Case Study: The Embassy of Egypt in Lisbon is inspired by traditional Egyptian motifs
Designed by Promontorio, the new Embassy of Egypt in Lisbon features robust concrete walls covered with bas-relief patterns that are inspired by traditional Egyptian motifs.
Located in Lisbon’s affluent Restelo district, where many of the neighbouring villas from the 1940s and 50s have been converted for diplomatic use, the embassy was designed to fulfil the security criteria while incorporating symbolic references to Egypt’s culture and history within the architecture.
“An embassy building is one that utterly embodies the notion of national identity,” said the architects at Promontorio. “It is just as much a harbour and safe-haven for its citizens, as it is the state’s foreign representation at the highest level. It must combine the idea of sheltering and safety with the symbolic values of the country’s history and culture.”
The architects added that between these two poles, the design must seamlessly bring together various principles, including modernity with timelessness, comfort and warmth with protocol and solemnity, quality and refinement with elegance and discretion, high-technology with low-maintenance, and functionality with beauty.
“We believe that the tectonic expression of compactness and solidity yielding from the Lisbon municipality’s regulation constraints can ultimately be interesting for an embassy building of a country like Egypt, given its notable tradition of architectural massiveness and stereotomics,” they said.
Consisting of a solid concrete mass that lends an impenetrable feel, the embassy’s design alludes to Egypt’s long history of stone construction. The building is essentially a monolith composed of three thick slabs combined with an interweaving mass of patterned walls, featuring bas-reliefs evocative of ancient Egyptian geometric motifs.
Consisting of three floors, the embassy follows the classical post-and-lintel system. The walls are interrupted at specific positions to form windows, while on the upper floor, each corner forms a balcony by receding and revolving from one angle to the next.
The patterned sections of the façade are made of pre-cast panels of anthracite-pigmented concrete that accentuate the overall mass of the building.
Intended to be enlivened by the way light casts across the exterior, the dark hue and repeat pattern creates a homogeneous surface that contrast with the lightness of the bronze-coated stainless steel window frames.
Inside the building, public areas feature extensive timber panelling and flooring made from large slabs of white stone. The materials were selected for their ability to age well, said the architects, as they will be subjected to continuous use.
The atrium’s skylight, which hangs above a Babelesque stairway, allows light to filter down through a perforated Islamic-patterned screen, producing a kaleidoscopic pattern of light and shadow that changes throughout the day.
Positioned like a large 19th-century villa in the centre of a plot, the building is further surrounded by a narrow garden on its contiguous sides. The landscaping was completed by Promontorio’s landscape design department, which aimed to create a luxurious garden along the building’s perimeters.
“Most of the project’s landscaped plant species are from the Mediterranean region, but some of them are from Egypt,” said the architects. “Cyperus papyrus was specified for the embassy’s main entrance. Another Egyptian origin species is the lotus plant, as it’s a major reference in all ancient Egyptian paintings.”
Completed in 2017, the project spans 1,359m2 while the entire site measures at 1,510m2.