This competition design was prepared in collaboration with Lee McIlroy, for the Vale de Moses yoga retreat ideas competition. The brief was to design cabins for therapy and exercise, which were intended to respond positively to the rural Portuguese landscape.
The essential idea behind our proposal was to create a quiet place. A place where carefully considered sequences of space and landscape would create a sense of solitude and privacy – and a fundamental connection with the beauty of the surrounding landscape. This dialogue, like ‘forest bathing’, creates conditions which can foster a profound engagement with the natural world.
It was also essential that the cabin design could be repeated in other parts of the retreat. Our proposal was based on a modular prefabricated system – so cabins could be disassembled and relocated easily. We also proposed a typology which could expand to give a variety of cabin sizes for different purposes – but all based on the same prototype.
The critical architectural idea was that the buildings would be bold and ambitious in their design, while being simultaneously sympathetic to the place. This synergy with the landscape is derived from the ‘topographical’ form of the cabins – they are designed to look like fragments of the ground. The dynamic massing of the buildings also has a practical purpose; whereby their geometry can create a sense of enclosure and privacy for the people enjoying treatments or meditative experiences.
The idea of seclusion was fundamental – the cabins were designed to establish an experiential and emotional ‘journey’.
First there is a ‘public’ moment, where the network of paths meets each cabin at a ‘waiting’ space. Here someone can wait for the cabin to be vacated, but they can also prepare their minds to move to another ‘place’; anticipating a shift in atmosphere. Following this is the ‘threshold’, a narrow, but fully accessible channel which is dark and enclosed – the compression of space creates a tangible transition. Then there is the treatment space, which is designed to be light-filled and calm, and which establishes an immersive and secluded moment of overwhelming connection to the natural world. The final moment in the journey is back outside, either on the terrace or in the private garden. These spaces allow users to ‘cooldown’ and engage with the ground; the flowers; the birds; and the insects in a moment of natural harmony and joy.
The scheme is architecturally anchored in the ground. The buildings are designed to respond to the sloped topography and rich landscape, and the quality of the private garden spaces is informed directly by the architecture of the cabins. Buildings and planting together frame stunning views across the valley, where people can connect emotionally with the earth.
Our proposal was focused on creating a place which is immersed in nature; a place which engages with its landscape; a place of beauty, harmony, and solitude… a quiet place.