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Portuguese architect Manuel Aires Mateus has established himself throughout the years thanks to a number of remarkably important architectural interventions, both at the national and international level.


Born in Lisbon in 1963, in 1983 he started a collaboration with architect Gonçalo Byrne, his first teacher.

As Manuel Aires Mateus himself has stated, another important reference point for his and his brother Francisco’s education, an architect too, has been Peter Zumthor. From the Swiss teacher they have taken the skilful, material use of pure shape and the importance of claddings in architecture.

Throughout the years, other big names of the international architecture scene have followed (among all, Alvaro Siza).

A very important date in Aires Mateus’s biography is the foundation of the professional firm Aires Mateus & Associados in 1988.

From that moment on, the firm would be spoken well of thanks to the projects implemented.

A number of distinctive elements can be recognized in the architectures by Manuel and Francisco Aires Mateus, starting with purity of shape, which is expressed as a combination of skilfully set solids and voids, where the voids themselves become space.

Material peculiarity is also very important, where white almost always prevails. Also the cuts inside these pure shapes, which lend personality to the location, together with the symmetry of the plan (characterized by solids and voids), lend personality and uniqueness to the works by the Aires Mateus brothers.

This combination of elements gives birth to elegant, pure and functional shapes that communicate with the past while looking to the future of the city.


The words by Francesco dal Co, the editor of Casabella, describe well Aires Mateus’s artistic philosophy of composition:
“In the architecture by the Mateus brothers there is often a void in the centre, around which geometric volumes, that can be more or less manipulated, are arranged in various ways.”

These words are confirmed if you observe the creations.

The two Portuguese architects indeed communicate with the void, and they even make it an integral part of their architectural project.

Transforming space into a concrete entity, so even void becomes matter. This concept recurs in all of their works.

The works by Manuel and Francisco Aires Mateus have got a strongly sculptural nature. In the geometric shapes, which are usually white, clean cuts stand out, as if they were to let the light come in, and at the same time to allow access to these architectures/sculptures.

The use of wall claddings made of stone is also very frequent.


A perfect example of this artistic philosophy of composition is the Rector’s Office of the University of Lisbon, built between 1998 and 1999. The building has got high institutional value, and is located in a delicate balance, as it is immersed in the historic centre and it communicates directly with the adjacent Jesuit College and the Monsanto Forest Park.


manuel aires mateus rector office university lisbon


In this complex historic landscape, Manuel and Francisco Aires Mateus developed a spatial composition that is made of two volumes slotted together at right angles.

In particular, it consists of a vertical body, which is as tall as the neighbouring College and houses the offices and services area, and a horizontal platform in the shape of a staircase/square that holds the conference rooms.

The building is cladded entirely with a light-coloured stone, and it takes different shapes depending on the observer’s point of view. The homogeneity of the cladding is characterized, and disrupted in a way, by a series of gaps, which can be seen especially on the side façade overlooking the square, and were made by replacing segments of the stone cladding with flush glass slabs.

In this building, like in all of the creations by the Aires Mateus brothers, the outer spatiality also mirrors the planimetric spatiality, which is made of tangible solids and voids, and in which, even in the elevation, frequent double heights disrupt the partitioning of the floors, which, together with the sunlight, filtered by the cuts on the façade, contributes to making the space even more material.


One of the most interesting projects of Aires Mateus Arquitectos is the residence for the elderly in Alcacer do Sal (South Portugal, Setubal district).
The reduced mobility of the inhabitants of the retirement home has suggested to the designers to consider each move as a strongly emotional and ever-changing experience.

Aires Mateus brothers describe it this way:
“The structure proposes a kind of social microcosm with its own rules, halfway between a hotel and a hospital, trying to meet the needs of a social life and at the same time of loneliness”.

This project was one of the finalists for the European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture, the Mies van der Rohe Award 2013.

alcacer do sal aires mateus


Cuts, pure shapes and the colour white are also found in the project of the residential building in Fontinha, Portugal, where the orography of the land surrounding the lot was moulded in order to safeguard the road leading to the house, and to emphasise the panoramic view from the residence at the same time.

This building is perfectly integrated in the context, it’s moulded as if it were a sculpture and its entrance consists of a corner that has been “cut out”, thus forming like an arch on the ground floor.

The residence develops on a cross-shaped plan and is built on two floors, with a rectangular terrace that expands from the centre of the house. Inside, like on the outside, the colour white as well as clean lines and cuts prevail also for doors and windows and the partitioning of the space.


