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Marià Castelló: Architecture, Territory and Heritage in the Island of Formentera

Marià Castelló in Punta Pedrera quarry, Formentera© Jaime Sicilia
Part I

Background

Formentera is located 6 kilometres south of Ibiza. After finishing your studies in Barcelona, you returned to the island and opened your office in 2002. What does Formentera mean for you? How do you approach your professional activity in the context of the island?

For me, Formentera is equilibrium, austerity, simplicity, luminosity, self-sufficiency, beauty… but also vulnerability, fragility, speculation, decontextualisation… Formentera is undergoing notable urban development, characterised by a great deal of construction of scant architectural quality, contrasting with the exceptional value of the natural and traditional architectural substrate.

In my work, I endeavour to draw on the  respect for and commitment to the island’s culture, landscape and territory, and with 14 years of professional experience under my belt, I can identify a number of relations which link our studio to this place. Firstly, scale. Ours is a small studio, with a reduced volume of projects that address the reality of which they form part. Secondly, the artisanal nature. What I find attractive in the traditional island culture is the authenticity, imperfection and naturalness given off by objects and popular architecture, linked to an artisanal process. Thirdly, self-sufficiency and a multidisciplinary approach. Before the onset of tourism, Formentera was a paradigmatic example of balance with the environment, self-sufficiency and a certain degree of independence. Isolation, the reduced size of the territory and the setting of social and cultural fusion, have steered us away from specialising and led us to develop different types of projects.

In Formentera, we have traditionally opted for a model of low-density, disperse occupation, and in this context, the isolated single-family home has been the most common programme we have had to address. In the research phase, interventions on heritage elements have been highly interesting, and in some cases have helped to improve our knowledge of how Formentera was anthropised. We have also collaborated in a number of editorial and exhibition projects with the aim of disseminating both the island’s heritage and those contemporary actions generated with judgement and reflection.

 

Could you mention some of the research references that gave you a new insight in the way Formentera has been anthropised?

One important reference is related with the intervention we made in the Gracias Reales, extensions of land granted by the king Carles II at the end of the 17th century. A number of marks were made at specific points to establish the perimeter of this division of the island, and subsequent divisions of the land took the form of dry stone walls and paths. In many places, the traces of this structure have been erased. Our intervention aimed to identify, indicate and restore the singular points and the traces forming the perimeter of this unique heritage. The Gracias Reales have an enormous patrimonial value as they represent the first footprints in the territory, and constitute the origin of Formentera’s current landscape.

Part II

Conditions

Which are the main architectural and constructive references that constitute your personal imaginary of Formentera?

At the level of local references, there are four Architectures, or rather, four typologies, which I consider essential. All four are anonymous, popular and have been perfected over time. I would also highlight a fifth contemporary architectural reference which is establishing a close dialogue with the island.

01. The marès (sandstone) quarries

For me, the most iconic is the Cantera de Punta Pedrera. A space created by the extraction of marès, a sandstone rock that is very common on the Balearic Islands, which allows for an easy, precise cut, generating a warm, peaceful and uniform space.

02. Fig tree construction

The construction of fig trees in Formentera is developed around a system of props (estalons), which support beams (perxes) arranged concentrically around the trunk, with the tree’s branches directly resting upon them.(1) Na Blanca d’en Mestre is the prime example of a popular organic-artificial model of construction that has been perfected over the generations. A hypostyle space with 143 pillars distributed in 5 concentric structural bays, the framework of which, comprising hundreds of intertwined branches, covers an area of 351 m2.

Na Blanca d’en Mestre is an extraordinary example of balance between nature and artifice, which is not only an icon for the great beauty in the flatness of the island’s landscape, but which owes its configuration to various different functions. Foremost among these are those of reducing the vertical surface exposed to the wind; allowing the extensive horizontal development of the canopy, making it passable, in the main, and creating a space suitable for picking the fruit; protecting the sheep and goats from the intense sun, and at the same time, preventing them from reaching the figs. An austere material homogeneity that imbues this architecture with such harmony that it is difficult to discern the limits between the tree and its complementary structure.

03. Caseta-varadero (Fishing hut-slipway)

Peppering the entire coastline, they are built, mainly from wooden flotsam washed up on the coast, to provide shade and access to the sea for traditional small fishing vessels. A good example is the Caseta-varadero d’en Pep Campanitx.

04. Popular domestic architecture

Heirs to the Ibizan building tradition which captivated prominent exponents of Modern Movement in the 1930’s, these houses constitute a true lesson in the economy of means, constructive candour, abstraction and austerity. There are still numerous examples, though few have managed to conserve their original essence with dignity.

