La Trufa by Anton Garcia-Abril and Ensamble Studio 14.07.10

  • The cabin is called "The Truffle" for obvious reasons

  • The impression of the straw bales is visible in the interior walls

  • Concrete being poured in the hole, around the straw

  • The structure is dug out of the earth

It's rare that a building looks like nothing else of its kind, but "La Trufa", by Anton Garcia-Abril and Ensamble Studio is one such work. On paper it's almost nothing: a small cabin on Spain's west coast looking out over the Atlantic ocean, with just enough space for a bed, a fire and a table. But it is a remarkable little building – it looks as if it has been carved out from the very cliffs it stands upon.

"The main idea was to try to build nature," says Anton Garcia-Abril. The simplicity of the programme allowed for an experimental approach to this conceptual paradox. The project is an attempt to "turn natural geological procedures into a synthesis of architecture – it is the integration of different aspects of nature: the mineral, vegetable and the animal."

To make the building, a hole was dug in the ground, and straw bales placed in it to define the negative space in the cabin. Then concrete was poured into the hole around the straw, without any reinforcement or formwork. After three layers of this process, the earth was dug away to expose the block, and the ends were sliced off to reveal openings. The concrete represents the mineral and the straw the vegetable; the animal aspect of the project was Paulina. Over the course of a year this young calf slowly ate away the straw to reveal the interior space of the cabin. It provided her with both food and shelter.

"The Truffle" was then transformed into a building by turning the openings into a window, a door and a chimney, and then adding a few articles of furniture. Garcia-Abril thinks of it as an echo of Le Corbusier's Cabanon in Cap Martin, France. But the master's seaside shack was made of timber, La Trufa is béton brut. Indeed the concrete, bearing both the imprint of the earth outside and the straw inside, is far more organic than any work of brutalism. It speaks a language of authenticity, of dwelling, weight and traces. It hints at a deeper connection to nature. Its closest relative is Peter Zumthor's Bruder Klaus Chapel in Germany (icon 050), a similarly "phenomenological" concrete building which used tree trunks as formwork, before slowly burning them away to reveal the texture beneath.

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There are apertures for a door, windows and a chimney

This little building contrasts with some of Ensamble's other work: the Martemar House in Malaga and the Hemeroscopium House near Madrid both use sets of almost comically oversized structures in highly charged balancing acts. The ragged and squat Trufa might seem to be a departure from this logic. But Garcia-Abril sees all of the projects as part of the same line of inquiry. "The differences and similarities are very intense," he says. "It is the same story but with different directions. We work with stressed structures, very tensed lines, but we also work with mass, with the weight of material." It seems that Ensamble is taking lessons from the brutalists and applying them in new, very different ways.

But is La Trufa just a gimmick, a one-liner? Garcia-Abril thinks not: Ensamble is working on a church based upon the same techniques, though expanded to a much larger size, a tantalising proposition. "These small structures give us clues," he says, and with tongue firmly in cheek, adds: "It's like scientific research – you do it with a rat, then you do it with a pig, and if it still works you can try it out on humans."

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The negative space defined by the straw bales (image: Anton Garcia-Abril and Ensamble Studio)



Roland Halbe



Douglas Murphy

quotes story

The main idea was to try to build nature

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Paulina the calf eats the straw (image: Anton Garcia-Abril and Ensamble Studio)

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