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Oenological restorative: Aulets Arquitectes, Spain

Preoccupied with the preservation of the architectural culture of Mallorca, Aulets learn from the simple structures of their namesake to create sustainable and contextual local architecture 

Aulets Arquitectes has been shortlisted for the AR Emerging Architecture awards 2018

Formed by a copse of ancient carob or oak trees in the hot dry farmlands of Mallorca, an aulet offers animals respite from the sun and fruit to eat. The small Spanish island in the Balearic Sea may be associated for many with cheap all-inclusive holidays and English breakfasts, but for Francisco Cifuentes and Sebastian Martorell, founders of Aulets and based in Palma, this is a serious architectural concern.

Vinicola final 02 Plà i Llevant in Felanitx, Mallorca, by Aulets Arquitectes

Plà i Llevant in Felanitx, Mallorca, by Aulets Arquitectes

‘Being an architect in Mallorca is to think through alternative projects to change the hyper tourist society that exists here,’ Cifuentes and Martorell admit. The small clutch of Balearic Islands including Mallorca, Ibiza, Menorca and Formentera are inundated with over 15 million tourists a year. In response, Aulets have tasked themselves to protect and uphold the island’s architectural and natural heritage.

In some ways, this is literal – in 2012, the pair contributed to the restoration of Jørn Utzon’s Can Lis, which is now available for student residencies and pricey architectural getaways. In other ways, this ambition is realised by forging a distinctively Mallorcan architecture shaped by its unique landscape and climate, such as their Casa Bunyola, built along an ancient path in the mountains ‘that a man on foot or a donkey are the only ones to ever pass through’ in their by-now-characteristic terracotta thermal block.

Aulets site map

Aulets site map

In one of Aulets’ latest projects, they have achieved both. The central and eastern part of Mallorca has seen a recent resurrection of wine production thought to have begun with the Romans (Pliny was a fan), quenching sun-drenched tourists’ thirst for alcohol. In the small town of Felanitx, an hour east of Palma and in the heart of these wine lands, Aulets have breathed new life into an oenological station built in 1910 and abandoned since 1940, and now the new home for the regulatory Denominación de Origen for the region, the ‘Plà i Llevant’. 

The building’s grand stone door frames and gorgeous local hydraulic tiles (for which Mallorca is famous) have all been lovingly restored and windows have been recycled to bring them up to contemporary comfort standards. It is an essay in sensitive but transformational restoration, developing a refined and beautiful language of old and new: all existing masonry walls are coated in the same lime produced just across town, new partitions for the bathroom and lift shaft are in Aulets’ trademark ceramic block, and insulation is made from cork, all are sustainable materials. 

Aulets drawings

Aulets drawings

Click to download

The pair work mainly with materials readily available on the island, such as ceramics and sandstone. ‘This architecture offers a solution from the global to the local,’ Cifuentes and Martorell explain, ‘global in terms of the use of materials that reduce carbon dioxide, and at the local level that the buildings are designed to take advantage of all the climatic resources of the place’.

Aulets interventions are congruous but confident and unsentimental. When the original traditional railings run out at the top of the first floor, threaded steel rods carefully bent into balustrades complete the landing. Most striking is the ingenious use of the off-the-shelf composite concrete beams that have been turned upside down so that the zigzag rebar articulates the ceiling of the floor below, from which lighting is conveniently suspended. The same inexpensive steel rebar extends outside the building to create the sinews of an impossibly fine pergola sheltering the front patio. All this was achieved on an extraordinarily low budget of just €245,000. 

Aulets are inspired by ‘anonymous builders’ – the countless unnamed hands who designed and built many of the beautiful, highly useful and efficient structures of Mallorca’s countryside, of which aulets are one. Rather than looking abroad for inspiration, the pair insist it is ‘anonymous architectures and the different layers of stories of the places that are our source of information’.

Vinicola final 30 Plà i Llevant in Felanitx, Mallorca, by Aulets Arquitectes

Plà i Llevant in Felanitx, Mallorca, by Aulets Arquitectes

Architect: Aulets

Photographs: José Hevla

This piece is featured in AR November issue on Emerging Architecture and the Netherlands – click here to purchase your copy today 

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