words William Wiles
Hemeroscopium is an architect's fantasy –both in its appearance and in literal truth. Architect Anton García-Abril designed and built the house, near Madrid, for himself. And his creation is an architectural caprice, an apparently casual pick-a-sticks pile of giant structural elements that, on closer examination, reveals sophisticated thought and serious intent.
"In this house, we were the architects, the clients, and also the contractors, so we were really fully responsible for our acts," says García-Abril, founder of Madrid-based architect Ensamble Studio. And as well as simply making a home for himself, he decided to use the opportunity to test out some of Ensamble's research. "So the house of course is our family house, but it has also become our laboratory – we are living and experiencing the structures that we are using and the research that we were developing in the office. And we are receiving first-hand information, because usually as architects we only have reports of how our buildings behave."
Hemeroscopium is primarily composed of prefabricated, pre-stressed structural elements more commonly used in heavy-duty civil engineering – motorway bridges, drainage channels and the like. "We felt these very stressed structures could make a very light space because of the long spans we are able to construct," says García-Abril. He describes using these monster parts to defi ne spaces and "spatial conditions" as if sketching with them, or using them as mere "traces". "So the house … is a very light and transparent space that somehow contradicts the mass of different elements that comprise it."
The beams and conduits are assembled in an upward spiral or, as García-Abril says, a helical space "where every beam is supported by the previous one and supports the next one". This is topped by a 20-tonne granite counterweight. There's an undeniable streak of playfulness here – the architect used toy building blocks to experiment with ideas early in the design process. But while the outsize, toylike structural elements might make some think of a postmodernist joke, García-Abril says it owes far more to Mies van der Rohe than Michael Graves or Robert Venturi. The structure is legible and the parts highly functional; the whole house is in a state of equilibrium.
García-Abril and Ensamble are no strangers to whimsical experimentation in design. A previous project of theirs, La Trufa, is a small cabin built of raw concrete cast around hay bales – which were then excavated by a hungry calf called Paulina (Icon 085).
top picture credit Christian Schaulin
credit Christian Schaulin