AR House 2015 Finalist: an infinite plane facing the infinite sea, Baeza calls this the most radical house the practice has ever built
In Jean-Luc Godard’s 1963 film Contempt, Brigitte Bardot sunbathes atop the stepped red masonry box of the then abandoned Casa Malaparte, a besuited Michel Piccoli at her side. A parapet, one brick high, is all that stands between them and a grisly fate against the craggy perimeter of the Isle of Capri – most definitely Casa Malaparte’s ‘wrong side’.
In this spirit Estudio Campo Baeza’s House of the Infinite, a spartan block looking out across the Atlantic, eschews the isolated, dramatic and rocky settings of Casa Malaparte or the work of Alberto Ponis for the idyllic beaches of Cádiz. The risk of death here is dramatically lower, but don’t let that spoil the view: an understated two storeys above soft sand, this is a place for serene reflection rather than the Bond-villain style dispensing of nemeses.
The site is a stone’s throw from Bolonia, what is now a coastal beach resort but was once home to the Roman fishing village of Baelo Claudia, the incredibly extensive ruins of which still stand. Part pontoon and part classical stereobate, House of the Infinite draws upon these ancient ruins – among them a theatre, baths and a garum factory – in both its solemn formal appearance and lavish deployment of travertine, cut into to create deep apertures as though it were a grandiose bunker.
This treatment of form has become characteristic of Estudio Campo Baeza. At both Casa Rufo in Toledo (2013) and the De Blas house in Madrid (2000), solid boxes are extruded and cut into in response to often-dramatic sites.
But this austere exterior treatment belies interior intimacy: the ground floor communal area, surrounded by bedrooms, spills out onto a travertine plane and directly onto the beach, the presence of which is virtually unavoidable except for on the staircases and in the bathrooms.
Access to the roof is provided via a staircase nestled in a trench dug out of the hillside, creating a route that simultaneously moves deeper back into the site and upwards toward the roof, which sits at street level. There are more straightforward means of entry, but this shaded preamble reinforces the impact of the roof, where flat travertine meets the horizon and – if the light is right – earns the House of the Infinite its name by rendering the edge of the roof endless. While at Casa Malaparte you are profoundly aware of your precarious setting, here you are encouraged to forget where building ends and sky begins, or, with the balustrade fitted, imagine you are setting sail at the helm of a stone ocean liner.
‘You are encouraged to forget where building end and sky begins, or imagine you are setting sail at the helm of a stone ocean liner’
The roof plane is articulated by a miniature rectangular ‘theatre’ and a swimming pool that sits flush with the terrace, with several scattered glazed holes for light cannons that reveal the layout of the rooms beneath. A narrow cut into the stone marks the staircase down to a first-floor courtyard and, once inside, what was made by the exterior fenestration to look cavernous is in fact a bright, clean space. Here, another staircase leads to the ground or ‘beach’ floor, some 10 metres below street level where the detailing remains delicate.
This uncompromising house exudes luxury, and while it did not meet the jury’s criteria for modest and unpretentious design, they recognised that it is a home of the highest quality.
House of the Infinite
Architect: Alberto Campo Baeza
Project team: Tomás Carranza, Javier Montero, Alejandro Cervilla García, Ignacio Aguirre López, Gaja Bieniasz, Agustín Gor and Sara Oneto
Structural engineer: Andrés Rubio Morán
Photographs: Javier Callejas