On the outskirts of Madrid, amid a sea of warm brick and terra-cotta, a serrated silhouette of azure cuts across a crimped backdrop of corrugated steel. This playfully unconventional facade belongs to a house commissioned by an elderly couple newly adapting to mobility challenges. Wary of the isolation experienced by the husband’s father in an institutionalized nursing home, and increasingly struggling with the four-story, stair-riddled layout of their longtime residence, they turned to a team of architects to design a home where they could comfortably age in place.
Beyond-the-Family House is the product of a transatlantic partnership forged between New York–based Ignacio G. Galán and Madrid-based husband-and-wife duo Álvaro Martín Fidalgo and Arantza Ozaeta of OF Architects. The three met in architecture school at Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, and have stayed in close touch since. “We work on some projects together, and others we work on independently. It’s a bit like an open relationship,” says Galán with a laugh.
A small pool is used for exercise. Photo © Imagen Subliminal (Miguel de Guzmán + Rocío Romero Rivas), click to enlarge.
The house is neither nostalgic nor impersonal, but full of charming quirks—despite what the industrial palette might immediately conjure. It’s compact, too, with a floor plate of about 1,000 square feet.
An empty corner lot in Peñagrande, where the clients already lived, proved to be ideal. The couple could frequent the same butcher and grocer, and stay close to old friends. They hail from a generation that cherishes casual encounters, so these relationships were important to maintain—their new patio, shaded by fledgling trees and lined by a low, unimposing expanded-metal fence, ensures that they can greet strolling neighbors.
The first level, entered at grade through a small vestibule, organizes living, eating, and cooking alongside a primary bedroom suite—a configuration that is “practically nonexistent in Spain,” says Galán. Walls were dimensioned to perfectly fit the eclectic mix of furniture that the couple has amassed over decades, and the husband, a retired engineer, can tend to his collection of bonsai trees in a secluded rear garden.
Sawtooth clerestories flood the interiors with daylight. Photo © Imagen Subliminal (Miguel de Guzmán + Rocío Romero Rivas)
The rentable unit has its own terrace. Photo © Imagen Subliminal (Miguel de Guzmán + Rocío Romero Rivas)
Overhead, three sawtooth openings telescope in width to create a zigzagging ceiling line. They also point southward, which may seem counterintuitive, but their clerestory windows are set back, behind a perforated scrim, and calibrated according to seasonal solar angles. In the summer, direct sunlight is all but avoided, and, on winter days, typically cool in this semi-arid climate, warm rays graze the room. A ribbon of book-matched oak lines their soffits, drawing the eye up. Also used for pocket doors and millwork, the oak pairs well with the sage green exposed H-section columns and swinging metal doors along the eastern wall. These conceal a half-bath, stairs to the upper and lower floors, and a wardrobe, which hovers above an opening in the floor plate that one day may need to accommodate a small elevator.
Sage green H-section columns structure the house (1 & 2). Photos © Imagen Subliminal (Miguel de Guzmán + Rocío Romero Rivas)
One level up, two guest rooms separated by a living area and kitchenette can host family members or friends on extended stays. Below, there is a rentable unit, with its own terrace, where the wife’s nonagenarian mother now resides. Mobility restricted, she walks up the gentle incline of the sidewalk to visit her daughter, who is no stranger to patient care as a former pediatrician. But the couple knows, one day, that this apartment will be vacant, and they’ve discussed leasing it to a student at the nearby university who, from time to time, might join them for meals.
At about 16 inches deep, the rear-ventilated facade, with its bright ceramic rainscreen and thick insulation, pays dividends. Paired with a radiant cooling system embedded into the terrazzo floor, plus common-sense window placement that stirs airflow, and an automated system of louvers, this thickness makes for an energy-efficient—and comfortable—residence, without the need for air-conditioning. In fact, the small photovoltaic array on the roof sufficiently powered the home through the summer. The savings have not gone unnoticed, especially in Europe, where the conflict in Ukraine has inflated the cost of utilities and building materials (the couple paid for the house by selling their old one).
“When designing for people our age or younger, we often reflect on our own memories,” Fidalgo says. “But we haven’t entered this stage of life yet, and the project made us face reality in a very different way.” With a discerning eye, the architects have improved their clients’ quality of life, from the myriad ways they can now share their home with others to the house’s ability to evolve with their changing needs. “We want them to grow older the very best way that they can—happily.”
Click plan to enlarge
Click section to enlarge
Ignacio G. Galán and OF Architects (Arantza Ozaeta and Álvaro Martín Fidalgo) — Ignacio G. Galán, Alvaro Martín Fidalgo, Arantza Ozaeta, principals and design leads; Ana Herreros Cantís, Natalia Molina, Paula Rodriguez Vara, Pablo Saiz del Rio, designers
Mecanismo Ingenieria (structural)
2,800 square feet
Metal panels: Arcelor Mittal (corrugated steel panels)
Rainscreen: Agrob Buchtal (ceramic cladding)
Metal frame: Cortizo (Operable aluminum frame windows); Griesser and Bandalux (louvers)
Metal doors: Hörmann
Cabinetwork and custom woodwork: FINSA wood panels
Floor and wall tile: MOSAICS PLANAS (floor tile); VIUVA LAMEGO (wall tile)
Interior ambient lighting: FARO, FLOS
Dimming system or other lighting controls: JUNG
Energy management or building automation system: Heating and Cooling floors
Other unique products that contribute to sustainability: Smart ventilation SIBER