An old stone-built ruin in a breathtaking setting, surrounded by 25 hectares of oak forest with distant views of the Mediterranean sea. Local building regulations stipulate that the building had to be rebuilt as it once was, but we, being both the architects and the owners, were seeking a more spectacular and modern house.
Our work aimed to create a modern, luxury estate in an old stone envelope. We've opened the house up on all sides, letting the light flood in and bringing the view inside. The house sits on a steep incline and we set out to connect house and garden on various levels, sometimes adding levels where suitable. Another important part of the concept was to treat all our interventions as a new “layer”, interacting with the old stone building, rather than melting into it. This brings out both the beauty of the old, and lends a strong presence to the new.
When this was a farmhouse, traditionally the animals would have lived downstairs, with the livings spaces upstairs. We therefore chose to place the bedrooms on the lower level (so they stay nice and cool in summer) and the living spaces on the first floor, to make best use of the views and to allow direct access to a newly created level of the terrain, which forms the south facing part of the garden and contains a spectacular swimming pool. In this south wall we designed sliding folding doors, so the entire façade of the kitchen / dining room opens onto the deck and the pool. A gigantic, hydraulic, Corten shutter provides shade in summer, while allowing winter sun to enter freely. Two large double height spaces, the entrance with its sculptural staircase and the library, give the house a nice spatial transparency and link the living spaces with the bedroom floor. Enormous Corten steel boxes mark these spaces in the façade, a clear departure from the typical Spanish barn house language with its small windows.
In order to create a house that would be comfortable year round, we insulated to Passivhaus standards, using cork insulation, which is locally produced (in part from the cork of this house's estate). These are set behind Claytec panels of straw en clay, making sure the old stone wall remains a breathable construction, while keeping the warmth in during winter and the heat out in summer. The finish with natural clay plaster eliminates the need for paint, making the house an utterly non-chemical environment.
The choice of materials is a key strength of this project. Oiled hardwood windows are set deep in Corten steel boxes, marking the opening in the old stone wall as a “hole”, rather than creating a new surface of stone, wood and glass. This made it possible to design sliding windows, which disappear into the wall when opened (behind the Claytec panels), so that the view towards the sea is uninterrupted. The clay plaster of the internal walls, which has been endlessly worked to form a smooth, rather than a rustic, surface, possesses great beauty with its uneven, cloudy colouring. The floors are all done in polished concrete mixed with oxide powder, and finished with bees wax. This creates an environment that is welcoming to kids running in and out with dusty or dirty feet, and yet is very elegant.
A natural pool with a plant and gravel filter system provides an additional spectacular view from the living spaces year round. The house has a geothermal installation for under floor heating and hot water, and stays pleasantly cool in summer without air conditioning, thanks to well designed cross ventilation through open doors and windows, and, during extremely hot spells, the under floor cooling. There will soon be a hybrid installation (solar panels plus a small windmill) to provide off the grid electric power. All water is recycled through a reed bed and used for irrigation of the garden. The garden was completely designed by the architect, following the standards for “Water Wise” gardens. It features beautiful, hardy vegetation which needs minimal irrigation.
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