PROJECT Name: Casa Farol / Lantern House
LOCATION: Griñón (Madrid), Spain
Ignacio Campos Alcaraz
Loreto Carmenado Vaquero
Alba Martín de Vidales Mateos
Antonio González Rodríguez
Photographer: Javier Callejas @javiercallejas
Building Engineer: Gonzalo S. Buenache
THE HOUSE AND THE CITY
The house, the refuge of each one of us, must relate to the city and generate new encounters with the urban context in which it finds itself. Yet, at the same time, it must express a certain enigmatic notion of what goes on behind the walls and enclosures that protect its users in a visual and functional way.
To what extent the activity in the house should be visible from the street and the functioning of the house shielded from the rest of its neigh ours is a question always worth revisiting.
In the Casa Farol or Lantern House, issues surrounding how the building should be placed within the municipality and how the relationship between users and home should develop through its functions have been the main driving force behind the end design.
Thanks to its domestic dimensions, the single-family residence can take on shapes of a formal clarity that is less evident in other architectures on a larger scale. This condition should be exploited in street planning for low-density residential areas.
When this does not happen, pieces of confused geometry begin to emerge which, added to an erroneous choice of materials, produces a of textures that is incoherent from any urban logic and generates an unnecessary noise caused by the resounding silence of the form.
The transversal positioning of this house on the line of calle Jilgueros allows the visitor to visually adapt to the architecture as they approach; the building has a more pleasant and less aggressive presence than a street-aligned placement.
This foreshortened urban presence also opens up the surrounding landscape and gives the city – and, ultimately, its users – the chance to appreciate the vegetation hidden in the backyards of adjacent dwellings. The magnificent olive and pine trees growing on these private plots are a better illustration of the garden city character of this neighbourhood than any nearby building. The gentle quality of the sinuous line separating the sky from the treetops is emphasized by the steadfast geometric shape of the ceramic prism. Its straight lines, which outline the sky as cleanly and precisely as the incision of a sharp scalpel blade, create a dialogue between what is anchored to the ground and what rises above it, part of the universe beyond.
THE CERAMIC BOX
The straight pediment suggested by the ceramic lattice ends the portico of the ground floor in contact with the sky. It suggests the capacity for abstraction similar to that of a Greek temple in its geometry and play of lines. If in classical Greece it was necessary to have a triangular gable to build pitched roofs, today the same gable can be straight, since we can resolve the upper section of a building with flat roofs. The relevance of the classical element of the pediment, often used to retell exciting scenes from well-known myths (such as the birth of Athena in the Parthenon) is echoed in the Lantern House, which on a daily basis relays the emotive vibration of the light as it passes through the ceramic geometry. The Lantern House aims to tell the story of the sun, which changes with the light that reaches us throughout the year. This story has 365 episodes that overlap each other like the skins of an onion in the earth to complete the meaning of this piece.
CONTACT WITH THE GROUND
The floor on which the ceramic volume rests is manipulated through a dual operation. First of all, part of the land is excavated to partially sink the ground floor. This level houses the day rooms such as the living room, dining room and kitchen, which are connected to the outside by vast glass walls. This produces a horizontal visual relationship with the ground-level plane more closely linked to the height and static position of its users. It also underscores their privacy by creating diagonal visual relationships that distance their position from neighbouring dwellings. Secondly, the broken perimeter resulting from this subtraction yields a more complex reading than the upper volume by accommodating all the necessary features that orbit around the house, such as the swimming pool, some small terraced areas, several access stairways and links with the rest of the garden and car park, as well as other connections with machine rooms. Meanwhile, between the boundary of the plot and the perforated vessel, there is a clean horizontal plane flooded with pebble gravel, emphasizing the formal identity of the whole design. The sinking of the design also emphasizes the weight of the ceramic volume, as other architectures – and other masters – have demonstrated before us.
The boundary of the air-conditioned area of the ground-floor dwelling is principally resolved by means of three elements: large windows protected from direct sunlight by the overhang of the upper volume; a box that forms the bamboo wood access as a chamber or intermediate space between the interior and the exterior; and a concrete wall or U-shaped rib at the back of the floor that contains the living area. The pillars supporting the upper floor do not come into contact with any other materials or enclosures, and are even split into a kind of composite pillar to allow the air to pass through, ensuring that the lightness of the space can contrast with the massive nature of the ceramic construction. In this way and from the perspective of the side elevation, the supports of the upper box fade away from the concrete walls to the pillars, and from the back of the plot to calle Jilgueros.
