Thirteen Houses and One Model

architects bosch.capdeferro arquitectures
project Patio Houses, Celrá, Girona, Spain
written by Roger Such

PDF Download: Click here.

During an informal conversation on the construction site, one of the architects explained: We had some sort of initial intuition: since the very beginning, our intention was to have a shared garage, hidden from the street, because we wanted the houses to have inner patios, an intimate space for a person to retreat; nevertheless, we primarily knew very well from the very beginning – though perhaps this is not a correct thing to say – what we did not want it to look like.


The starting point of a project can be various and multilayered. Some start from intuition or suggestion, they wander through personal obsessions, or apply some research they perhaps currently do. Others, on the contrary, perhaps less pretentious, immediately start with the professional routines: programme, constructions, location, following the usual course of action in architectural designing. Nevertheless, there are also those who, without giving up on all the mentioned methods, start from denial, from certain unease, from disagreement with the found conditions.


Construction of thirteen patio houses in the town of Celrà, the work of architects Bet Capdeferro and Ramon Bosch, certainly belongs to the last category. Apart from designing the houses, their concept at the same time represents a criticism of the found surroundings, and, as we will see later on, expresses disagreement with the model of Garden City of the kind that was developed in Celrà, where there is no more trace, either of a city, or of a garden.


As well as many other Catalan municipalities, Celrà has grown by expanding over plots that were dispersed around the historical nucleus, consisting of both independent houses and row houses. The zone where this project has been realized is similar, with an honourable exception: Pagans tannery, typical Catalan modernist[1] industrial assembly, the Town Council at present time, which reintroduced certain urbanity to this location.


Together with the factory the realization represents a reaction to this banal urbanism. As we shall see later on, it is offered here as a real alternative. If we sometimes wonder what research is through projects in architecture – we shall find a good example in Celrà.


The first urban contribution of the project appears in the general form of the ensemble. In opposition to the unremarkable surroundings of family houses and the overall lack of form encouraged by the model of a Garden City, this project is a critical expression in form of a unique intervention, almost as a single building, with stable perimeter and recognizable volume, which insists on the importance of urban form in the creation of a town.


A unique entity of indented contours is, therefore, suggested, resulting from adaptation to the construction site, as well as from the repetition of the pattern. The buildings are connected as links of the chain. At first sight, we are not faced with thirteen patio houses, but find ourselves in front of one single building, a unique constructed entirety, yet another part of the industrial complex – such as workers housing in a company town, we could say.


The entire complex is covered with dark ceramic tiles, stressing the industrial character of the project, opaque and almost hermetic. Monolithic quality of the form at such a place motivates a strong feeling of abstractedness. In opposition to the neighbouring buildings, transitions between the units are not visible, we do not see the roofs, there are almost no windows on the facade, and even the access is unnoticeable. Any picturesqueness is gone in the name of overall abstractedness which isolates the building from the surrounding ones and identifies it with the factory: as if both buildings, the factory and the patio houses, are completely alien to their surroundings.


The section reveals severity of the entire operation. Shared parking lot with one entrance is hidden in the background of the ground level. Thus there are no vehicles in front of the facade, however, all other usual elements of such settlements are lacking: fences, pathways, garage doors, small gardens, lawn mowers, and similar. The entire ground floor is thus returned to the city in favour of an urbanity which reminds us of some central European solutions.


Seen from the outside, the building is hermetic and closed, non-transparent, like the walls of a fortress, but – what does its interior look like? What happens behind this impenetrable facade? On the inside, the house is open and full of light. A series of patios covered with light ceramic tiles structures the building, indicating a large typological contribution of this project: in opposition to the surrounding buildings that have depth of twelve metres, this extension is here increased to thirty metres, incorporating the patio in its inner structure.


The section confirms the strength of such a decision. On the side facing the street, the building emerges as one volume on three levels, including most of its programme (kitchen, bedrooms, and bathroom). On the side facing the garden, it is, on the contrary, reduced to the living room which extends deeply into the plot, transformed into a little pavilion. The trees in the garden are well integrated in the architecture: there is an impression that the house is actually a pavilion in a garden. It is sufficient to re-examine the section in order to notice isolated quality of this zone – almost as if it were a shelter.


The building resembles two houses in one: a house in a row on the side facing the street, mainly characterized by its façades, and on the other side, inside the plot, a pavilion in a garden. We could say that the project combines two models in one building: row houses and patio houses in a multi layered combination. Or, in other words, the project combines two universal archetypes of the history of the traditional city: the urban façades of the streets of the Gothic Age and the ancient patios of the Mediterranean cities. Streets and patios pledge for a different model and a real alternative of the Garden City.


There is a kind of architecture which, in addition to mere construction, is capable of offering solutions to urban issues with suggestions. Such architecture solves all the complexities of the task with one strike, while it provides critical contribution for the benefit of the entire city, at the same time it is an alternative that should be taken into consideration. The thirteen houses, built by Ramon Bosch and Bet Capdeferro in Celrà, can definitely be put into this category. Starting with intense repulsiveness for the location, and using intelligent interpretation of the programme and normative – apart from construction of raw houses with patios – application of an entirely new model has been tested in Celrà.


[1] In Catalonia, modernism denotes a style of Art Nouveau (t.n.)