05. Contemporary domestic architecture

Henri Quillé is a  French architect and engineer who came to Formentera in 1962, and found, in the pre-touristic island, a place of self-sufficiency, in a biological, social and energetic sense. Since then, he has developed a series of family houses that have been pioneers in research into energy efficiency and integration into the landscape. Formally, the domestic architecture of Henri Quillé is clearly recognisable by the compact volumes with few openings, the austerity, and the use of a limited palette of colours and materials related to the island’s traditional architecture.

(1)

Rahola, V., Cortellaro, S. and Castelló, M., “Na Blanca d’en Mestre”, in Quaderns d’Arquitectura i Urbanisme, 252, 2006, pp 86-91

Part III

Processes

Work in progress

House in Bosc d'en Pep Ferrer, Formentera

The Formentera landscape is fragile by definition, but this 57,115-square-metre plot is especially so. To the south Migjorn beach, a dense pine grove; and to the north, a barren, rocky area offering a magnificent panorama. From here, the infinite horizon of the island’s southern bay is broken only by the impressive tapered silhouette of the Torre des Pi des Català, built in 1763.

The construction and structural system of the house is based on the duality between the tectonic and the telluric, rock and wood, representative of Formentera’s two archetypical ways of building: the quarry – architecture through the subtraction of material – and the casa-varadero – drywall construction. The heavy and the light. Work through compression and work through traction. The rock, which appears on the surface of the location, has been sculpted to offer a hollow reminiscent of sandstone quarries. A monolithic space. Wood monopolises the lower floor: its structure, enclosure, finishing, joinery and flooring. The distinctive whitewashing of masonry construction, covers the platform over which the three wooden prisms rise, at the same time as it covers the hollow carved from the rock to form the basement. Three construction systems understood as three substrata, and associated with three levels of precision: ancient stereotomy (a precision of +- 70 mm), reinforced concrete and masonry (a precision of +- 20 mm), and cross-laminated timber panels fashioned with numerical control (a precision of +- 2 mm).

The forty-five metre longitudinal hollow on the ground floor only hots program under the three modules, with an empty-full rhythm, starting with the vehicle access to the East, then an open garage under the first module, a triple-level patio thanks to the emergence of a natural cave, a hall under the central module, another patio, a multi-purpose space under the third module, and finally a patio through which level zero is accessed. The central module brings together the vertical communication elements.

Self-sufficiency is also a fundamental feature of popular island architecture, not only in terms of materials, but of energy as well. Hence in this project, the topography of the plot was taken into account to collect the rainwater for storage in a 250-tonne cistern, more than sufficient to cover the house needs. Similarly, with regard to electrical consumption, we opted for a system for capturing photovoltaic energy through solar collectors set on the roofs of the east and west modules.

Part IV

Works

Heritage and Territory

Refurbishment of the Fossar Vell (Old Ossuary), 18th century

San Francesc Xavier, Formentera, 2015

The Fossar Vell de Sant Francesc Xavier  was the final resting place for the Formenterans living on the island between 1757 and 1938. It is a cemetery with a slightly distorted square area of 22 metres per side, delimited by a two-metre high masonry wall. Inside there are five funerary chapels, an ossuary, a storeroom and an enclosure for other remains. Although brief and targeted, our intervention sought to be sincere and easily identifiable, consolidating the building with the same materials it was built with, while leaving the patina that time has tinted the building with visible.

The historical and archaeological study conducted on the building provided the guidelines for some of the solutions used in the project. In this regard, it was decided to use traditional whitewashing to cover only the outer part of the walls, and of those chapels which were built after 1838; i.e., after the extension of the original enclosure (1757-1838). This operation graphically reveals how the frontispiece of the entrance was in the centre of the original enclosure’s SE façade.

From the study of the original seventeenth-century drawings of the Gracias Reales, it was concluded that the line that joins the first stone cross (creu-fita) of the original demarcation of the Half League granted to Marc Ferrer in 1695 with the second milestone–also a half league, known as a confluence milestone–passed through the NW tip of the Fossar. The idea was to show this oblique guideline inside the enclosure with a number of slabs of marès (sandstone) laid without mortar to form a spot for repose and contemplation. The door—which allows greater visual permeability, even when the building is closed—was designed resorting to a language and materials different from those of this historical building.

