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Firing on all Cylinders: Tobogan House in Madrid by Z4Z4 + Z4A

AR_EA 2016 Finalist: Z4Z4 + Z4A responded to an exacting brief by creating a house in Madrid that is out of this world

What do you get when your client wants: a new home to represent their trips around the globe; to fulfil the desire to live in a garden; and (no mean feat this) a building that embodies the cinematic diversity of domestic life? The design of two different houses on the same plot, that’s what.

Casa Tobogan (from Z4Z4 + Z4A, the ‘Office of Atmospheric Architecture’), juxtaposes two dwellings and a void that provides a car park, an entrance and two staircases. One of the houses is organised to embrace the earth. The other is more light-hearted, literally – in the air, flying at double height over the garden. The upper floor is formed by wrapping three empty cylinders with corrugated iron, curtains, air and mirrors. Inside the cylinders is the ‘super-interior’, nine rooms padded with wood, cotton, linen and silk, which offer total privacy.

Tobogan house axo

Tobogan house axo

The architects are Rafael Beneytez-Duran and Ophelia Mantz. And if the most important spatial interest of the complex is the ambiguous space that appears between the two houses, it is no surprise that the office Z4Z4 + Z4A itself celebrates duality: ‘Z4A is the narrative agency, connecting social, political, economic and ecological realms. Z4Z4 is the technical support.’

Now largely based in west Texas in the United States, Beneytez-Duran explains that the office began in Madrid – and that it was the experience of teaching summer courses at schools such as SAU Limerick and the AA that prompted expansion into other territories. ‘Our office started to work by Skype in order to coordinate different time zones but, more importantly, Skype allowed us to start working differently between ourselves.’ This experience, he says, ‘gave us a new vision’.

Tobogan house drawings

Tobogan house drawings

Ask Beneytez-Duran and Mantz what is unique in terms of their approach, and they say it is about ‘working with the world that is already done’. 

‘We work by looking for forms inside of our nowadays-relational forms, that later become artefacts. These artefacts are things well known previously, re-represented now. So we have a big debt to the past, and also to the present.’ 

Tobogan House

Architect: Z4Z4 + Z4A

Project team: Rafael Beneytez-Duran, Borja Iglesias, Ophelia Mantz, Víctor Cano, Elena Oña

Structural engineering: Juan Carlos Arroyo, Ignacio García (Calter) + Rafael Beneytez-Duran, Víctor Cano (Z4Z4)

Photographs: Miguel de Guzmán