From contemporary homes to more traditional houses, Essential Algarve looked into the extensive portfolio of renowned architect João Cabrita
His first introduction into the world of architecture was through his father, who was a professional draughtsman. “Maybe my appetite and inspiration come from genetics. Ever since I can remember, I recall a connection with pens, drawings and sketches. In fact, I always wanted to be an architect and I never considered being anything else,” says João Cabrita.
Originally from Lisbon and with a degree in Architecture from the Faculty of Architecture of the Technical University of Lisbon, João began his career in 1996 in the capital at the Contemporânea Lda studio. In 1999, he moved to the Algarve, where he worked as the director of Michael Browns Associates Lda (a London-based company) and was in charge of coordinating and managing a team of 18 architects for 10 years. Having received several offers to cultivate his work abroad, João always chose to remain in Portugal and develop his career in the South.
The opportunity to open his own studio arose in 2011 — in the heart of Quinta do Lago, where he leads a multifaceted team of eight specialists. Even during one of the harshest economic and financial crises the country has ever experienced, the thought of opening his own business in such a precarious climate did not deter him. “We must break the ties of the past and start building the future, and perhaps the crisis was a main driving force. So it was a pivotal time for many people and a time to rethink and start again.” This was not an easy decision to make “at a time of crisis, because it is such a defeated and catastrophic scenario”. Nevertheless, he believed that such negative circumstances called for change: “There was no act of madness or heroism on my part, I made the decision with my feet on the ground but with a positive and calm attitude,” he says, reflecting on that time.
Regarding the style of his work, João stresses that he does not follow a pattern (a word he claims to abhor). “I try to search for the answer to a problem. And that spirit encompasses all possible architectural languages, from traditional and classical to Vitruvian or contemporary minimalism. There is a wide range of possibilities,” he says. However, he claims “clients always have an architectural language they prefer”, so demands in recent years show trends towards “a more contemporary, post-modernist architecture, with a more open connection between interior and exterior, with more light, and wider and user-friendly spaces”, but there are also requests for works “with traces of classical tradition”, he reveals. “Our job is to make clients’ dreams come true and maximise their investment. [But] managing expectations is never easy. Clients are looking for a dream and an investment, which are almost always opposite notions.”
With around 10 projects in the works, most of what is developed by the studio consists of single-family homes, resorts and holiday villages in the Algarve, particularly in the prestigious Golden Triangle (Quinta do Lago, Vale do Lobo and Vilamoura). Internationally, they also work in South Africa and England. According to João, most clients are “affluent foreign individuals of various nationalities, who are looking for second and third homes”. The architect also reveals that potential clients choose him to bring someone’s dream house to life through “recommendations from other clients or because they are already familiar with the work”.
Two of the most expensive houses currently set inside the Quinta do Lago and Vale do Lobo areas have his signature: “There was a very high level of demand and a €20 million target. Both cases arose with the intent of taking the project further, through international investors. These are houses with large indoor and outdoor spaces and a high level of specifications, quality of finishes and materials, and precise constructive details,” João recalls. “I think the region needs more projects like these, to attract a different type of investors. We have everything we need to create something completely unique in the country and in Europe, with houses of this magnitude.” The architect has no doubts that “the Algarve is a privileged place to invest in real estate”, as it has “all the ingredients that are expected of a good quality of life: fantastic climate, enviable safety, friendly people, good food and it’s near the sea”.
One of the studio’s most recent works that has also put João in the spotlight is Reserva — a luxury development with views towards the protected area of the Ria Formosa lagoon and Quinta do Lago. The challenge came as an invitation by the resort’s manager, in hopes to “create a high-quality holiday village with 26 apartments, in a unique location, for a very demanding target. It’s the result of three years of hard work in construction, design and sales”, he says. In fact, the sales were a “great success”, with tranches being quickly sold for over €2 million.
When asked about what professional dreams he is still chasing, João Cabrita does not hide his desire to leave his mark on the world’s history of architecture and fulfil his dream of “creating a building taller than the Burj Kahlifa”, a skyscraper in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, which holds the current record as the tallest in the world at a staggering 828 metres and 160 stories. “If I could [do it], I would be a very accomplished person. It would be such a symbolic work, to be able to erect the tallest building on the planet,” João says.