Text description provided by the architects. AB+AC Architects design a cultural center dedicated to promoting innovation and healing through the arts: a space of light and natural materials where the city of Lisbon is invited to detach temporarily from the urban chaos of everyday life and build new, more meaningful connections, thanks to a variety of activities ranging from movement and artistic co-creation, to immersive experiences with international professionals.
In the midst of Covid-19’s second wave, AB+AC Architects is commissioned by the American non-profit organization, Open Hearts Lisbon, to design its first experiential center for conscious gathering, holistic learning, and co-creation. The site is located on the ground floor of a 19th-century building in a narrow alley within the historic neighborhood of Bairro Alto, carrying with it the challenge of turning a dark and inactive commercial unit into a space of light, dedicated to evoking calmness and positive thinking in its users.
The project takes inspiration from the sacred concept of shala - a word that in Sanskrit means home - where people commonly gather to practice yoga, learn and grow. Now the shala expands beyond the initial purpose and is reinterpreted in a communal home with one in-house artist residency. The layout is thought of as a sequence of pure and well-defined rooms that flow from a very public experience in proximity to the street with the multi-purpose main saloon to a convivial zone where the open kitchen extends up the stairs into an intimate patio inhabited by tropical plants and paved with volcanic stone pebbles. In between the public and private areas is the lounge, a long and narrow space with a diffused lighting system that stretches over eight meters and provides an ideal environment for art gatherings and solo exhibitions.
To emphasize the open plan and continuous circulation from one space to the other, special attention is given to the design of the thresholds; here the existing limestone arch of the historical building is placed in dialogue with a more contemporary and geometric portal cladded in birch wood. Camouflaged among these panels, is the access to a one-bedroom residency where Open Hearts can host any artist who wishes to produce and share their work with the community.
As part of ongoing research run by AB+AC Architects, our design prefers the use of natural materials like birch wood, composite stone, organic paint, synthetic material, and locally hand-made terracotta tiles tied together by the choice of a minimalist, yet warm color palette. The organization of the entire center revolves around the necessity for flexibility and adaptability throughout the day. Design solutions such as storage compartments hidden behind bronze mirror walls or continuous curtains in off-white vegan leather wrapping the main saloon, enable the center to transform into multiple configurations suited for a vast array of activities that span from ancient dances, yoga and meditation practices, breath courses, culinary art experiences, creative writing workshops, film screenings, multi-media art exhibitions, therapeutic sessions, one-on-one coaching, public talks at large.
Conceived as a response to a fast-paced world where amazing technological discoveries are met with severe health, climatic and environmental crises, the design of the Open Hearts cultural centre pivots around the discussion on more conscious ways of building the spaces we inhabit. Far from any principle connected to the German existenzminimum of the past century, at AB+AC we intend to employ architecture as a tool to stimulate an uncluttered and balanced way of living through smart design solutions that invite the user to reflect on what is truly essential for our well-being.