Housing High and Low
The integration of the building process with the natural environment allows residents to go back to nature through gardens, pools, and fountains, above all if areas designed for practicing sport are incorporated. This search for humanized green spaces that are perfectly adapted to the building is one of our most highly valued objectives, particularly if the natural space is developed as a space of cohabitation.
A similar approach helped us find radical solutions for residential buildings within the urban fabric of a city, though the process of seeking the cultural context was not always feasible.
One must analyze the location at different times of day and on different days so that its existing environment influences the creative process. One must see whether there are nearby parks, gardens, zones of cohabitation... because in the last resort if there are no communal spaces, we will have to adapt the circulation routes of the building to create social space.
Even so, if possible, one must implement in the building its own places of cohabitation, with natural lighting and as much vegetation as possible. Highrise buildings are fragmented by their vertical circulation, so such places of cohabitation are almost always located on the ground floor or on the roof of the building, protected from the street and the traffic.
Furthermore, the building, even on a small scale, must have an identity and not be lacking in its own aesthetic and formal attributes, because any architectural expression involves an important process of communication with the environment that is identified with its residents.
Finally, I believe that highrises deserve to be considered in terms of ecological design. I am convinced that the increase in population in urban zones as a consequence of the decrease in rural populations will make cities expand with increasing intensity, so this type of building will continue to be built.
I think that buildings of this type which respect the planning regulations have the advantage of freeing the land available at the base to be used for green spaces. This is the most suitable form of ecological building, and provides these areas with the desired spaces for cohabitation.
Thus, when I started the design of Neguri Gane, in Benidorm, Spain, I gave it a minimum base (90 by 72 feet, or 27 by 22 meters) to free the rest of the land and to create green spaces with gardens and trees within a communal area that also has a swimming pool, recreation areas, sports areas, and so on.
However, on site I found that though the land on which the building was to be located was in a coastal city, it was over a half mile (1000 meters) from the Mediterranean Sea, so one's sense of orientation was lost. I sought a space from which one could see the water, and I decided to create a communal zone with a heated pool and open-air terraces for sunbathing on the 26th floor.
Once we had accepted this idea as the objective, the building was given a changing curvilinear movement on its exterior to create the sensation of moving waves.
In 1997, 40-story 490-foot (150-meter) tower of Neguri Gane became the highest residential building in Spain. Above the 26th floor, the building becomes narrower, further enhancing its perspective, ending in a gold metal canopy that reflects the bright sunlight.
The city has gained a new, functional landmark, with a clear vertical tendency strengthened by the exposed edges of the structure's screen walls, which enclose the circles and semi-circles of the terraces.
The floor plans representing the distribution of the various dwellings within the building acquire an almost symbolic graphic beauty — a result of the transformation which takes place from the ground floor up to the highest levels.
For the low-rise houses in Costa Hispania, in Santa Pola, Spain, we sought a "personalized" design in contrast to a repeated pattern. The objective was a unit that would facilitate optimal family life as well as social relations, a place where inhabitants could relax and entertain — going back, in a way, to the Mediterranean style that marks the area's old towns.
The exterior of the houses, white and sober, is reminiscent of "Mediterranean architecture" and traditional methods of construction. The result boldly displays the naturalness of dry wood and old tiled roofs.
The buildings are arranged so as to create nonuniform "defined places," fashioning habitable spaces and always respecting the human scale. Porches and awnings protect the inhabitants from the summer sun, while allowing them to make full use of it in the colder months.
Throughout the gardens are fountains that invite one to linger, and that further define the diverse spaces. Lights placed at ground level contribute to the ambience of the walking paths and open squares.
In the search for the vernacular, emphasis was placed on the development of intertwining pathways, along which one comes across the buildings and unique spaces created between them. The abundant shaded areas make life more bearable during the hot summers.
Water, more than a relaxing element, is present throughout the complex to create a pleasant microclimate. There are various swimming pools, which help mitigate the heat and whose design is adapted to this community space. An elegant community building encourages neighbors to get to know one another and join in group activities, thereby creating a community identity.
It is here, when we reap the benefits of the whole creative process, that all the effort becomes worthwhile. It is fascinating to observe that the "work done" can far surpass the underlying idea.
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Roberto Pérez-Guerras is principal of the Spanish firm, Pérez-Guerras Arquitectos & Ingenieros.
This article is excerpted from Conceptual Architecture, copyright © 2003, available from Links International Publishing Group.