Designing a future
Passionate about architecture, Vítor Vilhena spends his time creating true masterpieces. His dedication and professionalism are reflected in many peerless projects across the Algarve that stand out for their uniqueness and singularity, both in terms of design and the natural elements he incorporates in them.
His preference for a modern style, where shades of white and simplicity prevail, always prioritising the presence of nature, can be admired in the many houses and healthcare, education and hotel architecture projects that Vítor has designed.
Born in Odiáxere, Lagos, he completed his degree in Architecture at Lisbon’s Lusíada University in 1997, after finishing a vocational course in civil construction in Lagos.
His father was a builder and, although design and construction roles are independent, having some knowledge in the field helped him decide which professional path to take.
As Vítor Vilhena explains, he was always interested in planning and designing spaces. At just 12 years of age, he loved drawing what he observed and his thoughts.
“I’ve always enjoyed drawing trees; it’s a fascination,” he says, highlighting that, for this reason, his work includes “a lot of green [elements]”.
In secondary school, he began exploring his career options and turned his attention to the arts. He bought several rOtring pens, “with very fine tips to produce strokes of different thicknesses”, because, at the time, in 1987, there were no computers and everything was done on tracing paper on a light table, Vítor recalled, emphasising that although it was “a very rudimentary way of working”, he really enjoyed it.
He attended ‘Year Zero’ at Lusíada University (to decide what he wanted to do), during which he developed practical skills. At the time, he stayed in Almada, at his aunt and uncle’s house, who are from the Algarve and have a family holiday home in the village of Luz, in Lagos.
“They are two people for whom I have enormous respect,” said the architect, reflecting on the support he had from family and friends with whom he grew up and got to know along the way.
He started working at an early age to become financially independent and, before entering the world of architecture, acquired experience in many areas, even working at a glass company belonging to his wife Liliana’s family.
Family is clearly a fundamental pillar for him, especially his parents, his wife and daughters, “who are the backbone of everything” the architect has done to this day.
Throughout his career, he had the opportunity to work alongside experienced architects. After finishing his third year of university, during the summer holiday, Vítor had his first professional contact with architecture, in a studio in Pêra (Silves). During that time, he worked with architects Jorge Guerreiro, José Pedro Nascimento, Paulo Simões and Margarida Simões Gomes, for whom he has “immense respect” and with whom he developed a wide variety of projects. The experience was so positive that he returned the following summer.
But it was architect Paulo Simões who made the biggest impression on Vítor. His projects fascinated him, “from his ideas to his drawings, which were extraordinary”, he recalled, adding that he received an excellent grade on his last degree assignment thanks to Paulo’s help.
Vítor was impressed by his architectural knowledge, which made him want to draw and explore more. He was inspired by his “structured, balanced and detailed drawings and the brilliance with which he did everything”.
Vítor’s first project was a two-storey family house in Odiáxere, in 1996, when he was still in his fourth year of university. “It was interesting and not at all easy, but it went well; I was able to rely on my architect friends for support,” he said. And so, between experiences and challenges, he developed his own professional path and relationships – “everything just fell into place”.
In the last year of his degree, he decided to take night classes so that he could work. “Those were the best years of my life; five years of fun, learning, and friendship. It was amazing and fascinating. I learned a lot.” In April of his final year, an architect from Pêra invited him to coordinate the project for the historic Fábrica do Inglês in Silves. Vítor did not hesitate, and, within a week, he was on the job, having turned down an offer from a company he was working with in Lisbon to oversee projects in Cape Verde.
He went on to work on various other projects, including the Feira Nova hypermarket in Sintra – a structure unlike any other in the Algarve – and diverse supermarket buildings, gaining more experience in his profession.
But his heart was always in the Algarve and, although he had offers to work for other architects in the region, his ambition was to have his own studio. He remodelled his father’s warehouse, replaced the gate with a glass front and decorated it with kitchen furniture, a workbench and a desk. He bought a large printing press and so his own venture started.
Hugo Pereira, who was studying Architecture in Portimão, joined Vítor and, two years later, Marco Costa, an architect he met in Pêra, followed. The team grew and the space required constant changes. Within six years, Atelier Vítor Vilhena had a team of eight people, many of whom were studying Architecture in Portimão.
In 2019, he moved the studio to his dream location: Lagos Marina. Overlooking the pier, the space benefits from the tranquillity of the setting and stands out for its modern design and large glass front.
Currently working with Vítor are architects João Simões, Nuno Gonçalves, Guilherme Santos and Dina Serrão, trainee Catarina Augusto, and administrative assistant Cloé Costa, “all of whom play an important role in the development and progress of each project”, he says. In fact, Vítor is certain the many professionals he has collaborated with over the years have all been “crucial to making the studio what it is today”, with projects currently in the process of obtaining council approval both in the Algarve and Alentejo.
Vítor Vilhena sees architecture as an art form and dedicates himself entirely to what he sets out to do. He focuses on the vision and ambition of families in order to develop their dream homes – the type of project he most likes to work on due to its more personal and intimate nature.
“Every house has a story”, he said, explaining that he designs it “thinking of the people that will use it, and their aspirations, and not as a work project”.
Although he puts his heart and soul into every project, there are two that stand out for him – plot 62 at Palmares Resort, and plot 19 in Meia Praia, both in Lagos. They stand out for their “natural features and implementation complexity within the urban surroundings”, Vítor explained.
Both are extremely well located and represent unique and complex projects that require careful planning in order to “integrate them within the landscape, and more refined and elaborate solutions to achieve a perfect symbiosis”, he added.
All Vítor Vilhena’s projects share characteristics and, in common, they have identical elements, such as the predominance of glass and features that combine modernity with comfort.
If Vítor were to reveal his recipe for success, he would say that “commitment and drive are key to professional and personal development”. His passion for architecture makes him get out of bed every day with enormous satisfaction and motivation, which means he always develops “a strong connection” with everything he does.