La Carboneria Barcelona ( Casa Tarrago)

La Carbonería, a humble 1860’s collective housing estate in Barcelona, is the oldest building of the seminal Cerda’s Eixample neighborhood, easy to identify by its iconic square urban grid. The Eixample, home to most of Gaudi’s works, is the XIXth century enlargement that paved the city’s way to an urban and architectural success that lasts up until today.

In the pursuit of sustainability, the revaluation of history as well as past social and political conflict had as much impact on the material qualities and performance of our design as the energy simulations we did with our sustainability expert. 

The original stairwell of the building had been demolished by its previous owner following the eviction in 2014 of the squatters that had occupied it since 2008. Also, the Town Hall had catalogued the building recently, and, with this protection, it also imposed the obligation to recover the facade that was supposed to look to the never-built ghost boulevard, which however faced now two party walls meeting at a 90º angle barely ten meters away at its further point. 

Placing the stairwell and elevator in this furthest corner allowed us to unite the desires and needs of the different actors in the process in a more valuable and sustainable solution for all: The facade that explained Barcelona’s enlargement project and its history has been made available for view from the stairwell and walkways and have become part of the local daily life; the small patio is now a tridimensional public space for the neighbours, a more interesting view from their larger windows than the original party walls; and one more apartment could fit in the space vacated by the old stairwell, which helped justify the more complex solution plus it has increasead a much needed housing density in this desirable area of the city. 

Urban Space Station

A prototype for the general invasion of rooftops and other residual spaces with high biodiversity, redemptive ecosystems, USS-s serve as seeds, catalyzing a natural recuperation of the city’s surfaces. Their uses range from scientific and educative to recreational, while they capture carbon emissions and generate oxygen. ETFE’s double skin allows for the structure to be lightweight and creates a heat exchange. Rainwater accumulates in underbelly bags, while the texture design of the structure itself helps channel the airflow to generate electricity. Secondary use as ultra-fine particulate collector has demonstrated capable of passively cleaning street-level air near host buildings. A 40% of this prototype (USS 1.0)  was built and tested within the exhibition Souls & Machines, Digital Art & New Media, held in 2008, at the National Art Museum Reina Sofía in Madrid. In 2016, a 1:1 prototype was built for the Art Triennial Emscherkunst. Placed on top of an existent building, docked onto the air conditioning of the surrounding buildings, it created a cleaning circulation; the building’s waste air and warmth were filtered by the USSs plants, cleaned, and enriched with oxygen before it was led back into the building.


Satoyama Hill

What to do against tsunamis?

On March 11, 2011, a level 9 earthquake on the Richter scale, and the tsunami that followed, struck Eastern Japan. Over 18,000 people died or are missing, 394,386 houses were completely or seriously damaged and the urban infrastructure almost disappeared. The magnitude of the disaster made clear that a radically different approach to city planning is necessary in the region.

On Japanese media it is often discussed as a possible solution to future disasters a relocation to higher areas. The idea would imply leaving fisheries, tourist and recreational facilities near the sea, and relocating homes to new developments on hilltops. However, this would hinder a local economy based on local fisheries and activities related to ports, forcing people to commute daily. An added concern involves the potential environmental damage of quarrying hillsides and urbanizing mountains. Also, it would be difficult to concentrate all the population effectively on the sparse high grounds at predominantly flat areas such as, for instance, the Sendai plains.

Others propose to create elevated platforms for housing near the coast, but that threatens to claim a negative side effect, as they would become a barrier for the necessary continuity of public space at ground level.

Our response is to build artificial topographies as an evacuation site, combining them with residential units forming an artificial mountain (or artificial ‘Satoyama’, an ancient Japanese practice of harvesting the climate benefits of hillsides for better housing conditions in towns). These hills protect in their interior the essential public facilities, and an infrastructure of distributed energy. The population of the now washed-up areas will be able to easily evacuate within few minutes of a tsunami alarm onto the artificial hills located at regular intervals.

Our proposal strives to avoid the complete submission of urban, housing and infrastructure designs to fear. The new ‘Satoyama hills’ try to improve urban life and housing and infrastructure design, drawing clues from Japanese traditional best practices. Offering efficient escape in case of tsunami becomes a perfectly integrated by-product.

A prototype and two study-cases

As a study prototype we propose to create communities of around 5,000 people, including one ‘hill’ complex at the centre. The dimensions, specific configuration and program of each artificial hill will be established according to the characteristics of each location. These hills will contain homes for about 1,500 to 2,500 people distributed in one hill complex, and between 2,500 and 3,500 people would live around them, within 15 minutes of walking distance. The surface of the hill is a park that can be used daily and an evacuation site when necessary. The hill’s surface combines private gardens with public routes and greenery, while its interior accommodates commercial and recreational facilities and energy infrastructure creating a network of offices, medical facilities, nurseries, schools, cultural and sports areas, etc., along the coast. In case of disaster the hill will serve as a high ground for evacuation, and a backup power source for sanitary facilities and emergency housing.

