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Fast. Cost-effective. Adaptable. These three qualities determined the simple yet bold brief for a mixed-use complex combining multi-family housing with commercial space on a roadside site in the Portuguese city of Vale de Cambra.

For the Porto-based architecture practice Summary, the open yet limited mandate offered a tailor-made opportunity to showcase the exceptional attributes of its innovative modular building system, called Gomos.

First prototyped by Summary’s Samuel Gonçalves at the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale, the Gomos System — consisting of prefabricated concrete panels, slabs and rings — employs these elements to create spatially and thermally insulated modules that can function as single-family dwellings or form part of a larger complex.

At VDC, Gomos enabled the quick and inexpensive assembly of an intricate multi-purpose structure while incorporating a design flexibility that allows commercial uses to evolve over time. And it made, not least of all, for a striking local landmark.

The two-storey structure artfully integrates a pared-down commercial base with an expressive cluster of six residences above. The rectilinear foundation creates a spatially efficient ground floor that can easily be divided into smaller or larger spaces as required, while an assertively angular interplay defines the upper-level homes.

Six discrete volumes lend each suite privacy and an individual identity, creating a rhythm of extruded tilted roofs and expansive windows that reflects the intimacy of the surrounding residential character. The designers also took advantage of the site’s sloping topography to give each home a private back entrance at grade.

From a simple and inexpensive kit of parts, Summary has devised a bold and typologically playful building. The unfinished precast concrete was easy to fabricate and assemble, performing triple duty as structure, insulation and cladding. In adherence to that initial brief, the end result was indeed fast, cost-effective and adaptable — plus very beautiful.

Location Vale de Cambra, Portugal Firm Summary (Porto, Portugal) Team Samuel Gonçalves with Inês Vieira Rodrigues and Gonçalo Vaz de Carvalho

Winner: Multi-Unit Residential Buildings
People’s Choice: Multi-Unit Residential Buildings
AZ Awards 2020 Winner: VDC

Portugal’s Summary designed this jury favourite in Architecture: Multi-Residential Buildings.

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