Fertile Grounds: Cultivating an Identity Through Architecture

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Fertile Grounds:
Cultivating an Identity Through Architecture // Serra da Estrela, PT

How can architecture play a contributive role to the prosperity of a place?

This research addresses the challenges and opportunities that rural regions face today by analyzing the general factors of marginalized rural communities through the lens of a specific community in mainland Portugal. A new approach for maintaining an authentic character, and a “sense of place” is presented which defends rural space as a genuinely experiential realm.

The research proposes the design of a modern-day treatment and research centre in the rural town of Manteigas, situated on one of the largest glacier valleys in Europe in the heart of the Sierra da Estrela mountain range. Once alive with all the quaint characteristics that typify an idyllic rural identity, this town now faces a steep population decrease.

Situated in the centre of the Zêzere glacial valley overlooking the town, the design accepts and interprets the natural geology of the site, harnessing the therapeutic thermal waters that continue to flow from the glacier line of the valley. The new centre represents not just a place for leisure and relaxation, but also an investigative laboratory for modern day natural healing therapies.

The town of Manteigas is situated within three very distinct landscapes: a fertile landscape, a socio-cultural landscape, and a landscape of health and wellness. The design intervention responds to all these conditions and is dependent on each in its operation. This research is a proposal for sustainable cycle of local and regional rejuvenation that will not be easily broken.

The design proposal aims to build an infrastructure that will revive the identity of the community as a place of study and implementation of natural healing. The proposed design will also act as a catalyst to fuel future development and stimulate the local and regional economies.

Through the process of design, it became apparent that architecture can indeed help cultivate a new identity based on the natural conditions found in the rural realm. In the Serra da Estrela Mountains a new distinct rural identity emerged at the intersection of architecture with the healing potential of the natural landscape. As a template for future similar architectural interventions, the proposed scenario in Manteigas extracts a set of design principles. Given that attempts at rural revival in the last century were ineffective, four of such principles are offered to give a net benefit to the rural town by: improving the quality of life, preventing the loss of local cultural, historic, and environmental assets, diversifying the local economic environment, and developing long-term potentials for rural areas.

As architects, we are not only faced with the challenges of designing functional and aesthetically inspiring environments, but our work is most valuable when it is able to revive an entire region affected by decline. As designers we posses the capacity to create a successful, well-though out architecture that can motivate future change in the most marginalized and remote places.