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Social Housing Units by Lui Martínez Santa-María, Mocejón, Toledo, Spain

Lui Martínez Santa-María provide affordable housing with a quirkly brutalist terraced social housing scheme constructed from local brick . Photography by Roland Halbe

Mocejón is a small municipality in the province of Toledo, central Spain. With under 5,000 residents, this quirkily brutalist social housing scheme provides affordable housing for 27 families, arranged in two parallel terraces. As is often the case when working for social housing providers, standardisation was one of the project’s key client drivers, in this instance based on a three-bedroom, two-storey house type. The architects, however, did not want to produce a standardised architectural response and the plans reveal a subtle ambiguity that Madrid-based architect Luis Martínez Santa-María describes as ‘a symmetrical asymmetry’.

The aim was to avoid the potential for a monotonous and clumsy composition, slavishly derived from an array of repetitive plans.

The terrace takes the standard three-bedroom plan, pairing and mirroring it around shared patios and party walls (which then became diaphragm walls to contain essential service runs). Entered from the north, narrow passages lead to deep-set, embedded patios that unify neighbouring front doors. From here, two axis are established, either by turning through 90° to reach to the hall and stairwell, or by continuing straight on through large, full-height, hinged windows (described by the architect as ‘big windows, not a door - but which can be used as doors’) that link street with patio with garden.

On the upper level, three bedrooms are arranged around a shared bathroom and across the scheme, only two variant plans exist, with a four-bedroom unit positioned at the end of each terrace and a single storey, fully accessible unit at the east end of the northernmost terrace.

While logical and repetitive in plan, it is in section and elevation where the rules begin to break. The final architectural expression is anything but unitised, with the architect deploying a number of formal moves that help to subvert any sense of overt repetition. Each terrace has a strong duality between front and back, by splitting each along its length to express two mono-pitch cross sections set either side of the embedded patios. Through this, by

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From the front, the aim was ‘to remove any reference of the individual house’. Standalone, each house has little architectural significance, explains the architect, however, the unification of the terrace from the street was a key architectural ambition. To screen the expression of each individual house, the front elevation has a singular horizontal emphasis, amplified by both a jettied first floor that projects over the pavement and by the extension of the continuous ribbon window along its length. At each end, the upper-level projection continues around the corners to cantilever out, framing the entire composition and providing necessary floor space for the larger four-bedroom units.

By contrast, the rear elevations have a stronger vertical delineation that distinguishes one house from the next in line with party and garden walls. Further scrutiny reveals how the arrangement of the rear mono-pitch forms breaks away from the paired and mirrored rhythm at the front. By arranging adjacent units in a simple array, the rear of the terrace lends a more familiar domestic scale to the private gardens. A final formal shift occurs with the garages, set between and serving both terraces, and twisted off axis to create a serrated perimeter wall.

Unified by the use of local brick, the architect’s attention to detail in plan and section is manifest right through to the scheme’s construction details, with myriad brick bonds employed across the site.

The most conspicuous of these being in waveform on the jettied portion of the front elevation, that seeks to blur any notion of subdivision as the distorted perpend joints misalign. The floors of the patios and terraces, and the garden and garage walls give material continuity, as do the hall and stairwells that are further articulated by colour-glazed tiles.

Architect Luis Martínez Santa-María
Project team Rafael Prieto Arévalo, María Paz Bartolomé Guijarro, Pedro Magro de la Plaza, Alfredo Baladrón Carrizo, Virginia Navarro de la Flor
Structural engineer Enrique Martínez y Félix Aramburu

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