LOWER LEVEL: A HORIZONTAL RELATIONSHIP
The ground floor consists of two horizontal planes of exposed concrete. Both the floor and the ceiling have been executed as elements in tension, understood functionally as a sandwich between which most of the activity of the house takes place. This solution emphasizes the horizontal visuals in play with the rest of the plot, leaving the adjoining dwellings out of sight, thereby increasing the privacy of the dwelling. The solution of large floor-to-ceiling sliding windows allows the interior and exterior to be linked, blurring their boundaries. The swimming pool and the rest of the activities on the plot become part of everyday life, the ceramic lattice working as an urban curtain that protects the house from the views of neighbouring properties.
There is a single diagonal element inside the house, also made of concrete, which connects the world below with the world above: the staircase slab. This inclined plane allows the kitchen and the rest of the dwelling to be placed behind it, closing up on one side (north) and opening up towards the south. The
stair tread is resolved with a wooden cladding that serves as a transition between the concrete flooring on the ground floor and the ceramic flooring on the upper floor.
TOP LEVEL: THE CLAY THAT MOULDS THE LIGHT
The upper floor has been resolved with a ceramic envelope on all its façades that lends the project a sense of clarity and resonance. The constructive simplicity developed – and patented – in this project resolves a complex interior world. The ceramic shell at once encapsulates and separates from the walls of the rooms to achieve a world of intermediate spaces where the lattice behaves in different ways. Apart from forming an outer element attached to the opaque areas the lattice separates sufficiently to form a gallery and one additional room in the house. In this way, the boundary between indoors and outdoors is blurred again in a world of in-between situations that add richness to the experience of the home. The play of light and shade and the perception of the passing of the hours of the day reaffirm our relationship with biometry, with our material, biological self. At the same time, the kindness with which the light penetrates the rooms offers us a spiritual state that completes our experience of life.
The most important room on the upper floor is the master bedroom, where the space is emphasized through the corner, which has no interior enclosure, allowing the ceramics to come to the fore. In other rooms there are complementary relationships, such as that achieved with the windows and their disproportionate scale, like large, wide-open, attentive eyes, and the doorways that provide access to the ceramic gallery.
PLAY OF LIGHT AND SHADE
The light hits the walls of the terracotta, reflecting on and flooding into the rooms. The natural shade of earthenware, of the perforated reddish ceramic, not only shapes the light but also lends a warmer tone to the interior of the rooms. The more amber tone of the light differentiates inside from outside, artificial light from the light that comes directly from the sun, caressed by the material and filtered through its interstices to serve the users within. In any architecture, windows are designed to allow sufficient natural light into the interior. At the same time they create a link, a special relationship with the outside world. Window size and position can give a space a unique quality.
Filtering light through matter, in the same way that we strain water through a coffee filter, allows us to colour light and make it vibrate. We speak of servant and served spaces in architecture, but perhaps we should also speak of servant and served light, when light is sifted by matter. Depending on the season, the permeable nature of this construction system either protects the house from direct solar radiation or, on the contrary, allows the sun’s rays to penetrate the interior, flooding the floor with a changing play of light and shade.
AND MASSIVE: AN INHABITED LANTERN
The perception of the lattice from the outside is also changeable. Depending on the time of day, the reflections of light on the ceramic establish very different readings of the building through the material. An accentuated opacity, a set of reflections, shades and textures that cover a wide range of nuances, as well as the capacity for transparency that it possesses at nightfall when the light from the interior is projected towards the exterior, express an endless number of possibilities and variables that once again turn this simple solution into a complex dwelling. An inhabited lantern The lattice, in addition to being conceived as a solar filter to address the extreme climate of Madrid and its harsh afternoon sun on summer afternoons, has the quality of hiding its users from the outside. The ceramic provides an additional degree of privacy on the upper floor without sacrificing light. Its execution by means of frames hung from the edges of the slabs dematerializes its presence from the inside, where horizontal cracks of light at the point of contact between the upper and lower planes showcase the ceramic’s ability to float, to levitate, in the play of light.
CERAMIC CANVAS: THE TECHNIQUE
The lattice is made up of two ceramic modules: one square and the other rectangular, a half section, so that the sum of two half-pieces completes the larger format. The joint between the pieces is produced by a dry joint that is imperceptible to the human eye, which means that the traditional bonding mortar used to join two ceramic pieces disappears. In this way, the ceramic pieces are dry stacked, like the ancient ashlars of the Greek temples, without mortar joints. They are framed in a metal frame like paintings, like ceramic canvases, as if a painter had sketched different variants of the same composition. While the Romans taught us to use mortar to join two pieces of brick, the capacity of today’s technique allows the joint to disappear, producing a friction, or tension, between the material, the vibration of which is transferred to the tension of the whole placed in the urban landscape.