PLOT #52

MOARQS works were published in PLOT # 52 with a beautiful presentation text by Francesc Planas Penades and photographs by Javier Agustin Rojas. ISSN 1853-1997. It can be purchased here.



By Francesc Planas Penades

“We are interested in the way that the world around us can be described in terms of conventions and physical phenomena. Typologies provide familiar images that can cause certain collective emotional responses. Material units, more topology-type, create a certain kind of atmosphere that can unchain an almost physiologic reaction.”

Adam Caruso. “The feeling of things. Escritos de arquitectura.”Ediciones Polígrafa, 2008.


When analyzing the construction work and the proposals for contests of the office, it is not e to discover which the vectors are that -in a current and sustained way, as well as permeable and flexible before particular contextual programs and realities-, cross the proposal of MOARQS. Program and typology, material and technique, craft and academy. And as a final proposal, mainly -in my opinion and own interest- certain expressive sobriety and formal continence, as a result of a direct relation, neither literal nor unidirectional, among matter, typology, constructive technique and shape. The office proposals are born as a “constructing-thought”; the formal result, its aesthetic option derive from the conscious choice of a material, of a construction component and/or a structural type that -during an articulation and alteration process build and contain a space- sets its metrics and defines a limit which confer concrete physical and sensory properties.

There are no formal a-priori-ideas separated from a credible material implementation, except that some previous wills could be discussed, related to certain phenomenology connotations, associated to specific technique uses or to particular typology alterations, derived from their interaction with the immediate context. This process can be clearly appreciated in low-scale domestic works, in micro-architectures and in some recurring details, where this relation is more direct and immediate, but it is also transferred to the proposals for contests for provision of equipment and of high scale and more complex office and housing buildings.

As an example the 2018 proposal for a shed in Caseros, whose general guidelines could be guessed even from the same study proposal for the activity centre of the contest 2011 Hitos Ecuménicos. It consists of an industrial building, in an urban environment of strongly manufacturing imaginary. A piece of infrastructure solved as this type of constructions is solved, if we follow typology economic criteria: a container, a big undistinguishable longitudinal space, defined by a structure of serial big-span standard construction profiles porticos. A light enclosure, of pre-painted galvanized corrugated sheet, with an inner layer of thermal insulation with rock wool and white propylene foil, used as an inner finish and vapor barrier. A small core of services and an office mezzanine is placed by the existent masonry party wall, so leaving free the rest of the space. Ending up the volume, a low-gradient gable roof, whose ridge rises to give place to a lineal skylight which ensures a diffuse and constant illumination. We find neither detail over-treatment, neither forced structural scaling, nor structural conditions different from the expected. The difficulty rests on the implementation of a type-project, whose nature presupposes the endless continuity of the longitudinal dimension of the volume, on a concrete non-typical triangular corner plot within a consolidated urban area. This is at this point where a series of manipulation mechanisms push on, in order to go beyond the limits of the abstract nature of the type: on the one hand, the volume lies on one of the long property lines and reaching the corner, -instead of finishing on a plane façade- and turns by means of three half porticos, which –by way of an ambulatory-, taking all the width of the corner and adapting itself to its geometry, closes the inner volume. On the other hand, one of the resulting vertical planes, lined up with the other property line, extends setting free from the properly inner volume and, closing the remaining yard, so strengthening its nature as an enclosure and extending the intervention to the whole plot. The resulting continuity is emphasized through the use of pre-painted black corrugated sheet, the same material of the shed enclosure, and gives sense to the mono-material choice of the intervention. In this way, the proposal manages to build and articulate an inner and another outer space within the same volume, creating continuity, coming from an adapted but perfectly legible type. At the same time, it solves the urban mark of the intervention, strengthening the corner as a focal point from which the project is built and extended, but also from which the whole volume is dismantled into a series of depths and horizontal planes which enriches its perception from the street.

Another project –almost contemporary to the previous one-, and also facing a strong compromise with the urban environment where it is placed, is the proposal for the refurbishment and extension of a typical 1920-decade casa-chorizo –(long extended house)-, located on Tacuari street in the neighborhood of Barracas in Buenos Aires city. The proposal choice is also the dry construction and pre-painted black sheet as an expressive resource. Although in this case, the solution is not the result of rational and economic needs inherent to a given type, but the express willingness to differentiate clearly the operations that define the new extension from those ones that solve the refurbishment of the original house. The dichotomy new-dry build / preexistent-wet construction is reinforced, clearly establishing one’s and the other’s physical and symbolic limits.

The operations on the pre-existent house seek to strengthen the construction and spatial qualities of the rental house typology without entering into historic mimicries or into conservationist zeals. What is really essential is recovered, those values and spatial proportions derived from the original metrics, that allow the survival of the construction type by means of its possible adaptation to the new domestic realities. Besides, those more relevant representative constructive elements are maintained, such as, coatings, floors, plasterwork, carpentry, smithy details, columns in yard and veranda. Another decision is to reinforce the frontage without undertaking a complete restoration, considering the value of textures, of the overlapping of plasters and the traces of old vegetation that time was placing in its surface and define the symbolic landscape of the neighborhood. This sensitive attitude is the one that decides to place behind the volume of the extension, located in the second floor, in relation to the front line and to orient it perpendicularly to it in order to reduce its presence from the street, at the same time looking for the best orientation for the rooms in there. Therefore, the new volume seeks to maximize its abstract condition, its independence respect to the first floor which comes to act as an almost-basement. This new object, strange at its beginning, by type and material, before the proper use in the imaginary in this type of context, sets a dialogue with another kind of landscape, less evident but very rich and more characteristic of the urban fabric where it is inserted: that of the rooftops, that of the +4.50 level, and all the objects that lie on it, tanks, railings, traces of party walls, urban irregularities, searched spontaneous vegetation, and other constructed or imagined heterogeneities.

