by Jerry ElengicalJan 04, 2023
Lying just south of Madrid is the quaint municipality of Griñón. Within its quiet streets filled with gabled roof suburban homes, stands proud what at first appears as an architectural anomaly. From the outside, all one can see is a clay box perforated by a series of squares and rectangles – simple, yet utterly striking. Yet, even though its geometry seems out of place at first, as you approach the house and your eyes settled into the visual, it just fits.
The reason the house designed by MUKA arquitectura stands out is that it is aggressive not only in the choice of materials but also the painstaking curation. What seems like a fortress of rugged local materials, is a volume that is treated with carefully crafted lightness and appears to be floating in air. “We took one traditional square piece that was kind of “out of fashion” in Spain and did a new reading of, using this material,” explains architect Moisés Royo, CEO of MUKA arquitectura. The simple 'suspended' box with defined edges organises the plot, the dwelling’s uses, the privacy of its users and, above all, the light.
The tension between the solid clay and the repetitive voids allows the light to be sifted by the matter and continuously shaped throughout the day. "The client wanted to gain privacy from neighbours, whose buildings are so close, and at the same time have open views to his garden,” Royo continues while adding, “The home acquires two different approaches by differentiating the day-zoning (ground level) and the night-zoning (first level). The ground level connects the full size of the plot while the upper level is designed is such a way that the bedrooms afford privacy.”
The protagonist – light
One of the main design inspirations for the residential architecture and materiality is light itself, which plays a leading role within the home as well as how it appears to the outside world. Says Royo, “(The clay skin) … is reminiscent of ancient Arabic ceramic works, specialists in this kind of sun protection in buildings. The idea was that comfort can be approached not only with new technologies but also by reading classic solutions.”
The way light dances off the walls during the day with its shadows and reflections is beautifully crafted by how it is filtered in through the clay lattice skin. “(Clay was chosen) …because of its tradition in Spain, its price, texture and materiality – solid during the day, light and transparent at night while lights inside the house are on,” he explains. The natural character of clay with its terracotta hue not only helps to keep the interiors sheltered from the heat and direct light but also imparts a visual warmth. At night, the light from the interiors bounces out to the world shaped by the lattice skin and the movement within.
"In Spain there is a lot of natural light. The problem, in contrast with European Nordic countries, is how to filter the light. Hence the idea of a ceramic skin that surrounds the whole first floor gives a solution of having natural light with so many slight differences. The sunlight in winter goes through the holes and delivers direct natural light into the bedrooms. Meanwhile in summer, the thickness of the material brings in shade, keeping the temperature inside the house much more comfortable,” adds Royo.
The relationship with the ground – the lower level
Also named Casa Farol, the house was designed in two levels. The ground floor is made up of the main entrance and the more public spaces of the home like the kitchen, guest bathroom and living room which opens out to the surrounding pool. The upper level, which is covered in the clay skin, comprises private bedrooms, dressing room, study, private bathrooms and terrace.
“The ground floor consists of two horizontal planes of exposed concrete – the floor and ceiling – creating a kind of “compression” from the materiality in that space,” Royo explains. It creates a kind of sandwich between which most of the activity of the house takes place and emphasises the horizontal visuals yet still affording privacy from the neighbouring plots. “The ground floor area is designed in such a way that being in the living area you have a controlled view of the whole plot and the gate of the house. The open plan, which is both additionally and partially embedded in the ground, creates new visual relations not only with the plot but also with the sky by diagonal views. In that way, the plot seems larger than it really is by the incorporation of diagonal point of views,” he adds.
Expansive floor-to-ceiling windows help to solidify the relationship of the outside with the interiors, almost blurring the boundaries between the two spaces while the placement and clay lattice 'curtain' shields the view in. Within this purposefully-crafted visual lies one diagonal architectural element – the concrete staircase – which also shields the kitchen. Cutting through the minimal oasis of metal, white and concrete is the comforting warmth of wooden treads that serve as a transition between the concrete flooring on the ground floor and the ceramic flooring on the upper floor.
Moulding the light – the upper level
On the upper floor, the clay skin both 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 that protects the interiors, in some areas the lattice separates sufficiently to form a gallery and one additional room in the house. This again works to blur the boundaries between the inside and exterior world, though in a remarkably different way than the ground floor.
"On the upper floor all materials are white or neutral in order to give to the lattice work its particular relevance. It is very charming to see inside the bedroom, how a warm light effect comes into the rooms because of the reflection of the light in the ceramic holes. It gives a really calm atmosphere in the “resting areas”. The corridor on the upper floor has a desk in order to have a common space for work, instead of having separated zones. The idea is to have a common area for study instead of just creating independent areas where co-living does not exist at all,” Royo concludes.