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Bigger isn’t always better. While there are no shortage of striking projects that attest to this, Fala Atelier‘s recent 190-square-metre residential complex in their native Porto makes a surprising virtue of its smallness, maximizing a compact urban footprint to create an expressive multi-unit development.

Comprising six two-storey suites — “four identical and two exceptional,” according to the studio — the project’s two unique structures frame a communal garden for the residents of these spartan homes.

Tucked inside a city block, six striped doors (alternating between mint green and navy blue) with two spherical pulls stand out against the deliberate simplicity of the crisp white facade to define each apartment. A series of slender metal poles support the projecting corrugated roof to create a covered walkway lined in rose-toned marble. Beneath the canopy, the studio fitted the ultra-thin surface with a series of scalloped forms that echo the peachy hues of the paving while nodding to the playful geometries within.

For the largest unit – occupying its own separate building – the studio combined a small galley kitchen, a dining area and living space on the ground floor. A darting wall with blond plywood doors separates these communal environs from the washroom and the narrow stairs that lead the second floor bedroom, with the upper level defined by an undulating wall the creates a two-storey atrium above the entrance. 

“Each inner space,” says Fala, “combines orthogonal, diagonal and curved lines.” These playful gestures are emphasized by the studio’s distinct handling of material and colour: exposed formwork concrete lines the underside of the second floor, while a blush ceiling caps off the upper level.

The seven-year-old practice further elevated the modest apartment with additional graphic treatments. In the washroom, for instance, square white tiles with mint grout create a diagrammatic grid effect that plays off the swirling marble floor. “Wooden doors, exaggerated handles and hints of pink marble,” the studio adds, “accompany this game of surfaces.”

Housing four modest residences and an ultra-compact suite, the adjacent structure employs a similar strategy. In each home, a graceful curving wall separates the private washroom from the dining area and micro-kitchen, fitted with a graphic tile backsplash and polished blue marble floors. Connecting the ground floor to the triangular bedroom above is an exposed concrete stair with marble treads and a delicate steel handrail. Formwork concrete accents the resulting intersection between the angular floor plate and curvilinear wall, highlighting the elemental geometries that appear throughout Fala Atelier’s portfolio.

In Porto, a Collage-Like Renovation Animates a Modernist Apartment
This graphic retrofit by local studio Fala Atelier mixes marble and pastel greens to striking results.

Like the accompanying building, the angled ceiling is painted dusty pink and set off by a circular oculus. In addition to visually bridging the loft-like level with the floor below, the opening allows the light trickling in from the boxy skylights above to flood the condensed abode.

“The most honest and beautiful urban scenario defines the idyllic background for such an architectural exercise,” the studio concludes of the project, done in collaboration with landscape designers Pomo. “One architecture tying [together a] fragmented reality.” It’s a testament to how big ideas can occupy the smallest of spaces. And, that even modest interventions can have sizeable impacts.

Fala Atelier’s Latest Housing Complex Plays with Form, Colour and Scale

In Porto, the local studio designs a suite of spartan residences that orbit around a central, communal courtyard.

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