Hidden Villa


When you walk in Lisbon and pass by the old wall with garage gates you might not expect that this wall can hide a villa. Modest outside and rich in the interior, excavated in landscape and full of light. Narrow tunnel of the entrance leads to the main tall space with oculus in the dome. Room for eating is subtracted from the main space; it is a big opening slightly above the main room and it acts as a stage. Library is the most sacral space for concentration and it reminds church’s apsida, light and peaceful. The bathroom is a tall cone space where light falls like water. The last space is achievable only for masters, it is a bedroom. This is the only room which has a huge window and access to the garden with the view on the whole city lying below.


What prompted the project?

The main purpose of the studio and of the project was the reflection upon Architecture on the topic of a house with five spaces. It was a search for the relationships between the house and the city, between the house’s spaces themselves, and a search for the richness of the personal experience. During the work, we avoided to use the rooms’ names but were operating with the spaces’ functions: a place to gather, a place to rest, a place to wash, a place to read and a place eat. The project has become a solution for the reflection Architecture as a definition of memory, upon Architecture as a possibility of intervention, upon Architecture as an opportunity of transformation.

What questions does the project answer?

One of the main questions was: “What could be brought to the city of Lisbon?”. Which new layers could be found by global vision? The project catches not the most obvious but one of the most essential features of the city – the secrecy. For example, there is a church, hidden in the ordinary residential building behind the ordinary doors. The Villa is hidden behind the modest garage gates to be found only by those who know. The project also tries to reflect upon the meaning and the value of such familiar elements as doors, openings or walls.

What informed the form of the architectural artifact?

The exterior shape is dictated by the relief the building is excavated from. The site is terraced and the project uses this step. The only one new part is built to create the main dome space. It is a buttress which also reminds the fortification of a nearby castle. The gap, the main opening, not only unite the interior spaces but also emphasize this new exterior element. The work was going from the internal condition, from “negative” sculpture of the spaces. The project was built on a sentence with contradicting points that got along in the same building and only in such a combination created a unique experience: it is a hidden villa, which is modest and rich, caves and light.

What is the experience of traveling through these spaces? Are they conceived as a 'journey' or rather as isolated moments?

The collections of spaces in the Villa is a sculpture and I believe that the experience is both: a journey and isolated moments at the same time. Each space is different, each of them has its’ own story. However, the relationships between them are not less important. The motion between spaces is inevitable and it is different from exploring each space; the connection of spaces is a crucial part of the scenario as well as each room itself.

What role does the drawing play in revealing the essence of the architecture and its relationship to the individual?

The search for the spaces’ images was made through drawings. Each story was directed with a person as a main character in the space. Drawings helped to find the human scale in each room and relationships between the space and the person. Hand drawings also created a specific graphical language that helps to recognize the mood, the atmosphere and probably sometimes even the sound of each space.

How important is the sketch s means through which to explore and reveal the project?

First, the sketches were just the main tool for the search of the concept of the project. It was the easiest way to translate words into an image without losing meaning. However, later the drawings brought their own loud voice to the project and have become one of the main media of representation, of communication.

What informed the use of the models? What is the effect and purpose of the materiality of these? How does it speak about the texture of the construction?

The work with different media was constantly happening in parallel. The clay models explored the excavating nature of the project and at the same time, other clay models were devoted to the “negative” space sculpture. This pursuit of forms and relationships between spaces continued in a big final model made in 1:20 scale. This step was made for testing real physical spaces and light of the project.

What is for you the architects most important tool?

I strongly believe that it cannot be only one tool. It is always a mix of technics and different media which depends on each particular project. These tools can be words for telling the story or wood for the search of the form. However, usually, there are all of them overlapping with each other for creating a thoughtful Architecture.


Olga Tarasova graduated from Moscow Architectural Institute in Russia in 2016 and then from Cornell University in the USA in 2019.  Currently she is working in New York City.