We have studied the integration of these artificial hills in two topographically different locations that were intensely affected by the tsunami: the almost flat city of Ishinomaki; and the mountainous Kamaishi where we have also simulated the energetic advantages for one of these 5,000 people communities.

Public Housing Orcasitas

The form of this building is designed in accordance with its location. It opens, curves, and rises in relationship to the pre-existing buildings, expanding a notably precarious and scarce common areas. We propose a building that is capable of creating public space on its own. The competition rules called for buildings that create narrow streets and block the possibility of continuity between open areas. We propose an exercise in adaptation and continuity. In such an extreme situation it is paradoxical that the extension of a building beyond its prescribed limits favors the development and continuity of public space. The building slips among its companions allowing the width of the main street to expand. The elevation and the location and design of windows is optimized by taking into consideration the gaps between the surrounding buildings, providing longer views from them. The building was thought to offer views both from pedestrians on the street and from cars driving on the nearby M40 ring highway.

Beach House Abad

At the end of the 90’s, the family Abad Asensio started conversations with us to design a beach house they would use mainly for summer holidays and short weekends, which they would spend there with kids and friends. It was a big family asking for a versatile house to be built with a very low budget. The greatest challenge, however, came from lazy and inappropriate urban regulations that favored a pattern of out of place copy-paste isolated houses while preventing, instead, the ‘patio house’ long traditional in the area and its inherent sustainability principles.

The plot was located within a new urban development area that has been growing from the ‘90s till now within the Cabo de Gata Natural Park, an area of great natural beauty on the southern Mediterranean coast of Spain. Standardized banality has been the outcome of this process due to inadequate urban planning. OSS’ project had to serve as an escape from the neighboring urban landscape; it had to propose an alternative lifestyle and atmosphere. The project was also an attempt to design alternative solutions to the ‘patio house’ where modern urban regulations do not allow them. 

The house achieves all this by becoming a “Space Invader”: First, the ground floor has no strict separations between living room, kitchen and garden, it is an open space designed as a large platform, a launch pad over which the second floor floats casting its welcome shadow…  In a way, if it cannot be a ‘patio house’, it has transmuted into a ‘house patio’. The other crucial strategy involves sharing the views to the sea from the top floor. Usually limited to the bedrooms facing the sea, we decided these should be evenly distributed among all the inhabitants, which we achieved by means of one large window in the main hallway, which doubles as the only shower, large enough to be used by several family members at a time. A curtain can be drawn inside, and the partitioned window acts as a partial filter to the outside. 

We’ve dealt with the low budget restrictions at different levels. We used very few construction systems and materials bring in some other virtues besides being cheap. Thus, the main construction material is lightweight ceramic insulating block, which creates a stable interior climate and soft acoustics. Small openings on the first floor create cool conditions in the summer. The top floor casts a shadow on the lower floor. A simple glass layer and polycarbonate doors separates it from the garden, which is entirely covered with deciduous vines. This hanging garden creates a shaded area in summer, but allows sun to hit the glass in winter and heat up the interior with little energy expense. A green roof adds to the temperature stabilization and insulation of the house.

Public Housing Atocha

The site is located fifteen meters away from the railway tracks which run at the fourth-floor-level of the building. What could be an attractive setting, being able to look at passing trains, would stop being so if they became overwhelming. The position and attitude of the building when facing the railway is essential to this project. It rises so that no floor is below the tracks level. The façade of the first three floors is folded to transform the movement of trains in a choreography. The first four floors of the building are left open. A vertical garden connects the street with the inner block-patio. The structure design would allow the use of the roof without excessive extra cost.

Spy House

In reality, the Spy House in Princeton is a combination of office space and home for a commercial spy. The domestic space serves as a camouflage for the work that is taking place inside, subverting the assumed relationships between the public and private spheres. The domestic envelope of this project offers an illusion of casual private quarters for the more public activity it houses. This simultaneous act of encasement and exposure creates a space that becomes more secretive than the most intimate corner of a home, acknowledging the impossibility of complete privacy. The plans of the home were adapted from other, pre-existing, and well-known projects, becoming an exercise of appropriation typical of espionage

Block of flats

The municipal planning guidelines called for for a five storey block structure with tiny enclosed patios that would provide very little light to inner rooms. We chose to figuratively “commit suicide” in public (for the first time) and draw attention with a proposal that put the lives of future inhabitants before and above the fulfillment of absurd rules, even if it cost us all chances of winning the competition. The smaller footprint of the new building allowed green areas and sports facilities in a place where they were becoming scarce. In addition, the new higher building would become a marker, a sign of the nearby train station. It also intended to be the start of a prouder skyline for Leganés which is a bedroom-town completely built up in the postwar period at a constant height. The new tower established an ambiguous relationship with the locals and visitors to the city, somewhere between familiarity and pride.