Do you want to build a house that’s cheap and cheerful? Call an Architect
Dedicated to Gerardo García-Ventosa by Alberto Campo Baeza.
Are you thinking of building yourself a house? Would you like it to be cheap and cheerful? Call an architect – a good architect.
There are foolish people who, if they could, would build their house without one. They consider the architect to be a necessary evil. They are the same kind of people who self-medicate to avoid going to the doctor. They are few and profoundly ignorant. They spend a fortune at the pharmacy for nothing. And they either die, or end up going to the doctor’s.
Architects are public servants. Architects are people who pursue beauty through architecture, while at the same time solving society’s problems and trying to make the people they work for happy.
I could now make an argument as to why it’s good to hire an architect, a good architect, so that everything turns out just right. But I thought it would be better to tell you in first person, sharing a first-hand professional experience of mine.
If I tell you that the most beautiful, finest house I ever made is also the best, nicest and cheapest, you might believe I’m exaggerating. Well, I’m not.
One day I got a phone call from a friend of mine – a gorgeous friend. She asked me if I could design a house for her and her partner, but said that they only had three million pesetas (20.000 euros) and a small plot of land. She was asking for a house with absolute privacy in a small pine forest, circled by her relatives’ houses, in the province of Cádiz.
I only asked for absolute freedom in return. Because I still believe that an architect is somewhat like a doctor. He needs to listen to the patient carefully and run all the necessary tests, but the doctor is the one doing the diagnosis, and the patient must follow the doctor’s orders. At least that’s what I do as a patient. I blindly follow the doctor’s orders, and it has always worked well for me.
WHAT WAS DONE
The solution was easy. A simple 6x18m rectangle erected with load bearing walls. A 6 x18 patio in the front, and another patio in the back, also 6 x18.
Inside, I used two lower perpendicular walls, 4 metres from the edges, to make a bedroom and a bathroom, and on the other side a kitchen and a second bedroom. To let light into the central 6 x10 space, I opened up the four corners with fixed 2×2 glass panels providing continuity to the central space and the two patios. For movement through and air circulation in the central room, I placed two opaque doors in the middle, on the main axis. The two bedrooms and the kitchen are connected to their patios and receive light through transparent doors while the bathroom has a skylight. All this in just over 100 square metres.
The house we built in the best Andalusian tradition, using the front patio as an entrance, and incorporating a back patio. Two lemon trees were symmetrically planted in each of the patios. A small reservoir with water that soothes the eyes as well as the ears was set in the back patio, because the sound of it also adds to the beauty of those rooms. From the outside, the house looks completely closed-off, except for the entrance.
WHAT WAS IT BUILT OF?
Everything was built with brick load bearing walls, which is the cheapest and easiest option for a house this size. The foundation was simple, well isolated and waterproofed. The roof structure was built with in simple ceramic. All of the flooring, indoors and outdoors, was done in Capri de Córdoba limestone, cleaned and polished. It’s such a nice floor that I have kept using it in all of my houses since.
Everything was made white. The inside walls and the outside whitewashed walls, of the whitest white, provide the rooms with a wonderful brightness. Even the lights are simple: plain white bulbs in the wall protected by simple glass.
WHO DID IT
Conejito, one of the few good and wise works managers left around, erected the whole thing in reasonable time. As a foreman, Diego Corrales did a good job. Because a foreman is necessary, the same way a doctor needs a nurse. I also got help from a dear architect friend from Chiclana, Miguel Vela.
We architects always talk about the genius loci, the place. Well, this house looked like it had always been there. The house turned out, and still is, very, very nice. What did this house have that others did not? After all, its reading, materials, colours, lighting, typology, and style are of a traditional Andalusian house, of yesteryear, of today and of the future. The secret is that it’s made by an architect who is fairly proficient in space, light, scale and proportions. An architect who knows that, in order to achieve venustas – beauty – one must first accomplish utilitas and firmitas, as Vitruvius put it so eloquently.
The house was within budget, 3 million 1992 pesetas, 20.000 euros today. It is a small house, 100 square metres, that looks big. We were all happy about it: the owners, the contractor, and the architect. So happy about it that shortly thereafter we built another one along the same lines, Casa Guerrero, for one of her brothers.
Casa Gaspar has been featured everywhere. In all the architecture books and magazines of the world, often on the cover. Of course, most of the credit goes to Hisao Suzuki, an excellent photographer who took excellent pictures. He had already taken pictures for my Casa Turégano, with fantastic results, so I did not doubt calling him to convey the spirit of Casa Gaspar in images. I’ll never forget the morning when, while everything was still dark, the two of us were in the house’s back patio. He had set up tripods and cameras and we were waiting for it to dawn, with an eager lens and the lemon trees, much like me, standing there in awe. Little by little, very slowly, the dawn began to gleam and our good photographer started clicking away. The result is that set of wonderful pictures with a mysterious, almost inexplicable light, where the house’s spirit is depicted.
I believe that through these simple lines, expressive drawings and wonderful pictures, it is easy to understand how, with a good architect, a cheap and cheerful house can be built. The nicest house in the world.