The dry build technology, similar to that used in Caseros, is developed in this case in another order of detail and attention, considering aligning with the willingness of abstraction required and by the proper domestic nature and low scale of the order. A volume solved with steel-frame, on a new Steel-deck-type floor slab with their corresponding layers of thermal insulation and vapor barrier, and the pre-painted black sheet as an outer finish. The north façade solution is remarkable with a first technical thickness which gives the possibility to hide the sliding joinery in its interior and some blind shutters with the same sheets; closed, they seek to remain leveled with the outer edge of the front wall, and when opening at 90 degrees they also adjust with the outer edge of a lineal 80-cm-eave that runs along all the longitudinal measure of the piece.

This shutter and eave system provides a new intermediate half-open volume, whose purpose is to protect the front wall from the incidence of the north-northwest orientation, but at the same time produces an established light-shadow rhythm, modulated, that underlines the abstract condition of the volume, and introduces a concept that is approached in most of the proposals of the office: the consideration of the front wall as a mechanism with “thickness” which goes beyond its proper metric dimension, so as to add eaves, verandas, “brise-soleils”, intermediate spaces or simply define the position of the carpentry. These mechanisms finally modulate and give a rhythm to the expression of the front wall, and not always in keeping with the main structural module, from the Hinrichsen pavilion, where the carpentries are located in the intrados and extrados of the concrete front wall, in order to house the curtain where necessary according to the orientation, up to the Astilleros building where some directional vertical sunshades and some half-covered spaces alternate, following the structure module and that of the plant composition in order to provide a powerful rhythm in a staggered pattern.

In this connection, the last work of the office, a multi-dwelling five-floor building on a 8.66-meter-front plot in the Saavedra neighborhood in Buenos Aires city, shows a front wall facing the street established by means of the addition of narrow balconies retracted back, one for each housing unit, arranged alternately by each floor. These elements appear as a counterpoint with the big-size glass panel, almost in parallel with the municipal line, so closing the rest of the piece. In this case, the rhythm takes apart from the structure, which juts inserted in the party walls and the room enclosures, and also of any known modular dimension apart from the division among units by floor. However, it seems to be due to the stated willingness to emphasize the phenomenon dual properties of a material such as glass: as an opaque solid, capable of reflecting that which happens around and/or as a film which allows the greatest visual continuity between inner and outer space.

Thus the feeling from the apartment interior -whose distribution in strips parallel to the front wall seeks to free it from secondary uses-, is that of living in the external space, from which, paradoxically, one goes out to an internal space: the negative balcony. Obviously, some aspects contribute to this feeling: the size of the glazing surface from floor to ceiling, the minimum measure of the aluminum frames and the absence of rails and parapets, but also the neutrality of the material palette used to solve the inner spaces. From the street, the effect is inverted, and the front wall turns into a very dynamic amalgam of reflections and shadows. It is not necessary that the effect be the opposite when the external and internal conditions change. The aluminum foldings which bend the opaque parts of the facades, apart from ensuring a better insulation, protection and securing a visual order, also contribute to strengthen the effect due to the almost reflecting properties of the surface.

This work about the sensory properties of materials, beyond the mechanical ones, their associations with relevant in-site techniques and the knowledge of the types and their variability degrees allow to draw vectors that cross almost the whole amount of the office projects. The brick, whose masonry bond system, defines the pillar-like heavy bearing wall of the house La Paz turns into sieve and delicate protection layer of the wall system made up of the façade walls of the CCDH offices. The concrete that compose the dry build elements of the lattice –building, ethereal in its mass condition, for the Memorial Building on Salta 2141 allow to pose the powerful patio-structure of the Lamas house, or the complex box-artifact in the Hinrichsen pavilion; the wood, made up of certain panel tectonics in the Meliquina house or in the OchoQuebradas proposal, returns to its most abstract conception of framework in the ladder development. And so on.

The material matrix is delimited: brick, concrete, wood and industrialized-made materials in some of the works. The construction techniques associated are diverse, not always orthodox, but surely coherent and comprehensible. The execution is accurate, defined, but far from all the pensive mood and virtuosity. Everything sets MOARQS in its place, without appealing to geographic reductionist approaches, and at its time, understanding as a non-historic continuum. It defines a mature proposal but also capable to express doubts, a clear agenda but even not closed. And within that ambiguity, only in appearance so far from the pretended rigor and clearness proposed in its work, where the strength and the confident increase resides. From the trade to the serenity … or from the serenity to the trade.


Francesc Planas Penades.
Arquitecto ETSAB. Barcelona.