The island of Madeira depends economically on tourism: people who come to gamble in the local casinos and spend their time in the wild, spectacular nature. The chances of having such powerful yet delicate nature damaged increases directly in proportion to the flow of tourists. On the one hand, large hotels and aggressive, hackneyed real estate begin to populate the landscape, ruining not only the views that gave origin to the demand, but eroding hillsides, consuming water, and altering the ecological balance of the place, not to mention transforming local culture into a theme park. On the other hand, if you don’t invest in accommodation and infrastructure, you will not be able to intercept that source of income that is so crucial for the economic survival of the local population. Of course, these forces are much bigger than architecture, but architecture is perhaps able to find an expression, scale, language, or strategy to channel these interests towards a common good. Some years ago, therefore, when a vast fire destroyed immense parts of the island’s natural heritage, Paulo David saw the opportunity to define just such an architectural contribution to this debate. How to balance the flow of tourists who are an important driving force for development with the need to avoid threatening the community and the place? How to find an alternative paradigm to the infrastructure and services whose aim is to promote access to nature but that end up destroying precisely what they are designed to enhance? Paulo David’s work is able to negotiate this tension with architecture that operates carefully in the landscape, able to receive visitors without ruining the beauty of the place and eventually recovering it from the consequences of rampant tourism.
The power of the language he has been able to create introduces a new attractive force to the place. He has established an architecture that is vigilant and respectful but that, without false modesty, has also installed a new identity.
When working in privileged natural settings, one tends to believe that half of the work for the architect has already been done; it is not easy to create an architecture that is as powerful as the place where it sits. And this attitude is Paulo David’s contribution not only to Madeira, but to all those places that have to integrate such apparently incompatible interests.