In the Art of Portugal; OVERSEAS PROPERTY
Byline: ZOE DARE HALL
A 'living exhibition of architecture' on the coast north of Lisbon is putting the design back into holiday housing. Zoe Dare Hall reports
CIRCULAR homes entered via their grassy roofs and finger-shaped villas - Bom Sucesso on Portugal's western Silver Coast is a housing development with a difference.
This is the world's first 'design resort', with the accent very much on architectural innovation. Its developer, Acordo, promises that, more than being just another residential development, it will be a 'living exhibition of architecture'.
It is set on a 1,000-acre site - only 6 per cent of which will be developed - half a mile inland from the unspoilt beaches near Obidos, an hour's drive north of Lisbon.
Each of the 21 leading home-grown 'starchitects' involved (the Portuguese embrace their architects like we do chefs), along with Briton David Chipperfield, has designed a set of villas or townhouses, with a total of 600 due for completion in spring 2008.
The ground rules are that no property can be higher than two storeys and each must have a grass roof so that, when viewed from the surrounding hillsides, the resort blends in with the greenery of the onsite golf course and miles of eucalyptus forests.
Beyond that, the architects have been left to their own creative devices - to great dramatic effect.
Among the most prolific names involved is Alvaro Siza Vieira, the Norman Foster of Portuguese architecture, who has designed 17 white cube villas, two of which have been bought by Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho.
Siza also designed the resort's shops and restaurants.
'You are buying a signed, limited edition of an artist's work,' says Goncalo Castelo Branco, Acordo's executive director.
'It's rare to say you live in a Siza house. Architects of this calibre usually design museums or stadia all over the world and don't have time for individual houses.
'There are buyers who appreciate that and who wouldn't buy anywhere else - and, of course, there are those who just don't understand the appeal.'
Architect Joao Pedro Falcao de Campos, a former student of Siza's, kept his 23 two-storey townhouses low and discreet so as not to distract from the grand master's villas behind.
'Siza Vieira's style isn't about being fashionable or high-tech,' says Campos, 44. 'He uses basic, natural materials such as stone to brilliant effect and I didn't want my houses in front to distract from him in any way.
I wanted mine to blend in with the golf course, with rooms that are flooded with light.' Jackie Stephens, 45, an interior designer from St Agnes, Cornwall, is one of the 100 British buyers at the resort.
'I was looking around Europe and couldn't find anything that appealed.
Everything looked the same,' she says. Then she and her husband Eric, 55, visited the resort and were so struck by its innovative design and beautiful setting that they bought a bigger villa than intended and are considering moving there permanently.
Their four-bedroom house is one of 12 villas designed by Joao Luis Carrilho da Graca.
Each is slightly different in shape and has an elevated living space which extends on stilts over the golf course. They cost about [pounds sterling]675,000.
Jackie says: 'It is one of the largest houses on the development and very flexible with open-plan living space that maximises views and privacy.
'It is big enough to live in permanently and has a large garage and basement storage rooms.' THE Silver Coast's lack of development also appeals to Jackie. 'If Bom Sucesso had been in the Algarve, I doubt I would have bought,' she says.
'This area is relatively rural with few other developments and building along the beautiful coast is strictly controlled. But it has recently become more accessible thanks to new road links and plans for a new regional airport. …