PA5- Interpreting architecture

The work I’ve chosen is the “Casa de l’horitzó” or “Horizon house” designed by the Catalan studio RCR Arquitectes, founded by Rafael Aranda, Carme Pigem and Ramon Vilalta. This house was finally built in 2007 and it is based in La Garrotxa, a famous region in Girona known by its natural park and its extinct volcanoes. Also, it is beautifully located in La Vall de Bianya, between the views of the Pyrenees and a Romanesque church and between two levels, in the limit of a slope.

Exterior view of the house. Source: Archdaily

In relation to the position of the house, they decided to place it one meter and a half below the ground line. This way, the spaces are surrounded by a sensation of protection and shelter. However, the space isn’t oppressive, in fact it is quite the opposite. The house is completely open to the landscape thanks to its huge glass windows. Besides, the building is composed of different rectangular boxes with different atmospheres. For instance, the entrance is in the lower part of the field. The spaces are more open or closed according to their need of intimacy or privacy.  So, due to the fact that the house is buried under the ground and due to these boxes, some patios are generated. This also allowed the architects to place a pond. This house is an example of a perfectly integrated space in its surroundings. Even if it is of course an artificial space, it doesn’t seem so at all. In fact, I would even say it looks as if it had naturally been placed there. This work is the perfect combination between the trio’s passion for geometry and simplicity and of course, nature. As a matter of fact, one of the aims of the owners when designing the house was to create a space in direct interaction and equilibrium with the landscape. To be honest, I feel that the relationship between the house and its surrounding suggests an influence of organicism. I would even say it is an example of the latter. In the end, the house is integrated thanks to a reinterpretation of its elements. As in all RCR Arquitectes work, the house has been totally influenced by its topography or landscape (for the trio it is indeed a starting point when creating spaces).   

Pond. Source: Archdaily

“All their works have a strong sense of place and are powerfully connected to the surrounding landscape. This connection comes from understanding – history, the natural topography, customs and cultures, among other things – and observing and experiencing light, shade, colors and the seasons.
Each building designed by these architects (…) is uncompromisingly of its time and place. (…) They understand that architecture and its surroundings are intimately intertwined (…) [All of its values] are powerful tools for creating lasting and meaningful spaces. For these reasons (…) and for their ability to express the local, but also the universal [RCR] are awarded the 2017 Pritzker Architecture Prize.”

Pritzker prize jury about RCR Arquitectes. Source: Spanish architects


 Regarding functionalism, we could state that the house is an example of organic functionalism. The house definitely adapts to the human activities that will be carried out in it. An example of this is how the house is open or closed depending on the privacy of the room. This means that for instance the most public spaces such as the entrance or living room will be completely open. While on the other hand, bedrooms will be closed. Also, the form or composition of the house answers to the owner’s necessity of balancing their more independent and private life and their common one.

  At first glance, we can find three types of boxes: first, one squared and cubic box; then, one thinner and half the size of this bigger one; and finally 6 thinner boxes which would be a quarter of the squared one. These boxes are randomly placed along a horizontal axis and facing the lower level of the field. On top of that, this horizontal axis coincides with an interior corridor which links all boxes. In a way, the corridor makes you walk along the house in a natural and even unconscious way. The name of the house “Horizon house”, is directly related to the fact that the boxes are set along this horizontal axis. Overall the composition is quite horizontal, like a horizon. Moreover, although some boxes are repeated in the composition, they aren’t placed in a repetitive and exact way . So I wouldn’t say the building has rhythm. For instance, if every box had the same dimensions and all of them were placed with the same separation, it would indeed have rhythm. However, it is not the case. Also, the composition is not symmetric. On the contrary, the boxes are laid in a hierarchic way. We can observe that the most important and public rooms (entrance hall, living room) are definitely bigger than the more private ones. There is definitely a relationship of supremacy among the elements which is translated in a difference of size. We must also mention the fact that we could identify the boxes as modules, because they are unitary elements which serve as proportional units and are repeated on different scales. On top of that, we could understand that the composition could perhaps have been made with a grid of axes that serves as a guide. 

   Even though there are different types of boxes or modules, we can appreciate some regularity in the composition of the space. This plus the fact that the house is composed of rectangular and perpendicular planes and delimited by sharp and straight edges, causes a lack of movement in the building. I believe it is a rather static work. Overall, curved, twisted and irregular shapes (which obviously lack in the work) are the main responsibles for the sensation of movement in a building. Despite the difference between the sizes of the boxes, there is a notorious sense of unity in it. In other words, if something was added it would seem excessive; while if something was removed, it would seem as if there was something missing or lacking. From my perspective, the interior corridor and axis unifies and links the house, transforming the different boxes into a whole.  

Also, the space is organised around a center (the bigger squared box), which in ths case doesn’t coincide with the geometric center of the space. If it did, it would be placed in the midpoint of the axis. In addition, as well as in all works of RCR Arquitectes, there is an equilibrium between the different parts of the composition. There is harmony. The difference in size doesn’t disturb the order, in fact, it contributes to it. This means that we are talking about dynamic equilibrium in this case. In other words, “la Casa de l’horitzó” isn’t an example of a work of contrast, but one of balance. Another key characteristic for the studio that also stands out in this piece is the importance and the use of light. While all faces of the boxes’ facade are closed and “windowless”, one is covered by glass. This allows the light to enter the modules and bright up the rooms. The position of the glass and the use of light is completely strategic and it serves one purpose. This is the need to erase the limit between the interior and the exterior. Non-casually, the part of the boxes covered in glass is the one facing the slope. This all responds to the need of connecting interior and exterior and integrating the space. 

Exterior view that shows the glass facade. Source: Despierta y mira

In relation to the organic character of the house, the color palette remains quite natural. The scale or the relation between the size of the house and a human being isn’t huge. It isn’t extraordinarily big and intimidating or ridiculously small, it is just balanced. However, it is also true that due to the fact that some part of the building is underground, it may be bigger than it seems at first glance. There isn’t a contrast with the environment in that sense. Also, it is quite proportionate. 

   Regarding the materials and structure of the house, it is mainly made by weathering steel and glass. The use of weathering or cor-ten steel is one of the most representative features of RCR’s organic architecture. This steel or sometimes simply rusty recycled steel  responds to their eagerness to show the passage of time. They understand steel as a material capable of unifying any construction, from the structure to the enclosement or to the furniture. Another material used is of course glass, for the one of the faces of the facade.

In conclusion, as in every work of the trio, the composition of the space answers directly or indirectly to their passion for nature and necessity to integrate the house in its surrounding and therefore erase the limits between exterior and exterior.