A Dreamy Home in Catalonia Celebrates the Mediterranean Way of Life

Spanish architecture studio Mesura draws inspiration from the landscape and local vernacular to craft a rural retreat for a large family.

Spanish architecture firm Mesura is fascinated by the way architecture can shape a more meaningful experience of space and site. So, when the studio was approached by a large family who sought a second home in the Catalonian countryside where they could escape the city, the site became a driving force.

"They wanted a home that would offer different experiences of nature, as the plot has a privileged position surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea, fields, and mountains," says Benjamin Iborra Wicksteed, co-founder of Mesura.

"It was very important for both us and the client to touch the natural environment as little as possible—including the trees, land, and vegetation," says architect Benjamin Iborra Wicksteed. "This is why the house is positioned on the flattest part of the plot, so it doesn’t touch the forest found on the higher part of the site."

The vaulted ceiling is crafted from arcs of extruded clay supported by concrete, creating a pleasing rhythm. 

To bring this vision to life, Mesura incorporated the spirit of the local area—or the "genius loci"—to craft a home, known as Casa Ter, that celebrates its context. "We made a contemporary interpretation of it, using local knowledge of arts and crafts, as well as local materials and techniques," says Iborra Wicksteed.

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"The site is incredible," says architect Benjamin Iborra Wicksteed. "It’s a perfect reflection of the landscape of Baix Empordà, where there’s a constant contrast between the green of the vegetation, and the beige-brown color of the fields and the traditional local architecture."

"We investigated past examples—the works of the maestros who did a similar exercise in investigating and understanding vernacular Mediterranean architecture in order to interpret it to the way of living of their time," explains architect Benjamin Iborra Wicksteed. "Architects worth mentioning here are Josep Antoni Coderch, Josep Lluis Sert, Lanfranco Bombelli, Barba Corsini, and Antoni Bonet i Castellana." 

In addition to working with local materials, knowledge, and artisans, it was essential to create a sustainable home on the site, which runs from a flat landscape of fields up toward a forested hill. The building is situated on the flattest part of the site to avoid interfering with the natural topography and forest, and it incorporates passive design principles to reduce its environmental impact.

Steps lead down the sloped site from the patio to the pool, allowing the home to "drape" over the topography.

To protect the home from the sun in the summer, the south facade has less windows and a pergola over the terrace.

"The design’s layout, fabric, and form reduce or remove the need for mechanical cooling, heating, ventilation, and lighting," says Iborra Wicksteed. "The local climate in Baix Empordà is warm and humid, so shade, ventilation, and a connection between the interior and exterior spaces are key." Over time, vegetation will grow around the home and on the roof to provide further shading and protection.

For cross ventilation, the residents can open and close the large sliding doors around the porch, which the architect describes as "the heart of the home." Likewise, windows are positioned to provide breezes when necessary. 

The kitchen and living area leads to a traditional porch that connects to the second volume, which contains the private spaces. "We have broken up the distinction between interior and exterior spaces by using a central porch, which functions as a living area and opens up the entire home to the surroundings," says architect Benjamin Iborra Wicksteed.

The home takes its form from the landscape, with each of three distinct volumes oriented toward a different element of the site—the sea, the hills, and the fields. The public spaces are located in one volume, the private spaces are in another, and the two areas are connected by a traditional covered porch. The living areas extend out into nature—both through the covered porch at the heart of the home and carefully positioned windows that frame specific views.

Large sliding glass doors between the living room and covered porch can be opened or closed as needed, depending on the weather.

Emphasizing this connection to the land, Casa Ter is made from ceramics and concrete, referencing the strong ceramics culture in the surrounding La Bisbal area. "The color and worn-out texture reflect that of the landscape and autochthonous architecture in the area," says Iborra Wicksteed. Through its materiality, the home becomes a part of the site itself, almost appearing to grow from the land.

"Genius loci is one of our approaches to sustainability," says architect Benjamin Iborra Wicksteed. As a result of this approach, materials were sourced hyper locally—such as stones from the River Ter.

The clay used to construct the walls doesn’t just have a structural role— it also creates various textures that help the home blend into the surrounding landscape. To keep within budget, the structure of the home was kept as simple as possible—with the notable exception of the soaring vaulted ceiling in the principal bedroom.

