Zaragoza, Spain

A good point of entry for understanding the complex designs of the brothers Jaime and Francisco J. Magén Pardo are the sculptures of the late Spanish artist Eduardo Chillida, with their play of dense solids and equally compacted voids. Take Magén Architects’ Bajo Martin County Council building, for example, which was inspired by the alabaster quarries of the area west of Barcelona, with their haphazard geometric cuttings, as well as Chillida’s own alabaster sculptures. The building is clad in alabaster and limestone, and is similarly eroded, as if cut from a solid block, with cantilevers and odd outcroppings. Inside, the main stair connects a sequence of double-height spaces on staggered floors, also finished in stone so that they read as excavations.

Another key to the duo’s work is the relationship between their sculptural buildings and visitors’ paths through them. In the Ebro Environmental Center in Zaragoza, the pitched roofs of the wood-and-glass pavilion create an accessible platform overlooking the Ebro River. The roofs are also the culmination of a series of switchback ramps that, together with a stepped amphitheater, are integral to the building. 

Variations on these strategies appear in other projects. The corner entry of the architects’ town hall for Escatrón, a compressed space chiseled out of the building mass, leads into another chain of overlapping double-height spaces. For the DG House, the Magéns surrounded the shell of an unfinished structure with porches, window nooks, and other protrusions, transforming it into an irregular, faceted assemblage. The idea, Jaime explains, was to add “the intermediate spaces between indoors and out” that the original design lacked.

In larger projects, the architects counter this taste for formal fragmentation with unifying themes, such as the oval central patio of the Valdespartera Primary School outside Zaragoza, where the ring of the roof covers both classrooms and a long entry ramp. In their competition-winning project for the Arcosur Primary School the roofs of single-story elements are broken up with diagonal sawtooths for clerestory lighting, creating a village-like cluster of volumes.

Jaime, age 42, and Francisco, 37, studied at the University of Navarra in Pamplona, where Francisco Mangado was an influential teacher. From Mangado they learned that “architecture has to do with place, material, and construction,” Jaime recalls. “It’s a physical act.” Though they founded their studio just before Spain’s economic crisis, their base in the provinces has supplied more opportunities than they’d find in competitive areas like Madrid and Barcelona. But citing Rafael Moneo, Jaime maintains that a vital practice must be based on “the three legs” of teaching, research, and building. The brothers now give classes at the new school of architecture in Zargoza and are working on their doctoral theses.

Magén Architects



PRINCIPALS: Jaime Magén Pardo and Francisco J. Magén Pardo

EDUCATION: Jaime Magén Pardo: University of Navarra School of Architecture (ETSA), masters in Theory and History of Architecture, 2014; M.Arch., 1999.  Francisco J. Magén Pardo: University of Navarra School of Architecture, postgraduate studies in Planning and Urban Development, 2005; M.Arch., 2004 

WORK HISTORY: Jaime Magén Pardo:  CM Architects, 2003–05; Basilio Tobías Architect, 2000–02; Francisco J. Magén Pardo: CM Architects, 2004–05

KEY COMPLETED PROJECTS: DG House, 2015; Escatrón Town Hall, 2014; Valdespartera Primary School, 2013; Bajo Martin County Council, 2012; Casa Julve Cultural Center, 2011; Tauste Social Housing, 2010; Ebro Environment Center, 2009;  Zaragoza Social Housing, 2006 (all in Spain)

KEY CURRENT PROJECTS: Arcosur Primary School, 2018; Illueca Auditorium, 2018; Club House, El Olivar Sports Center, 2018; Utebo Secondary School, 2017 (all in Spain)