A similar approach was followed for the creation of an exhibition pavilion at the Marmomacc fair held in Verona in 2010.

The pavilion appears like a solid block of stone interrupted by four chinks that work as entrances and lead to a series of cavities arranged in concentric rows, like some sort of Greek temple.


2008 is the year of Casa Na Areia (“House in the Sand”), in Comporta (south of Lisbon). It’s a holiday property with thatched roofs and floors made of white sand on heated cement. This means that also those who come inside can put their bare feet in the sand. Walking on the beach implies a slowdown, and thanks to this concept the project represented Portugal at the Venice Biennale of Architecture.


Casa No Tempo is an old farmhouse of the Rodrigues family that was turned into a rental retreat in 2015. Located at a short distance from Evora (a World Heritage Site), Portugal, the facility boasts a thousand hectares of cork trees, pastures, uncultivated land, two dams, five ponds, brooks and streams. Mateus has succeeded in recovering the natural beauty of the landscape and the rural area by avoiding a conventional approach.

This was made possible by building three complementary structures.

The first step was renovating the house by highlighting the natural qualities of the place.

The second structure introduces the element water in the shape of a pool, a square at the centre of the field that recalls the topography of a beach.

The third structure, which is under construction, takes the form of a fenced square garden, like a maze.


Another beautiful creation by Manuel and Francisco Aires Mateus is the extension of the Faculty of Architecture of the Université Catholique de Louvain in Tournai, Belgium.

Finished in 2017, this new volume works as a connection between the two preexisting buildings. Like in the example above, for this project too the Portuguese architects found themselves working in a historical context, which is characterised by unplastered brick buildings.

This new, white volume with its pure, geometric lines, some sort of sculptural work, is located in the gap that connects the two preexisting buildings on the lot.

The contrast, like in all of the works by Aires Mateus & Associados, is stark and sharp, yet elegant at the same time as the new volume communicates with the preexisting buildings, and approaches them without being intrusive. This elegance is also definitely emphasised by the surfaces that are completely white, as opposed to the brick red of the adjacent buildings.


In 2007 Aires Mateus designed the Santa Marta Lighthouse Museum, located in the Bay of Cascais, near Lisbon. The building was converted into the first museum ever dedicated to Portuguese coastal lighthouses.

Aires Mateus is also the designer of the new museum centre in Lausanne, which is under construction. In 2021 the Cantonal Museum “des Beaux-Arts” is indeed going to be joined by the Musée de l’Elysée, dedicated to photography, and the MUDAC, for design and contemporary applied arts.

Other works:

manuel aires mateus
Grand Canal Square, Grand Canal Dock – Dublin (photo credits: Ledigabel)

manuel aires mateus chequers
5-star hotel in Dublin near Forbes Street, designed by Manuel Aires Mateus (photo credits: Ian Peterson)

manuel aires mateus villa nova barquinha
Centro Escolar Vila Nova da Barquinia (photo credits: Manuelvbotelho).



Atelier Cecílio de Sousa
House in Monsaraz
House in Estrela
Olivier Debré Contemporary Art Center
Santa Clara 1728
Architecture Faculty in Tournai
Trinity College Renovation
Grândola Meeting Center
House in Azeitão
House in Alentejo Coast
EDP Headquarters
School in Vila Nova da Barquinha
House in Alcobaça
S. Mamede House
Casa no Tempo
House in Fontinha
Alcantara Wastewater Treatment Plant Refurbishment
Cabanas no Rio
Houses for Eldery
People in Alcácer do Sal
House in Aroeira
Sines Center for the Arts
Building In Lagoa das Furnas
Casa na Areia
House In Leiria
Mar do Oriente
Santo Tirso Call Center
Santa Marta Lighthouse Museum



Aires Mateus has just won the international competition to design the redevelopment of the Museum of Fine Arts in Reims, France. This is the third cultural project on this scale that the duo will start in the transalpine country, after the Olivier Debré Centre for Contemporary Creation in Tours and the Augustine Museum in Toulouse.

The competition required the complete redevelopment of the building – which is about 10,000 square meters – including the redesign of the museum project, the creation of new accesses reserved for documentation areas, as well as the study and construction of publicly accessible areas such as auditoriums, restaurants, galleries for temporary exhibitions, libraries and educational services.



Photo credits:
Featured image: Manuel V Botelho

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