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Portuguese R2 Design Creates “Talking” Walls for Boutique Hotel

Retrofitted Casa de Conto 19th Century Guest House

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R2 Design, a visual communications firm based in Porto, Portugal (the country’s second-largest city),
has produced environmental graphic design (EGD) since 2004. Its portfolio includes exhibit design, corporate wayfinding and a portfolio of signs that define built environments.

Pedra Liquida, a Portuguese architecture and engineering firm, engaged R2 Design to create a graphic system for Casa de Conto, a 19th-Century, single-family home that’s been converted into a guest house. The Casa’s interior, which had been slated to reopen in 2009, was gutted by a fire days before its unveiling, and several artifacts of historical significance to the structure were lost as well.

Pedra Liquida wanted to redefine the space with a modern, more abstract feel. Wood ceilings and ornamental-plaster moldings were replaced by concrete ceilings and panels filled with formed, expanded-polystyrene letters encased within steel bracings. Pedras de Ronfos, a Leca de Balio, Portugal-based restoration and construction company, fabricated the letters and supporting forms.

“Rather than dwelling on the past, our design team chose to avoid figurative reinterpretations and, instead, generated a more conceptual approach,” Liza Ramalho, an R2 designer, said.

Designer Filipa Namora describes EGD as “a unique language that provides easy comprehension of an environment, which is important because humans accept large amounts of information visually. Through the broader practice [of EGD], people have been conditioned to understand the importance of communicating information in 3-D.”

R2 and its partners asked people familiar with the Casa de Conto (“House of Tales” in English) to write narratives about each of the house’s rooms. The resulting program features several typefaces that are easily read and give visitors the impression they’re reading the Casa’s walls like pages of a book. Fonts the design team incorporated include a ubiquitous font, Futura, as well as the lesser-known typefaces Neutrafaceslab, Ordinaire, Jannon and Dada. Each guest room was bedecked with a single typeface; the fonts intermingle to tell a collaborative story in common areas.

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“The use of concrete as a medium limited the typefaces that could be read legibly, and the steel bracings within the concrete slabs required us to select fonts that didn’t require a lot of depth,” Namora said. “The project was a unique and rewarding challenge for us because we were closely involved with the architect throughout the Casa de Conto’s design.”
 

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