Nature as Muse
Architects at the Madrid studio of Selgascano have their head in the trees
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 7/1/2009 12:00:00 AM
José Selgas and Lucía Cano have a thing about trees. About nature, too, and "not making a barrier to it," Selgas says. The married couple's 15-year-long professional partnership, Selgascano, now makes its home amid towering acacia, oak, and ash trees. The wooded site, approximately 8 miles from the center of Madrid, was already one familiar to the architects: a housing development called La Florida, where they previously built a family house for clients.
Now, as then, Selgas and Cano carefully selected their location with an eye toward conservation and minimal impact. Not a single tree was cut down to make room for the studio's 750-square-foot structure. Then, going against the grain for most architects, the partners opted to downplay the studio's visual impact, too. "We put it partially below grade," Cano explains. Which isn't to say that the building is inconspicuous. It's not every day that one comes upon a 62-foot-long tube, half of it transparent, on a walk through the woods.
One long front face, the north side, is a curved sheet of acrylic. Opposite, the south side is opaque, constructed from polyester and fiberglass panels sandwiching insulation material. The ends are a modern iteration of ages-old tent flaps, rendered in steel-framed acrylic—both open up completely with the help of a hand crank. What are not immediately apparent are the concrete stairs cut into the earth, leading down to the entry, and the shallow concrete trough that forms the structure's underground foundation and lower walls.
Need we spell it out? Selgascano went eco in a passive way. The clear front maximizes sunlight. According to Cano, daytime hours require absolutely no supplemental sources: "Spain has sun all year. Winter or summer, we don't use artificial light. Never." Exceptions are made, of course, for late-night charrettes. Even then, however, the necessary light comes primarily from a scattered assortment of industrial-looking task lamps.
Ventilation follows a similar plot line. The studio needs no air-conditioning, since the tubular shape naturally causes air to flow through when the end flaps are raised. Trees also play a role in temperature control. In summer, their leafy canopies shade the interior; in winter, the lack of leaves lets the solar effect take over. Likewise, Selgas notes, "We barely need heating. The most eco-friendly energy is the kind that's never used."
The organization of the space is equally pared-down. All eight studio members, principals included, sit in pairs at a row of white lacquered work surfaces that cantilever from the concrete base of the rear wall, between runs of open shelving. There's more of that shelving along portions of the opposite wall, where the below-grade section is painted a lively chartreuse. Dividing the front from the rear visually, floorboards are painted lemon yellow on one side and white on the other.
Given the openness and airiness, we wondered if Selgas and Cano might have drawn upon a certain beloved modernist pavilion in Barcelona for inspiration. No, Selgas told us: "That wasn't it at all. We had no previous thoughts." Just respect for the trees and the project's parameters. Pressed for his own description, he responds, "We could say it seems like a greenhouse, adjusted for people."
What there isn't any of is privacy—no fully enclosed office or conference room anywhere. But that helps to combat the potential for claustrophobia, which might rear its ugly head in a space that is, after all, a tube partly buried in the ground. Selgas dispels any such thoughts, and he has firsthand experience.
PROJECT TEAM BASCOPÉ CARPINTERIAS: WOODWORK. TCI CERRAJÉRIA TECNICA INDUSTRIAL: METALWORK.
PRODUCT SOURCES THROUGHOUT INDUSTRIAS DEL METACRILATO: CUSTOM SHELVING.