land. The homes built here from the 1950s onward are modern with a wide footprint leaving little space on the street for pedestrians.

It may be for that reason that one would not easily notice the Church of Santo António which is flanked by generous multi-storey homes with their tall perimeter walls. One has to drive to the very end of the block to behold all its glory. It was Nuno Craveiro Lopes, the son of a former president of the Portuguese republic, who designed the church. The project is a reflection of the modernist tendencies in architecture that were gaining momentum around the world in the middle of the 20th century. It is said to be associated in its likeness with modern Brazilian architecture of the era developed by Oscar Niemeyer.

It is a bold, heavy and marvelous structure of reinforced concrete in the shape of an inverted flower with light flowing from the top and sides through stained glass. It has a capacity for 600 people seated, 7 altars and 16 spaces which allow for light to enter. Some of the glass panels have been designed to open allowing for ventilation.

Craveiro Lopes appears to have had a falling out with the members of the congregation when they requested certain changes to both the interior and exterior. Initially, the alter had been conceived to be at the center of the building, illuminated by the stained windows on the spire, with congregation seated around it.

The congregation decided later that it be fixed adjacent to one of the walls. There was also some disagreement with regards to the interior paving. Craveiro Lopes had planned the paving to be made from white marble but the congregation decided on a brown-coloured tile.

Due to the conflicts, the architect broke his relations with the religious community after construction which he felt was a serious and negative adulteration of his work.

A close-up view of the exterior shows the sharp, angular characteristics of the pyramidal concrete structure. The stained windows extending from the top of the spire produce a red-orange glow on a sunny day, highly in contrast with the cold and sombre interior.

Aerial images of the church and the surrounding blocks provide some guidance of its scale. It was said that the project was initially to be built some 500 metres to the south near Parque Jose Cabral, ultimately being located in bairro of Sommerscheld. At the time of construction, the area was sparsely populated, with the bairro having begun its life only a decade earlier.

The church is some distance away from the road and not immediately noticeable due to the overgrowth of vegetation, not yet visible in this early image. Driving from the south you would follow either Av. Dr Egas Moniz or Rua de Nevala (Av. Nkruma).

From the neighbouring bairro of Polana, the church is seen in the distance. The vantage point appears to the be the sprawling campus of the Hospital Miguel Bombarda and the Faculty of Medicine of the Universidade de Lourenço Marques. Even further into the distance one can see the Bucellato building, likely owned by Bucellato & Sons, a wealthy immigrant family from Italy.

Sadly, Craveiro Lopes (left in photo) died in 1972 at the relatively young age of 51 of an undisclosed illness. He did not live to see the independence of Mozambique from Portugal although he would have followed the Liberation War in the 1960s.

o-marechal-craveiro-lopes-em-1961-em-visita-a-seu-filho-nuno-em-lourenc3a7o-marquesWhile his work in Mozambique was limited to only a handful of projects, he was quite visionary in his approach and rejected the powerful directives of the Salazar regime in Portugal which tried to control the colonies such as Mozambique and Angola in more ways than it needed to.