Ilhavo City Library / ARX

Architects: ARX PORTUGAL - José Mateus y Nuno Mateus
Location: Ilhavo, Portugal
Project team: Paulo Rocha, Stefano Riva, Andreia Tomé, Gonçalo Manteigas, João Rodrigues, Marco Roque Antunes, Nuno Grancho, Pedro Sousa, Sónia Luz
Project year: 2002-2004
Construction year: 2004-2005
Constructed area: 3,200 sqm
Landscape: ARX PORTUGAL, Arquitectos Lda.
Structure: SAFRE, Estudos e Projectos de Engenharia Lda.
Sanitary planning: AQUADOMUS, Consultores Lda.
Mechanical planning: PEN, Projectos de Engenharia Lda.
Photographs: FG + SG - , Sergio Guerra

Ílhavo City Library is located in the remains of the Manor Visconde de Almeida, a noble house from the 17th-18th century, later transformed and demolished. From the original building only the main façade, oriented southeast, and the chapel, both in ruins, were left. There was no trace from the carriage porch which completed the building on the southwestern end. However, all elements remaining from the old construction were examples of qualified architecture, in their proportion and elegance of the .

This type of legacy is rare in Ílhavo and it was therefore assumed that it should be preserved and integrated in the new project.

The building is located on the periphery of the town, an area with little urban expansion, still fairly inarticulated and problematic. We chose not only to design an object, the library, but to intervene in the clarification and consolidation of urban fragments and volumes with no apparent overall coherence.

The preliminary program, whose extension could not be confined to the space of the remaining manor, determined the intention of building three autonomous nuclei: Library, Chapel and Youth Forum.


The limits of the manor and the line of the old façade were chosen as an anchorage point, where administrative areas and programmes compatible with the façade’s rhythm were placed, restoring the character of the original building, which was then only a decadent scenario. There is nevertheless a clear identification of the new, which exists in symbiosis with the pre-existence.

The concept behind the rest evolves from an understanding of the public and civic character of the building, whose urban role was reinforced. The design of the reading rooms and youth forum, external to the manor, establish direct morphological relations with the surroundings, thus making the architecture work in context as a closing piece which incorporates the physionomy and traces of the surroundings.

This stratey would not make sense in any other context.

The chapel, deprived of its most impotant decorative elements, like tiles, woodwork, tomb stones and furniture was restored in essence preserving all possible evidence of its lost past. The furniture and the new altar panels by Pedro Calapez, were designed in an unequivocally contemporary style, which rediscovers the typology of original polichromic work.

The chapel has been reopened for religious service, just as it was before restoration.

Cite: "Ilhavo City Library / ARX" 07 Jan 2009. ArchDaily. Accessed 25 May 2015. <>
  • Contemporary Art

    Totally gorgeous. This sort of building requires a lot of sophistication I think.

  • ornament and crime

    Sensitive. Contextual. Beautiful. Breathtaking.

  • Kim

    Answer to Contemporary Art and Ornament and Crime:
    I think this place is quite normal for Portugal, very conservative modern architecture, a little bit boring, and driven by a post-modern imitation of Siza.
    Reminds me of something Koolhaas wrote.

    “Minimum is the ultimate ornament, a self-righteous crime, the contemporary Baroque. It does not signify beauty, but guilt. Its demonstrative earnestness drives whole civilizations in the welcoming arms of camp and kitsch. Ostensibly a relief from constant sensorial onslaught, minimum is maximum in drag, a stealth laundering of luxury: the stricter the lines, the more irresistible the seductions. Its role is not to approximate the sublime, but to minimize the shame of consumption, drain embarassment, to lower the higher. Minimum now exists in a state of parasitic co-dependency with overdose: to have and not to have, craving and owning, finally collapsed in a single signifier.” Junkspace, Rem Koolhaas

  • rypat

    Kim, thank you for that extremely relevant excerpt.
    Someone needed to say something…

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  • jsl

    Why don’t you give up your membership in the Kim Admiration Club, and state something relevant yourself? Surely you have something to say about a project as thoughtful as this one.

  • roadkill

    gee… have you guys seen a Koolhas project in the flesh… darn the only thing minimal is care with detail. i guess you can argue any day for the topical consumption bullshit he goes on about but the truth of the mater is that these come from very different schools of thought: one careful and considerate the other plagued by a narcotic dependence on consumerism overkill.

  • Kim

    Answer to roadkill:
    Yes I have seen many OMA projects.

    Obviously you don’t get it, minimal has become the supreme ” narcotic dependence on consumerism overkill”.

    You are definitely a liberal bourgeois full of guilt.

  • roadkill

    my my… get your handbag, we’ll take this outside. My bourgeois grandpapa once told me: ” Never argue with an idiot. They bring you down to their level and beat you with experience.”

    i guess this proves the point… you can keep the prize


    One of these guys is my techar in college. hehe. Keep on going !

  • roadkill

    so long as you are not getting brainwashed by the diarrhoea that comes out of kim’s mouth you will be just fine

  • Kim

    Roadkill you are so old fashion. You are so cute.

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  • roadkill

    fuckoff to dezeen and take your pretentious comments with you

  • ornament and crime

    I always enjoy Mr Koolhaas. He inverts your logic and then makes you feel stupid for ever thinking the way you did.

    I’d happily be burdened with liberal bourgeois guilt if I could live in a place that resembled this library.

    Now, where’s my Che Guevara shirt got to ?

  • Kim

    I think you are totally right Mr.Ornament and Crime, Koolhaas plays on the inversion of value, an old rhetorical trick, very effective intellectually. I for my part don’t necessarily agree with all he says, but do as well enjoy being challenged.

    I think it would be interesting to be critical on the crazy amount of coffee table minimalist architecture around at the moment.

    Zumtor, Siza, and Sejima are brillant because they tried to get outside from this very commercial niche, by creating innovative construction system (Vals Composite masonry and expansion joints,Siza and his use of different coating on same walls, Sejima and her very advanced curtain wall system..etc…).

    Debating about this kind of issue is always more interesting than just trolling each others.

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  • ornament and crime


    Will you marry me ?

  • Kim

    If it is you in the Less is more T-shirt, why not. Definitely if you are TheLoveShop. Thanks for the RedBubble link….

  • ornamentandcrime

    Oh um … I’m a guy.

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