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Competition: Atalaia Magra cultural centre, Portugal

An open international ideas contest has been launched to design a cultural centre next to the ruined Atalaia Magra watchtower in southern Portugal (Deadline: 26 March)

Open to students and architects under the age of 40, the anonymous single-stage competition seeks innovative proposals for a new ‘Site Cultural Centre’ for visitors to the remote ruin built centuries ago to defend the nearby Castle of Moura.

The call for ideas, organised by ArkXSite, aims to identify conceptual visions for the site that respect the historic circular tower and its surroundings, provide shelter from the sun and create a social hub for local residents and visitors.

Atalaia Magra, Portugal

Atalaia Magra, Portugal

Atalaia Magra, Portugal

According to the brief: ‘The Site Cultural Centre aims to create a new destination point where diverse activities for the local community and visitors take place; a shaded space within which to sit and engage with the landscape while visiting the remarkable Atalaia Magra remains.

‘The overall design of the Site Cultural Centre should be sensitive to the historical remains and enhance the singularity of an experience within this unique setting. There are no limitations in height and excavation. Because this is an ideas competition, urban planning and building regulations will not be applied to the design proposal.

The Atalaia Magra ruins are a former military structure around 3km outside the town of Moura in the Beja region of Portugal. The tower was one of four in the area constructed to oversee land surrounding the Castle of Moura.

The competition seeks ideas for a new cultural centre serving visitors to the remote hilltop site which is surrounded by olive groves. Applications should include a single A1-display board featuring text, drawings and renders.

Atalaia Magra, Portugal

Atalaia Magra, Portugal

Atalaia Magra, Portugal

Proposals for the 450m² structure should include a permanent exhibition space, a multipurpose area, café, seating area, toilets, a storage room and mechanical area. Pedestrian paths and a parking area will also be required.

The overall winner – due to be announced 18 May – will take home €2,000 while a second prize of €1,000 and a third prize of €500 will also be awarded along with seven honourable mentions.

How to apply

Deadline

The registration deadline is 26 March and submissions must be completed by 31 March

Fee

Early registration from 8 December to 12 February: €60 + VAT
Regular registration from 13 February to 15 March: €75 + VAT
Late registration from 16 March to 26 March: €90 + VAT

Contact details

Email: info@arkxsite.com

Visit the competition website for more information

Rievaulx Abbey Visitor Centre case study: Q&A with Stuart Allan

The associate at Simpson and Brown Architects discusses lessons learned creating a new visitor centre at Rievaulx Abbey in North Yorkshire, England

Stuart Allan

Stuart Allan

Stuart Allan

How did your project deliver an appropriate visitor centre for the sensitive Rievaulx Abbey site?

The building was intended to cater for and attract high numbers of visitors. It also needed to fit seamlessly into a quiet, picturesque village – community engagement was essential! A heritage impact statement, prepared for planning consent, allowed us to demonstrate a thorough understanding of the site, its historical significance and how the new building would not adversely affect the setting.

Rievaulx Abbey Visitor Centre by Simpson and Brown Architects

Rievaulx Abbey Visitor Centre by Simpson and Brown Architects

Rievaulx Abbey Visitor Centre by Simpson and Brown Architects

Which architectural, material, visual and other methods did you harness in your design?

The use of artefacts, objects and creating views from within the visitor centre itself. This was never part of the original brief, and was suggested to enable the client to rethink the ‘tried and tested’ visitor centre arrangement where retail is often prioritised and the attraction is concealed from those not buying a ticket.

At Rievaulx, a fragment of a column capital from the abbey was taken out of museum storage and put at the forefront of the initial concept design. This object, mounted on a plinth, helped shape the nave-like and slightly ecclesiastical form and create a sense of arrival leading to the gathering space. Importantly it provided a museum-like quality of space, encouraging further investigation of the abbey ruins beyond.

Rievaulx Abbey Visitor Centre by Simpson and Brown Architects

Rievaulx Abbey Visitor Centre by Simpson and Brown Architects

Rievaulx Abbey Visitor Centre by Simpson and Brown Architects

The repeating structural frames of the visitor centre echo the structure of the abbey as seen from the access road, winding through Rievaulx village. These frames gradually splay to reveal the abbey ruins, re-emphasising their dominance within the complex. The expansive roof is not dissimilar to the form and scale of local barn buildings. Timber was used extensively, appropriate in this context, providing suitable contrast with the abbey stonework.

What advice would you have to contest participants on designing a new cultural centre for Atalaia Magra?

Looking deeper into the brief and the history of the tower and landscape will likely generate interesting ideas. Controlling views, whether these are focused views or wide and expansive views, presents exciting possibilities for access and interpreting the site and tower. Look for innovative ways to deal with ‘necessarily evils’ that traditionally impact on these projects, such as servicing, parking or the pressure for the building to raise revenue. Inspirational design references can be found locally in buildings or landscape.

Rievaulx Abbey Visitor Centre by Simpson and Brown Architects

Rievaulx Abbey Visitor Centre by Simpson and Brown Architects

Rievaulx Abbey Visitor Centre by Simpson and Brown Architects