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IT IS A HYBRID STRUCTURE THAT IS NEITHER HOUSE NOR GARDEN BUT BOTH

BUILDING STUDY

Mangera Yvars Architects (MYAA) was established in 2001 by Ali Mangera and Ada Yvars Bravo. Prior to this, both partners worked in London, Ali Mangera for Zaha Hadid, and Ada Yvars for Florian Beigel, Pierre d'Avoine and David Chipperfield. Selected for the AJ/Corus 40 Under 40 exhibition at the V&A in 2005, the practice has offices in Barcelona and London.

Valldoreix, the site of MYAA's new Villa Valldoreix, is a village in the hinterland above Barcelona. Like many surrounding villages, it was a weekend retreat for city dwellers, a place to go to destress. In a British context, Valldoreix can be seen as the Hampstead Garden Suburb of Barcelona - a semi-idyllic retreat, neither rural nor urban, but a convenient compromise between the two.

In the past, Valldoreix was reached by a 40-minute journey along a meandering mountain pass. Now, with a newly constructed tunnel cut through the mountains, the distance to Barcelona is compressed to 10 minutes, transforming this former village into a suburban extension of the city. With the scarcity of land driving forward new infrastructure and transport projects, the phenomenon of urban expansion is now common to all villages around Barcelona.

Valldoreix is an overlap of open and built areas, with the resultant spaces being genuinely ambiguous and hard to define.

There is also an interior/exterior uidity to Valldoreix which is a Mediterranean tradition. Historically, the buildings within Valldoreix and other similar villages consisted of bourgeois villas, based on the Masía Catalana - the ancient Catalan farm. These buildings use local folk vernacular such as arches, decorative roofs, and oral window bars. It is within this supposedly staid context that MYAA has designed Villa Valldoreix - a small but highly significant work.

Since 2001, Ali Mangera and Ada Yvars have developed a multicultural team that is trying to create an architecture which goes beyond the stand-alone objects that are all too common today. Their understanding of landscape is one which encompasses ideas of territory and topography as well as the social and political conditions of the immediate locale. As a consequence, this young practice can provide a complex and sophisticated architecture strongly rooted in context and culture.

Through its involvement in mixed-use projects, MYAA has developed a seam of work which is hybrid and exible. These schemes have allowed the practice to combine culture, religion, leisure, sport, shopping, living and working spaces in challenging ways. Its designs are informed not by a deterministic conception of architecture, but rather by one which allows for exibility, randomness and social reorganisation - experimentation which might lead the way to a new generation of buildings.

New construction techniques and advances in computer modelling throw up new possibilities. We can manipulate established relationships between function and form that once seemed immutable; we can build shapes that once seemed impossible. Construction details no longer require an obvious logic.

Against this backdrop, MYAA can be seen as a kind of architectural research laboratory. It has embarked on a search for materials and new ways of building, while exploring a new generation of landscapes (urban, degraded, peripheral), even experimenting with the possibilities of 'no place' - what Ignasi de Solá-Morales refers to as 'Terrain Vague'. It is within this context of 'no place' that MYAA has developed such projects as its competition entry for the Thalassotherapy Centre in Gijón, and the Eco-Tower in Barcelona.

Prior to the Villa Valldoreix, MYAA had already brought this approach of experiment, exibility, and innovation in the use of space and material to the design of Spanish housing. In 2005 it completed a terraced housing scheme in Ulldecona, Tarragona, some 200km south-west of Barcelona, which was awarded the Delta Del Ebro Triennial Prize for Architecture.

This Ulldecona scheme is based on a shifted volume, which enables variations in plan and section. The plan is freed by allowing modules to form different spatial configurations and, depending on the configuration, a single house can accommodate two to five bedrooms. A single square module is used for windows, balcony projections, cut-outs, gardens, and terraces, establishing a rhythmic composition on the facade. The building becomes a unity - and the whole is not just the sum and repetition of identical houses. The project establishes a new route for terraced houses and housing developments generally, as unfortunately the prevailing trend in Spain is for the mass production of identical houses.

