January - April 1979
In this phase the basic site plan, floor plans, sections, elevations, and general building character were developed. The structural system started to develop, and conceptual ideas for mechanical, electrical, and lighting systems were hatched, but at this stage we were not very concerned about engineering issues.
At the end of this phase, the Consulate location and connection to the Chancery were unresolved, the Chancery was too tall, the floor plans were unresolved, and we didn’t have a workable façade design. Bassetti took the SD package to Washington, DC, for review by the FBO panel and came back discouraged because they were critical of the design, as they should have been.
Drawings, Models, and Metric
The project was before computers, CAD, and the internet. All drawings from initial concepts to final construction documents were drawn by hand. Presentations included hand-drawn plans and renderings, and models built in our shop. Today these all look like antiquated art forms, products of a process that had more in common with the Middle Ages than with modern computerized processes.
The project was dimensioned in the metric system because it was to be built in Europe by Portuguese contractors. It took the all-American design team only a few weeks to learn to think and visualize in metric, and metric quickly became far easier and more efficient than the Imperial system. All dimensions could be figured with a calculator- no more 12ths of a foot, decimal feet, and fractions of inches. 40 years later the U.S. still stumbles along using the Imperial system long after the British, who invented it, moved on to the superior metric system, along with the rest of the world.
Project security was designed in layers or zones, beginning with the outer site walls and gatehouse, extending through the site to the protected building exteriors, through secure lobbies, and on to the more secure parts of the buildings.
The only site access points were the main entrance, from the new highway on the north, and the little-used original historic entrance on the south from the Travessa do Espírito Santo road, which was essentially closed off.
The entire site was surrounded by a new eight-foot wall, with traditional, decorative steel fencing at the entrance to the site and Consulate. The Consulate parking area and entrance were outside the wall to allow access by the general public.
The new point of primary site access had to be relocated to the large modern arterial road at northwest corner of the site. The old road to the estate was far too small and on the wrong side of the site.
The south side of the site, in front of the existing buildings, included existing drives and formal gardens with a large reflecting pool. This area was too small for the new buildings and was disconnected from the new site access, so it remained unchanged.
The new buildings had to be located north of the existing buildings. This area, with its gentle slopes, groves of trees, and open spaces, was beautiful in its existing condition, and we wanted to preserve as much as possible. The drive from the main gatehouse to the Chancery entrance followed the old farm road up the hill through the pine groves. Surface parking minimized changes to existing grades and trees to the extent possible.
The new buildings were sited near the edges of the site. We tested locations of the buildings on the site, and the relationships between the Chancery and Consulate and between the new and existing buildings. The Chancery was located near the top of the hill, facing north toward the new site entrance. The Chancery and existing buildings were back-to-back, and were connected by a landscaped stair and fountain. The Chancery lobby was centered on the restored gateway between the manor house and chapel, creating a visual and psychological connection between the upper, historic zone into and the new building.
The Consulate required major public access, and did not necessarily need to be attached to the Chancery, so we experimented with several locations along the north and west edges of the site. It was given a cloistered courtyard where large groups of people could wait outside, with a fountain to cool the air and provide acoustic privacy for sensitive conversations.
The Manor house was planned to be staff dining, reception, and Marine housing, and the chapel to be restored for its original function . The outbuilding was to be renovated into a commissary, but it was later demolished to make room for a larger building. The caretakers’ house was to be isolated from the site, restored, and given to the occupants.
The height of the new Chancery remained a problem throughout this phase as we tried to balance height, number of floors, and arrangement of the departments. It was four stories high, plus a garage level, and was too tall and would have loomed over the existing buildings.
Given our firm’s design philosophy and Portugal’s construction techniques, we decided the structure would be an exposed concrete frame, but it was not developed in any detail. At this phase, the façade was still fairly flat and undeveloped as we experimented with fenestration- window types, sizes, patterns, and materials.
We also decided on sloped tile roofs to complement the existing buildings and local traditional architecture. However, there was an inherent problem with the roofs on lower wings blocking the windows of upper floors.
We met with FBO and revised department and room layouts multiple times. There were many relationship and security issues that only came out through meetings with Rex Hellman, FBO’s project manager. The floors were divided into sections with double-loaded corridors, which was a natural outcome of their planning requirements. This would have resulted in long, dark corridors, so we located exterior windows at their ends.
A key element that emerged at this early stage was the scheme of floor planning modules or bays based on the required FBO space planning module. This system was used as the basis for dimensioning everything from public spaces to offices, columns, walls, and windows, and, another key element, the exposed concrete vaulted ceilings we designed in lieu of typical suspended acoustical ceilings. One young architect remarked how easy it was to plan elements of the building because the modular system guided everything. On the other hand, the exterior and interior of the building did not appear predictable or repetitive because of the modularity.
We translated and rounded FBO’s planning module of 4’-6” to 1.4 meters (m). The smallest offices were two modules wide by four modules deep from window to corridor, or 9 feet by 18 feet (2.8m by 5.6m). Every significant dimension in the project was based on the 1.4m module and all structural elements and main walls were on grid lines. Column bays were two by four modules, and the concrete ceiling vaults were one module wide in offices. Lobbies had larger vaults and skylight bays that were two modules square.
Exposing the structural system on the exterior and interior, including the vaulted ceilings, required the outside and inside to be inextricably linked together as a harmonious whole. A more conventional building with an exterior curtain wall and suspended ceilings that hid the essential character of the building would have been much easier but less interesting and less honest .
At this point in the design, mechanical systems and interior design features existed only in our imaginations