The Brick Vault House is a prototype for suburban house construction that integrates industrialized construction methods with traditional craftsmanship. Located in Valencia, Spain, it is designed by Space Popular in collaboration with Estudio Alberto Burgos and Javier Cortinal Maruenda. It was commissioned by a local developer.
Ph. Mariela Apollonio
The driving design principles of Brick Vault House respond to regionally available construction techniques, both traditional and contemporary, and the Spanish Mediterranean climate. It is organized around a structural grid system, which allowed the architects to resolve typical construction details so that future houses could have different configurations, avoiding replication but still maintaining a level of standardization. The character of the house is created through its structural materials, the green steel frame and exposed load-bearing brick vaults present throughout all spaces, and its irregular modular layout, creating numerous porches and terraces as well as varying views.
This instance of Brick Vault House is built on a sloped plot, which allowed the architects to create an experiential sequence through which the scale and features of the house are revealed progressively. As you enter what looks like a half-sunken two-story house, you are directed towards the entrance of the house which is also the circulation core where you find the staircase. Around it, the different spaces are organized without the need for corridors. The shifting floor plates create a rich sequence of viewpoints and, therefore, areas with a very distinct visual character within the modular system. Having a variety of spatial qualities and views around which to structure your daily life is something the architects strive for.
The structure of the house consists of a green steel space-frame filled with exposed load-bearing brick vaults and white drywall façades. The steel space-frame, 100x100mm square tube, follows a grid of 375x375cm in plan and 316cm height, which the studio found to be most appropriate for domestic spaces and local planning constraints and defines the overall volume of the building. The steel structure was put up on-site in a matter of days with just a scissor lift, no cranes or scaffolding were needed. Once completed, the brick craftsmen could use it as scaffolding. The brick vaults are load-bearing and float over the steel structure, being detached from it so that each material can settle at its own pace. This type of brick vault, which dates back to the 13th century and was popularized by Rafael Guastavino in the 19th century, requires no formwork. Instead, it relies on the recipe of the gesso so that each brick is bonded in place instantly without any additional support.
Although there are faster and more efficient slab construction methods today, the architects chose this system for its combination of environmental materials and the promotion of skilled hand-craft on site. The bricks were made 10 kilometers away from the site at Cooperativa Ladrillera which has fabricated brick products since 1931 with soil taken from the land directly outside the kiln house.
Within the grid, only some modules are filled, creating generous covered outdoor areas that allow for energy-efficient large windows that let the sun in during winter and are shaded during the summer. This provides seamless indoor-outdoor living, which was considered as an important feature for mild climates. The empty modules could be filled with retractable awnings, filtering the sun when needed, and further expanding the shaded outdoor areas.
Ph. Mariela Apollonio
The grid is also a unifying element throughout the house. The green blends with the vegetation, it is balanced against the shifting hues of the sky, and it is a color often found in domestic interiors in small amounts through indoor plants. The load-bearing brick vaults become the main interior feature, giving a sense of expansion and lightness as well as warmth. The remaining finishes are basic and affordable, providing a neutral canvas over which each tenant can overlay their preferred style and make themselves at home. In this way, Brick Vault House achieves a balance between giving character to a house and still leaving enough room for personal customization.
DATE: 2019 / LOCATION: Nueva Santa Barbara, Valencia, Spain / AREA: 235 m2 (built) / PROGRAM: private house / STATUS: built / DESIGN: Space Popular (Lara Lesmes & Fredrik Hellberg) / COLLABORATORS: Estudio Alberto Burgos, Javier Cortina Maruenda / PROJECT MANAGER: Raquel Gimenez Ibañez / CONSTRUCTION: Proyecto Constructivo Ibola / BRICK VAULTS: Salvador Gomis Aviño, Gregorio Clavel (craft), Architect Dr. Adolfo Alonso (Engineering) / FURNITURE: Teulat / PHOTOS: Mariela Apollonio