In its Valldoreix scheme, MYAA deliberately sets out to avoid the cliché of the Spanish villa. Instead, the project is an attempt to colonise the totality of the plot, turning it into a space for topographic and landscape experimentation. The concept explores the relationship of full/empty; or built and unbuilt space.

The L-shape footprint organises the outdoor spaces as much as the interior, providing a clarity of function and orientation. The villa itself can be seen as a continuation of the garden; a hybrid structure that is neither house nor garden but both. The roof and oor planes emerge from the garden and are an extension of former garden pathways. These pathways converge and lead up to the roof.

Although the villa is defined by the garden from which it emerges, the routes and pathways which run through the house give it an enigmatic internal character. These pathways and corridors merge and diverge to become bookshelves, kitchen cabinets and furniture. The contrast between the different parts of the house emphasises the idea of intermediate space. The public areas are diaphanous and crystalline, while the private areas on the ground level are more intimate, and related through regular openings to the garden - divided into discrete areas through the planting of jasmine, fruit trees, pines and grass.

Light performs an important role, subtly tailored to the necessities of the different areas. At night, artificial light creates a complex and rich stage scene, transforming the house completely and giving it a sophisticated and mysterious image.

With the materiality of the house - perhaps the most sensitive part of any building - MYAA has made a splendid effort.

Prefabricated cement-board cladding panels, glass windows and translucent polycarbonate volumes provide an alternating and banded exterior silhouette. The internal ooring is a bold black pigmented concrete, set against a reddish Jatobá wood ooring, extending to form an exterior terrace and edge to the house.

The carpentry and attention to detail is extraordinary in parts and raw in others. The double facade conceals tall window shutters to the bedroom areas, set against a raw concrete ceiling.

The ceilings are shuttered concrete, which adds to the rough-andtumble 'interior/exterior' experience. The main staircase acts as a sculptural piece of furniture as much as a route between oors. It effectively 'becomes' the kitchen at ground level and the library on the oor above. The in-between space is the timber and polycarbonate dining area whose profile resembles a scaled-down version of the building itself.

The limited palette of materials reinforces the project's main aims. The gesture in which the house emerges from the landscape, and organises space through audacious folding, is the overriding image of the scheme.

With the Villa Valldoreix, MYAA has defined a place by constructing a new landscape. In recognising the Mediterranean condition of the site, innovating on the diagram of a villa, and implementing new construction techniques, it has conjugated tradition and modernity in a brilliant architectonic exercise.

Costs

DEMOLITION Demolition of existing house £41/m 2SUBSTRUCTURE Foundations/slabs £55/m 2Excavation; pad foundation; damp-proof membrane; concrete slab; rigid insulation SUPERSTRUCTURE Frame £35/m 2Mild-steel columns Upper floors £123/m 2In situ concrete slabs Roof £80/m 2In situ concrete slab; single-ply membrane; rigid insulation;

black concrete finish; green-roof system and pebbles Staircases £22/m 2Concrete slab covered with 3cm Jatobá hardwood, including Jatobá panel cladding for handrail and walls External walls £191/m 2Lower level: cement-board cladding on two-skin brick wall concealing internal shutters. Upper level: 4cm-thick polycarbonate Windows/external doors £232/m 2Lower level: aluminum-frame windows, including aluminium reveal with MDF-lacquered internal shutters. Upper level: sliding and fixed windows Internal walls and partitions £14/m 2Blockwork walls; 4cm-thick polycarbonate partitions Internal doors £20/m 24cm-thick top-to-bottom sliding doors, lacquered white INTERNAL FINISHES Wall finishes £27/m 2Plaster and paint; porcelain tiling and white marble; 30 x 60cm tiles Floor finishes £68/m 2Black concrete screed on circulation spaces and upper level; Jatobá hardwood flooring in bedrooms and dining room; external decking in Ipe hardwood Ceiling finishes £1/m 2Exposed concrete soffits FITTINGS AND FURNISHINGS Furniture £55/m 2Kitchen units part of central staircase, panelled in Jatobá hardwood; integrated wall lighting; blinds at upper level

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