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Collaborators: Marga Ferrer, Antoni Ferrer Arbárzuza, Jaume Escandell and Natàlia Castellà

Technical architect: Francesc Ribas Tur

Client: Concell Insular de Formentera, Consellería d’Educació, Cultura i Patrimoni

Refurbishment of the des Pi des Català tower, 18th century

Formentera, 2015

The des Pi des Català tower is one of the four defensive towers built on the island’s coast between 1762 and1763 on the sites determined by the then Captain-General of the Balearic Islands, Francisco de Paula Bucarelli y Ursúa, and designed by the military engineer, José García Martínez. Until 1867 all these building were used for defensive purposes.

This one is a circular building with an external diameter of 12.56 metres at the base. Its geometry is tapered and it is organised into three levels. The ground floor comprises a magazine and a more extensive space which used to house the old stone stairway that led up to the main chamber and which disappeared when a hole was made in it, to act as a doorway, in the mid-twentieth century. The original entrance doorway is on the first floor, raised from ground level for defensive purposes and protected by a machicolation and a vertical shaft. These two elements were originally guarded by a gatehouse, the traces of which are now only discernible on the floor. The platform was reached via a spiral stairway.

In order to guarantee the monument’s integrity, as well as its identity, the project was highly selective and targeted, acting only in those sections which most jeopardised the building’s existence. To do so, we resorted to the original reduced palette of materials, and to an installation that was, from a chronological and constructive perspective, sincere. Taking advantage of the hole in the eastern section of the ground floor, a new doorway was constructed, which means that it is only tower on the island whose interior can be visited.

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Collaborators: Marga Ferrer, Sonia Iben Jellal, Jaume Escandell and Natàlia Castellà

Technical architect: Francesc Ribas Tur

Client: Concell Insular de Formentera, Consellería d’Educació, Cultura i Patrimoni

Domesticity and Landscape

Can Manuel d’en Corda

Vénda des Cap de Barbaría, Formentera, 2008-2012

The house is located on a plot of rustic nature in the west part of the island. The most significant pre-existing conditions, which have been maintained and enhanced through the project, are a small forest of pines and junipers and the old house, Can Manuel de’n Corda, which reflects the domestic vernacular architecture developed in Formentera between the late eighteenth and mid nineteenth century: a main volume with a simple pitched roof gable, southeast orientated, and rooted in the landscape through the traditional dry stone walls.

The project distorts the existing house as little as possible, and minimises its presence in the immediate fragile environment through the use of fragmented volumes placed in a non-orthogonal layout. The project adapts to the topography and keeps the southeast and northwest façades of the existing house intact, while connecting the new volumes through the originally blind northeast and southwest façades.

The original house hosts the common areas, while the bedrooms and the service rooms are located in the new building. Although the original main entrance of the house has been maintained, the new house turns its back on the road, and thus enjoys the best views to the northwest, overlooking the island of Es Vedra, an iconic element of the southern skyline on the neighbouring island of Ibiza. The interstices between the new volumes allow cross-views and create a dialogue with the existing house, clarifying the limits of each building. They are reproduced in the basement, creating courtyards that provide light and ventilation to the rooms below, while transforming the way they relate to the environment.

The project displays a limited palette of materials, stressing the original stone walls of the traditional house, partially covered by a new layer of vertical panels for the electrical installation and indirect lighting. In the new building, interior flooring and outdoor terraces are in polished concrete, and the courtyards and flat roofs are finished with gravel obtained from crushed local ochre limestone. The woodwork is made of iroko, as the beams of the traditional house, and the adaptation of the topography is done with Corten steel plates.

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Plot area: 19,060 m2

Built area: 595 m2

Architects: Marià Castelló and Daniel Redolat

Collaborators: Marga Ferrer, Agustí Yern, Albert Yern, Sonia Iben Jellal, Ferran Juan and Javier Colomar

Client: private

Posted
28.Jul.2016 1038 views 34 shares
Author
Marià Castelló

Marià Castelló (Ibiza, 1976) received his degree in architecture from the ETSAB in 2002 with honours, and afterwards established his architectural practice in the island of Formentera. His work has been published in international magazines such as A10, Quaderns, AV and Wallpaper, and exhibited at the Catalan Pavillion at the Venice Biennale in 2012. He has been awarded “Emerging Architect” in the 6th Architectural Award of Ibiza and Formentera in 2012. His house “Es Pujol de s’Era” was finalist in the WAN House of the Year Award 2007, selected for the CSCAE Spanish Architectural Award in 2007, and awarded Opera Prima – Art Jove in 2006. From 2005 to 2009, he was member of the executive board of the Asociation of Architects of Ibiza and Formentera.

www.m-ar.net

Edited by Transfer