Territory / Ecosystem
A very big hidden plot at a five minute walk from the centre of Reus. In the middle of the site, a self-built country house. In the beginning, it was in the rural outskirts of town. Some worker´s retreat to spend weekends, summers, and grow vegetables. Since then, it has been surrounded by all sorts of suburban and urban constructions. It still keeps its quiet, peasant atmosphere.
The presence of quite tall apartment blocks on the northern and north-western side protects the site from the strong Mestral winds, and shades it during the hot summer afternoons. Surrounded by this slight geological ring, a microclimate unfolds.
We could take advantage of our neighbour's accidental gift by using some lighter construction techniques and opening up towards the western sun.
The JEC´s late parents bought this mas many years ago. They spent the second part of their life taking care of it. The father, using his skills as a watchmaker, patiently assembled additions, welding, screwing and growing all kinds of rooms, huts, shacks, sheds, porches, fig trees, clocks, strange plants and shades: An outdoors abode, a second house around the former one-floor self-built construction.
The house was in a perpetual state of construction, a never-ending laborious enjoyment for its dwellers. And then in 2016 the father died, and the place was empty.
A year after the father’s passing, the son, his wife and daughter -the JECs- decided to move back in. Their only initial wish was that they wanted to live on a ground floor. The site is big enough for a single-storey house, so they don't have to go up and down the stairs when they get old. The existing mas has two floors, a flat roof -a terrat- on top, and an underground cellar.
The JECs first question was whether it was better to keep the mas, or to demolish it and build a brand new structure instead?
1. The bricoleur´s presence.
Through the years, on the weekends and holidays, the watchmaker invented a dense, humble, loose -and mostly illegal- atmosphere. Improvised porches and sheds where the family used to gather to cook, eat, and spend most of their time. The JEC’s recollection of these daily cheerful celebrations, and the fact that the first day we visited the site the house was exactly as it was the day the father died, transformed this dense absence into a material source. Memories became another important shelter to nurture.
Architecture: David Tapias, project director; Ricard Pau, project collaborator.
Building engineer: Pep Borràs.
M/E: Josep M. Delmuns
Contractors: Aurea (builders), Fustes Borniquel (carpenters).
2. Building Materials.
As usual, the main building materials were for free -but not endless. Air, sunlight, breezes, weathers, neighbours, a garden planted by ancestors, everything that is almost not there, everything that has just vanished. The place was so full of objects -watches, tools, radios, walking canes-, that we ended up taking more weight than adding, sharing our plans with the smell of ghosts.
A bricoleur quality.
What made this place inhabitable? Its value was not the existing main house. Although its structure was quite in good shape, what made it inhabitable were its self-built garden structures. These outdoor shelters are the real quality of this place. They are impossible to design. Probably they are impossible to reproduce. They are extremely fragile, to the point that it seems impossible to repair them.
What we needed to find was a way to up-cycle these structures, and add some more inhabitable air among them. Our approach was not to touch what we wanted to keep -we would just paint it.
Plan / Search
So neither we kept the old mas as is, nor we totally demolished it. Instead, we placed more inhabitable air in the worst area of the plot, which was often shaded by the main house. The extension is family to the existing porches. In order to minimise the impact of this new structure, we kept its weight light as a porch, using CLT panels and thin steel tubes.
By maintaining the old constructions, we got three autonomous habitats, that the family will use according to their changing needs through the seasons and decades. We erased any trace of program or specific use inside the mas. Kitchen, gone. Bathrooms, gone. Rooms, gone. First floor, half gone. A space devoid of any programatical constraint, just an interior. What were once small dark rooms has now turnt, as if through some magic trick, into a tall light tower. What could be foreseen as a buffer space might become the daughter's house. What was thought as a guest apartment might become the writing room…
Four habitats in one: the old mas, the guests house, the new timber rooms, and the outdoor porches and patio.
We separated the bid in two: one for the off-site CLT panels system, with a tolerance of 2 mm; the other for the on-site wet and hot masonry work, with a precision of 2 days; and established a very simple protocol so the two parts could work well together. The engineered timber extension was assembled in two weeks by three carpenters: Gerard, Paco and Ramon. The old house took almost a year to be ready, and it ended up in a final paradox: we had to change many construction details to adapt them to the specific skills of the masons -Leo-, moving from BIM to bricolage, as if their hand’s were conduits of the late father’s soul, imprinted in the terrazzo made of reclaimed terrazzo pavement or in the polished brick floors.
A day in the life
Pol Masip. Summer 2017.
A day in the life
Jose Hevia, July 2018
July 14th 2018
On July 14th 2018, the JEC family invited a dew friends and family to the first of a second series of parties that would be held in their house from now on.