Sunday, May 23, 2010

Cloud9 | Villa Bio-Sustainable House | Barcelona, Spain

For the architectural tourist, the very mention of Barcelona brings to mind the fantastical world of Antonio Gaudí. Despite the 21st-century gloss of a sleek, high-tech, economic hub, Catalonia’s capital city’s greatest design export remains the eccentric turn-of-the-(last)-century designer. From high above the city in Gaudí’s Park Güell, a hallucinatory vertical landscape of tiled grottos and organically unfolding gardens, the view is bullied by the Sagrada Familia, the architect’s über-basilica, which has been under construction since the 1880s. In the Eixample—a neighborhood of broad avenues and octagonal intersections developed to connect the city’s ancient center with once-outlying towns—the sidewalks in front of Gaudí’s Casa Batlló and Casa Milà are clogged with throngs of ice cream–eating tourists.

A few blocks away from these celebrated structures, in an alien cube set within a garden courtyard, Gaudí’s heir apparent, Enric Ruiz-Geli, is quietly plotting the next Catalan design revolution. Ruiz-Geli’s firm, Cloud9, works at the outer reaches of designand technology’s intersection—turning complex, data-powered projects into effortless and eminently livable buildings. At 38, Ruiz-Geli is transforming Le Corbusier’s dream of machines for living into living machines.

Ruiz-Geli’s most recently completed project, the Villa Bio, is situated a little over an hour outside of Barcelona in Llers, a green, hilly, sun-bathed sprawl near Figueres (hometown of everyone’s favorite mustachioed surrealist, Salvador Dali). The area reads like a textbook Mediterranean suburb and feels oddly similar to California’s faux-Mediterranean enclaves—from the gleaming new terra-cotta tiles and white stucco walls down to the perfectly manicured lawns, swimming pools, nosy neighbors, and stringent normativa (or community building rules).

The Villa Bio is trapped in a contextual oxymoron—given the neighbors, it’s utterly out of place, but one look at the natural surroundings tells you which house fits right in. Two years in the making, it was no easy task to make the most of client Carles Fontecha’s small piece of land. The sloping coiled snake of a plan, with underground garage and a 50-foot cantilevered section, is no small feat of engineering. The result is economical, beautiful, and environmental. The Villa Bio is a firework of astute solutions that exemplify what the sustainable suburban home of tomorrow can be today.

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