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Balancing blocks: Casa St Cugat, Catalonia, Spain, Camps Felip Arquitecturia

AR House awards 2019 shortlisted: The seemingly impregnable corrugated aluminium carapace of Camps Felip Arquitecturia’s Casa Sant Cugat contrasts with light-infused private inner rooms overlooking a private central garden

Sprawling between two mountain ranges in Sant Cugat del Vallès, Catalonia, is the residential district of Mira-sol – a sprawling suburb dominated by private villas. Amid the ubiquitous terracotta, Camps Felip Arquitecturia’s mysterious Casa Sant Cugat emerges like a mirage. The single-family home comprises four rectangular volumes individually enveloped in corrugated aluminium, and connected by glass walkways. Its rigorous geometry and unconventional materials instantly distinguish Casa Sant Cugat from its red-brick, pitched-roofed neighbours. Though this distinctiveness invites attention, the house, paradoxically, centres on privacy.

‘While the size and shape of the blocks would ordinarily make for a dense, hulking building, its delicate aluminium skin lends Casa St Cugat an ethereal quality’

From the outside, Casa Sant Cugat betrays nothing of its inner life. Two small windows punctuate the street-facing facade at first-floor level, while a thin metal lintel slices the air above a solid, silver door. Finely perforated screens that mimic the house’s oscillating skin obscure the openings, rendering the facade even more impenetrable. The building even resides behind a border of looming metal bars. The hostility of such a perimeter, however, has now been softened by the vines that weave through its gaps.

Axo

Axo

Crouching behind the double-height block overlooking the quiet lane are three single-storey blocks creating what the architects describe as: ‘A space of spaces or a house of houses’. Indeed, the four separate cubes huddle closely together, but rather than creating a cross-shaped corridor between them, each block has been shifted off axis to allow a small garden to emerge at the centre of the floor plan. Unlike the restrained openings of the external elevations, those facing the internal flowerbed are far more generous. Each block frames the space with either an enormous, deep-set window or a sliding glass door. This shared view helps to unify the individual blocks, in spite of their rigid programming.

Crop ar house shortlist camps felip

Crop ar house shortlist camps felip

Click to download

Like the austere geometry of the floor plan, the function of the spaces too is strictly defined. The ground floor of the tallest block is reserved for reading and piano, while an office occupies the entire upper level. Through to the right of this is the volume housing the kitchen and living room, the former entirely white and the latter rather minimalist, and both spacious and flooded with natural light. The remaining two volumes each accommodate a bedroom and bathroom. The location of these rooms within the scheme is further testament to its prioritisation of privacy. The most personal quarters, the bedrooms, are situated farthest from the entrance, and feature floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors that open up to a semi-enclosed garden at the rear of the house. Meanwhile, the public areas such as the kitchen and reading room are positioned at the front of the dwelling.

In addition to the view of the central garden, the complex is further united by its simple material palette. While the exterior is clad in sheet metal, the prevailing material on the inside is a smooth, lightly coloured timber. This adorns the floor, window sills and some token walls throughout the scheme. The glass walkways, which connect the individual blocks, are paved with polished concrete inlaid with pale, dainty pebbles and lined on either side by a bed of houseplants.

Crop ar house shortlist camps felip plan

Crop ar house shortlist camps felip plan

Click to download

Casa Sant Cugat is, ultimately, a house of carefully balanced contradictions. While the size and shape of the blocks would ordinarily make for a dense, hulking building, its delicate aluminium skin lends Casa Sant Cugat an ethereal quality. Although little light penetrates the exterior facades, the glass corridors, enormous internal windows and central garden give the house a bright and expansive atmosphere. In balancing these elements, Casa Sant Cugat also embodies the tensions between private and public family life – pulling it off with style and simplicity.

All photographs by José Hevia

The AR July/August issue on AR House + Social housing is available to buy here

Suifan Adey is an alumnus of the New Architecture Writers (N.A.W.), which is a free programme for emerging design writers, developing the journalistic skill, editorial connections and critical voice of its participants. N.A.W. focuses on black and minority ethnic emerging writers who are under-represented across design journalism and curation. N.A.W. was founded in 2017 by Phineas Harper and Tom Wilkinson with the Architecture Foundation and the Architectural Review and you can read more about it here

 

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