| guardadores do campo : espigueiros & stabburs


[ guardadores do campo ] was the name given to a project set up by atelier urban nomads in the beginning of 2014 for Pegada Cultural, a cultural and educational programme run by EEA grants for exchange projects between Portugal and, in this case, Norway. During a winter trip to the North of Portugal, the ubiquitous structures I was familiar with since I was a child – Espigueiros – , caught once more my attention. This trip was the start of the project.

Espigueiros and Stabburs are ancient and vernacular structures that exist in Minho, Portugal, and in the region of Ål, Norway, as well as in many other parts of the world ( with a wide range of forms and made with local materials ). They resemble play houses due to their small scale, specially when compared to the buildings they tend to be adjacent to. Espigueiros are typical from the North of Portugal and are used to store corn cobs over the winter months. Stabburs used to be used to store grains and are now normally used as general storage spaces or, more recently, have been converted into accommodation/lodges. Espigueiros were either built out of stone (granite) and/or timber. Though normally not wider then 1 metre, their length can vary and so can their position next to the Eira, the flat surface (normally made of stone) where local farmers used to gather to un-peel the corn cobs after they had been harvested. In the famous publication Espigueiros de Portugal (1994)1, the ethnographer Ernesto Veiga de Oliveira traces the origins of Espigueiros, their various forms and construction techniques used across the country and relates them to other similar structures found all over the world. Espigueiros, and other food storage constructions, were an important part of rural life as they secured the preservation of food during winter periods. They are all on stilts, raised from the ground, to prevent the food from getting damp. The stilts tend to have rounded top surfaces to avoid rodents to climb up and into the structures. In Portugal, Espigueiros are often protect with a cross on top of the roofs, making them resemble tombs. Although they can be found in isolation, a one-off next to a house, they are often part of a group and often used to be as shared corn storage spaces by the local communities.

The name [ guardadores do campo ] originates from the way in which Espigueiros normally inhabit the landscape, over the stepped hills found in Minho, as if they were standing creatures guarding the fields.

Both Espigueiros and Stabburs are easily demountable structures and they were known to often be re-located according to where needed in the region. The Stabburs were often made out of solid pine logs which would be carved with markings showing how to assemble the constructions.

Today, many Espigueiros and Stabburs are run down or derelict. The purpose for which they were created is almost obsolete and they are often left abandoned, except when converted into different kinds of spaces. Though they can still be found everywhere in those regions, local people are generally oblivious of their existence. They grew around them, but know little about their history or function. Very few people still know how to build them or use them for their initial purpose. Espigueiros and Stabburs are neglected national architectural heritage. Their preservation is important as landmarks of those regions, as well as catalysts for new typologies that might better serve the current needs of the local people.

Children’s knowledge and understanding about Espigueiros and Stabburs is limited. Their cultural and historical importance ought to be described. With this in mind, [ guardadores do campo ] intends to be a mediator between past and present, Portuguese and Norwegian architectural heritage, between thinking and making.

[ guardadores do campo ]
This collection of photographs is the introduction to the larger project, [ guardadores do campo ]. The photographs were taken by myself in February and March 2014. It was raining in Minho and snowing in Leveld. This selection intends to start exploring the similarities and differences of these two vernacular architectural typologies. Stabburs and Espueiros were photographed at similar angles and placed side-by-side ( Stabburs on the left and espigueiros on the right), in order to better compare their forms, materials, ornamentation, context and function. The sentences written are statements the children wrote on the postcards they sent me.

Audio/visual postcards were collated overlapping the two structures with drawings that children from the school in Melgaço produced representing their readings on Espigueiros and imagined Norwegian landscapes. The overlap of the images starts playing with different ways in which these structures can lead to new shared spaces where people can gather and learn from each other. The merge between the two intends to allow us (who take part in the project) to learn about the two distinct cultures, exploring them with children from both regions, learning about different ways in which everyday life is lived.

The initial project project is a collaboration with Leveld Kunstnartun, Leveld, Ål, Norway and Câmara Municipal de Monção, Câmara Municipal de Melgaço and Agrupamento de Escolas de Melgaço, Minho, Portugal.

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1 VEIGA OLIVEIRA, Ernesto, DIAS, Jorge, Espigueiros de Portugal, (1994), D. Quixote Ed., Lisboa