Gruta das Torres Visitor Centre
"Gruta das Torres" is a lava tube located on "Pico" island. In 2004 it was considered Regional Natural Monument due to its high geological value and its dimension, unique in all the Azores islands.
As the "Secretaria Regional do Ambiente e do Mar - Direcção Regional do Ambiente" has decided to open Gruta das Torres to the public in 2005, it has become necessary a building, to allow to inform and help the visitors. At the same time, it has also been necessary to think about the protection of the skylight.
In the elaboration of the project, other three aspects were fundamental: the building should consider the problem of vandalism, because it is far from any inhabited area; it should be build at low cost and finally it should have in consideration the fact that it shall be used regularly only during the four months of Summer.
The answer that was found tried to conjugate at the same time, and in the simplest manner, the protection of the skylight with the drawing of the building. So, the shape of the building itself has aroused in a natural and wavy shape of a wall of brittle stone with the height of 1,80 m, which protects the huge entry to the cave.
They both result not only from the same formal gesture but also use the same material, although with different techniques: the wall was made with stone mortar, but when becoming the south façade of the building, it reproduces the image of a local constructive system, of stone, used for the construction of the "currais de figueira", a technique which result is known today and considered Landscape Patrimony of Humanity by UNESCO.
The image of these walls, constructed originally with the height of 1.80m, has made us dare a drawing such a trimmed stone, with 3.50m. This solution has allowed the light to come inside all along the building avoiding, at the same time, the opening of spans, more likely to be vandalised.
That is why the spans, which were necessary to open, come protected within the limits of the wall of stone, except the entry to the Visitor Centre. All the spans details were made having in consideration the local resources and the necessary strength to answer to the requisites already mentioned.
Except for the wall of stone, the building was covered by a black waterproof like surface in order to make it similar to the texture of glassed lava, existing inside the lava tube. In order to minimize the interference in the soils of this nature, the building was planned with a structure, in reinforced cement, which will lay on a rail, also in reinforced cement, in order to avoid the construction of foundations, which would make unnecessary vibrations.
Before such a strong landscape as the one surrounding the "Gruta das Torres", we tried to integrate the building, drawing it however as an architectonic form.