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Welcome to a world of travel, entertainment and culture, curated from a global collective of writers, photojournalists and artists. Each article of our award-winning magazine is sure to inspire, no matter which of our destinations you call home.
            Back to Open Skies

Travel to Lisbon



30 October 2016

Words: David Leck

In 2008, architecture students Mario Sousa and Marta Brandão identified a problem. “To our mind, the industry was all too often the preserve of the chosen few,” says Sousa. “To the man on the street, even at a basic level, the whole process of building a home could seem ridiculously complicated. Throw in hidden costs, the timeframes involved – sometimes years between design, planning permission and completion – and worst of all, the potential horror of not feeling entirely satisfied with the end result. It seemed crazy. We thought if we were to go about designing and building a house for ourselves we would do it differently. Make it all as simple and easy as possible, but without sacrificing great design.”

Out of such problems, business solutions often grow, and the pair set about designing a cutting-edge compact home – just 36 square metres – that was adaptable, highly cost-effective and had a flexible layout. A perfect business model, you might say. In principle it worked and, not long after, that all-important first client came along. Images of the completed project went viral with the resulting publicity giving the business that all-important shove forward.

Any venture however, no matter how fortuitous its start, still needs capital. “On the back of that unexpected success we knew we were on to something that captured people’s imaginations,” Brandão says. “But of course funds are essential, so we dug into our own pockets. We took our time, didn’t rush, and grew things organically. Then, as more clients came on-board, the better cash flow became. The simple truth is that our customers have been our main investors, promoters and supporters.”

In 2011, just two years after launch, the MIMA House was awarded Building Of The Year by the prestigious architectural website ArchDaily. It was a moment of vindication and, according to Sousa, “was of huge importance because it meant it wasn’t just the public who approved of our designs and concept, but also the wider architectural community. We were incredibly proud of the achievement, and naturally, awards also inspire confidence in potential clients”.

It wasn’t long before word of MIMA spread to rarefied heights, eventually attracting the attention of legendary French designer Philippe Starck. “Out of the blue, he sent us an e-mail,” Brandão says. “We were shocked and delighted. Intuitively he grasped where we were coming from and, post-commission, wanted to be personally involved in the project as much as possible – he had clear ideas about the design and its inherent processes. We worked together as a team over a four-month period to design and create his private holiday home. He’s a fascinating and inspiring man and it was a huge learning curve. We’ll always be grateful to him.”

“Ultimately, our goal is not simply to achieve our client’s aims, but to far exceed them,” says Sousa. “The core concept was simplicity, and that ethos remains the same. In terms of design, quality and efficiency we constantly strive to produce the best possible architecture and design at every level. When quality is optimal,” he says, “growth is natural.”



For the best of Portuguese design head for…
Lisbon and Porto. The architecture, traditional construction, and use of local materials such as Portuguese tiles (azulejos) is inspiring.

A first-time visitor to Portugal should…
Sample the fresh seafood and local wine. Go where the locals go. Portuguese cuisine is simply amazing.

Our favourite stretch of coastline is…
Costa Vicentina on the Alentejo between Lisbon and the Algarve. Breathtaking.

When creating your own home always remember…
The sun. If it’s dealt with properly you’ll have a comfortable energy efficient house year-round.

The best advice we could give is…
Offer a product or service that truly adds new value. Then work hard, stay optimistic and be persistent.