Partners Miguel Crespo, Javier Guzmán, and Sixto Martín, all 39, are survivors—they founded Zooco studio in 2009 as Spain’s economy tanked. Their practice began like many in those days, with two competition wins for small-town public projects, but crisis-driven budget cuts canceled one and reduced the other by half. Now on the other side of the storm, the three are reemerging, like the delicate recovering economy itself, with small- and medium-size private commissions ranging from tiny boutiques to upgrading a faded resort hotel.
To tackle this varied portfolio, the partners develop systems of geometric assembly and formal repetition. “We like to use a single element that responds to many requirements,” explains Martin. For Nuilea, a natural cosmetics shop in a trendy Madrid neighborhood, they designed a 16-inch cubic building block, made of MDF board and with two open sides, to build a sales counter and a fabric-covered bench. Blocks along the walls alternate open and closed faces for display and storage. Others, with Japanese parchment over the openings, house lights. “Those blocks are like a spreading virus,” Martin jokes, “colonizing even the ceiling.”
Similarly, a cloud of Plexiglas boxes containing point lighting drops from the ceiling of Melguiza, a Madrid shop specializing in Spanish saffron. Identical boxes, suspended lower, serve as display cases. The idea, the architects explain, was to handle the precious saffron like jewelry while underscoring its lightness and fragility. In a wineshop in Valladolid, the walls and ceiling are lined with arching ribs of MDF. The effect suggests a wine cellar or cave, as well as oak casks for aging wine. And a system of metal tube framing with infill panels of glass and wood invades a highceilinged residential loft in Madrid, creating a multilevel maze of spaces for study, lounging, and storage, organized around the principal rooms and along an elevated circulation gallery.
In larger works, the repetition of formal themes becomes looser, adapting to more complex programs. For the Velin Arts Center in northwest Spain, the architects broke the program into individual granite-clad blocks, which are connected by a free-form interstitial lobby. The blocks can thus operate independently, and they bring the project’s scale closer to that of its residential surroundings.
Zooco’s renovation of the Flamingo Club Hotel in the Canary Islands includes an addition containing new public spaces. “We wanted to take the outdated eclecticism of the original towards something with cleaner lines,” says Guzmán, “a bit more Miami, more Art Deco.”
The three partners were schoolmates at the Escuela Técnica Superior de Arquitectura de Madrid, the city’s leading architecture school. They started working together in Madrid, but Guzmán decamped to his native Santander, on Spain’s northern coast, when his daughter was born. Now their design process sometimes includes remote group chats and construction supervision in which they digitally exchange images and sketches, resulting in a “storyboard of each project,” Guzmán observes. By this and other means, the three maintain the bonds formed in school as their practice grows in geographic reach and scale.
DESIGN STAFF: 10-12
PRINCIPALS: Miguel Crespo Picot, Javier Guzmán Benito, Sixto Martín Martínez
EDUCATION: Picot and Martínez: B.Arch., ETSAM, 2007; Benito: B. Arch., ETSAM, 2008
WORK HISTORY: Picot: Estudio Entresitio, 2007–09; Benito and Martínez: Amman, Cánovas y Maruri, 2008–09
KEY COMPLETED PROJECTS: M4 House, Madrid, 2018; Flamingo Club, Tenerife, 2018; JHouse, Madrid, 2018; De Vinos y Viandas Wineshop, Valladolid, 2018; Melguiza saffron shop, Madrid, 2018; Nuilea shop, Madrid, 2018; Big & Tiny multipurpose space, Santa Monica, California; Centro de las Artes Escénicas de Verín, Orense, 2016 (all in Spain, except as noted)
KEY CURRENT PROJECTS: Morning Riders Surf Club, Loredo, Cantabria; Boutique Hotel, Málaga; V138 House, Madrid; Restaurant La Hermosa, Santander; Restaurant El Camino, Santander; Hotel Oasis Lanz, Lanzarote; Hotel Atlantic Garden, Fuerteventura; 2Houses in Loredo, Cantabria (all in Spain)