The entire home is designed to celebrate a Mediterranean way of life. In the colder months, the south-facing exterior space gets sun, and the warm walls create a comfortable interior. In warm months, the exterior spaces are shaded and cross ventilation helps cool the interior. 

"We wanted to design a ‘patio house,’ capable of capturing maximum sunlight, while taking into account issues of privacy in regard to the neighbors," says Iborra Wicksteed.

A terrace covered by a pergola runs past the private volume (which contains three bedrooms of equal size and a bathroom on the ground floor) to the covered patio, and down the stairs to the pool. 

Carefully placed windows punctuate the minimalistic walls, creating a sensitive relationship between the interior spaces and the landscape.

The home also draws on local tradition through the use of Catalan vaulted ceilings, both in the principal bedroom and throughout the living space. The dramatic vault over the principal bedroom is a reinterpretation of the classic "curved ship" design found in many homes in fishing communities on the beaches of Costa Brava.

The vaulted ceiling above the principal bedroom is constructed from two layers of solid, hand-fired clay brick from local brand Rajoleria Llensa, and pieces of ceramic board from local brand Cerámiques Belianes.

The vaulted ceiling in the principal bedroom is based on the arc of a 21-foot-diameter circle that rises from its tangent with the ground-floor wall and culminates in the maximum regulatory height allowed, hence its asymmetry. It was the most costly part of the build, but "it was worth it because it gives the space a unique character, combining tradition with a contemporary approach," says architect Benjamin Iborra Wicksteed.

A window in the principal bedroom. "The relationship between interior and exterior is observant, contemplative, and subtle, due to the windows that frame the view," says architect Benjamin Iborra Wicksteed. "We approached these window frames like hanging up paintings—although instead of art, it’s views of nature."

The vaulted ceiling on the ground floor is constructed using "Mallorcan revoltón," a unique tile with a 90-centimeter diameter that is extruded from clay by the brand Baucells Ceramic.

The kitchen features a marble backsplash and a precisely placed window. The floors and internal walls are also crafted from clay and concrete.

The ground-floor living room features a low bench adorned with objets d’art that runs beneath a window that frames views of the surrounding trees.

"Our precedents were the local vernacular houses and their traditional construction," reveals Iborra Wicksteed. "By understanding how these homes worked and were built, we were able to incorporate elements into the design, adapting them to new ways of living and contemporary construction techniques."

Working with local professionals, materials, and techniques helped the project stay on budget, as the home was designed and constructed based on resources already present in the region.  

"Our creative process is rooted in questioning and listening, and we design our architecture based on values, not a particular aesthetic style," says architect Benjamin Iborra Wicksteed. "It is why this home is almost tailor made for our client."

"We were lucky to have a strong connection with the client from the beginning," says Iborra Wicksteed. "They communicated their needs and expectations in a very precise way, and we listened carefully. We also share a similar set of values—sense of place, sustainability, a contemporary way of living—which turned the process into a very smooth journey. It speaks for itself, and we are both very happy with the result."

The walls of Casa Ter are made from local clay. The texture of the facade mimics the patina of the time-worn walls of the nearby town.  

The flat roof, which is accessible from the first floor, has been planted with native vegetation, which will help to provide insulation as it grows.  

The steps that lead from the covered patio down to the pool are crafted by a local brand, creating a connection between the built form and the site.  

An experiment showing the roof volumes of Casa Ter by Mesura

Exploded axonometric drawing of Casa Ter by Mesura

Site plan of Casa Ter by Mesura

Floor plan of Casa Ter by Mesura

Elevation of Casa Ter by Mesura

Section of Casa Ter by Mesura

Section of Casa Ter by Mesura

Related Reading:

A Creative Family Turn an Old Spanish Farmhouse Into an Incredible Home

In Barcelona, Vaulted Ceilings Are Always a Win

Project Credits:

Architect of Record: Mesura / @mesura.eu

Builder: Burgos Gasull

Structural Engineer: Joan Capdevila

Landscape Design: Mesura

Interior Design: Mesura

Engineer: Campanyà Vinyeta


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