A Quiet Luxury - Manuel Aires Mateus & The Egyptian Collection
The Armadillo & Co Series
The ringing of a church bell floats across the terracotta rooftops of Lisbon, through an open casement window. A curtain flutters softly in the breeze and a ray of sunlight briefly illuminates the texture of a rough-hewn stone floor, worn smooth with time. The beauty of such simple yet poignant moments is brought to life by Portuguese architect Manuel Aires Mateus, whose work, in turn, was the inspiration that drew Armadillo & Co to Lisbon for the shoot of their new Egyptian collection.
Manuel’s work might be described as minimalist in its pared-back simplicity, yet this description would miss the rich tapestry of meaning, history and intention that lives within his architecture. The restraint of line and form, the virtual absence of colour, serve rather to enhance the experience of each space, to deepen the connection with material, detail and function. It strips back all extraneous elements to emphasise that which is most important.
In this way, Manuel’s architecture is the antithesis to the increasingly frenetic pace of life. The spaces he creates are ones of retreat, of tranquility and authenticity that encourage a sense of calm. This doesn’t speak to a seclusion from reality, but rather a means of supporting a more meaningful and rewarding way of life.
The work of Manuel Aires Mateus was the inspiration that drew Armadillo & Co to Lisbon for the shoot of their new Egyptian collection.
These are spaces made for living. Manuel refers to his architecture as “unfinished art” – an artistic creation that is only complete with the passing of time and the ebb and flow of the lives of its inhabitants. “Architecture is about providing support for life,” he says. “It’s an art, but it’s an unfinished art. It has to be lived to be finished”.
Manuel reflects that approaching architecture from this point of view means that he sees his work as providing a foundation for life that must allow freedom. “So, we start working on a project, always thinking about how people are going to live in that space and how they can also have certain freedom living in it. We also think about how the space can have a positive influence on how people live”.
Manuel refers to his architecture as “unfinished art”.
This idea is felt in the sense that Manuel’s architecture transcends any one time period, instead harking back to Portugal’s rich history while simultaneously embodying a contemporary design language. “We don’t design a building for a certain moment. We design a building to be just a starting point for something that is going to grow and to move,” he says. This requires reflecting on an unknown future, considering the ageing of materials with time and “how time could be a value, not a problem”.
For Armadillo & Co Creative Director Jodie Fried, it was this interplay of the contemporary and the historical that resonated with the new Egyptian collection, drawing Armadillo & Co to Lisbon to shoot the collection. “His sense of proportion and scale and light just has this incredible sensitivity to it that is unlike any other architects’ work I’ve seen before,” she says. The Egyptian collection “has a beautiful abrash quality to it, and there’s a really beautiful earthy element to it, which we found had a great simpatico and connection with Manuel’s architecture,” Jodie reflects.
“We don’t design a building for a certain moment. We design a building to be just a starting point for something that is going to grow and to move”.
While the collection, in its palette and rich materiality, takes inspiration from Ancient Egypt and the Renaissance, both extravagant, opulent historical eras, the abrash overdyed hand-knotted jute rugs are simple and unadorned. They possess a sense of quiet luxury that recalls the calmness of Manuel’s Santa Clara 1782 project, where the collection was photographed and filmed.
Placed in these understated yet beautifully proportioned spaces, the Egyptian rugs become one with the building, one part in harmony with the whole. “Storytelling is key for me, and in this shoot, we build an aesthetic love story, we wanted our images to be romantic and moody and not just about interiors,” Jodie emphasises. “It seemed like a perfect union of grounded spaces along with our rugs which have soul and integrity, which both honour a local culture and also architectural history,” she continues.
“I think it’s really important to consider all sorts of elements that build an interior, that build a space. There’s indoor and outdoor, there’s light and dark, there’s proportion. And then you have the other elements that come with it. You have memory, you have family, you have food, you have laughter,” says Jodie.
The images and film by Rory Gardiner have a similarly authentic, almost reverential quality that is equally as calm and tranquil as the spaces themselves. Shooting on film, rather than digital, Rory’s images have a great sense of depth, shade and character. “His architectural work seems to really breathe, and that’s something that I really wanted to bring to this project,” Jodie says.
Just as Manuel emphasises the human element in his conception of architecture as unfinished art, Rory is driven to capture the elusive human connection in his work. He chooses to use film because, he says, “I’m no longer interested in finding […] the scientifically correct representation of the space that we’re shooting, the place that we’re in, and much more about a human connection or a human representation. I feel like shooting film allows for a human connection that we don’t have with digital”.
Working across architecture, design and photography, Manuel Aires Mateus, Armadillo & Co, and Rory Gardiner in their three different disciplines each find their own way to connect with something vital yet intangible, creating an aesthetic that reverberates between the historical and the timeless. Through their work, each interprets the subjectivity of human experience into physical form, finding beauty and meaning in simplicity.