Alicante, Spain

The theme of circling, flowing movement runs through every project by Grupo Aranea. Based in the coastal city of Alicante in southeastern Spain, the studio is led by architect Francisco Leiva Ivorra and his wife, landscape architect Marta García Chico, who draw inspiration from curving natural forms. Their first building, a library in San Vicente del Raspeig completed in 2004, is a continuous spiraling ramp. And both a seaside spa in Gijón and an Environmental Observatory in Alicante spin around themselves in open-ended loops. Their Lude House sits like a hard white seashell atop an existing building in the town of Cehegín, rippled inside and out by the curving, rising movement of its stair and double-height living area.

Even a completely orthogonal design, a public high school in the village of Rafal, is organized around circular movement: a pink-carpeted bleacher opposite the entrance, which doubles as a wide stair and meeting point, kicks off a sequence of corridors and outdoor spaces that circle back over the entry and around a playing field to connect classroom pavilions.

In the firm's landscape and environmental restoration projects, circles give way to flowing forms. At their River Park in Elche, which the architects call “The Braided Valley,” crisscrossing paths take flight, swooping over a river on narrow concrete bridges, like a miniature highway interchange. And a proposal to restore the watercourses and ponds of Saline Joniche, an area on the Italian coast of Reggio Calabria dotted with derelict industrial facilities, brings the theme of fluid movement back to its origins in the water-formed landscape.

These flow patterns weave together many different strands of intent. “The spiral is a good way to move through a confined space and connect things,” Leiva explains. “We are interested in the concept of the embrace, of embracing places,” he continues. “In [the Gijón spa], that embrace tames the rough waters of the Bay of Biscay for bathing. The design emerges from the ground and rises up, in the form of a raised promenade, to return views towards the city.” Circling movement also creates protected interior realms in the firm's work, as it does in the enclosed community of the high school or the cocoon of the Lude House.

Leiva has had little contact with the slightly older generation of Alicante architects such as Alfredo Payá or Javier García Solera. He cites instead the influence of Enric Miralles, a model for his free, dynamic forms and his engagement with the social dimension of space. But the most direct source of the organic, sometimes convulsive designs of Grupo Aranea is found in Leiva's own drawings, which are inspired by landscape and nature. He admits to being a compulsive sketcher. “Drawing without thinking is a filter that allows me to relate to the world, and to a particular place,” he says. In his hands, drawing and design become ways for weaving together man and nature.


Grupo Aranea



PRINCIPALS: Francisco Leiva Ivorra, Marta García Chico

EDUCATION: Leiva: Universidad Polit'cnica de Valencia (UPV), Architecture, 1998. García Chico: UPV, M. Landscape Architecture, 2006; UPV, Agricultural Engineering, 1999.

KEY COMPLETED PROJECTS: The Braided Valley River Park, Elche, Spain, 2013; Casa Lude, Cehegin, Spain, 2011; Secondary School in Rafal, Spain, 2009; La Casa Verde, Sax, Spain, 2006; Public Library in San Vicente, Spain, 2005

KEY CURRENT PROJECTS: Urban Environmental Observatory, Alicante, Spain, 2014; Urban Rehabilitation in the Historic Center of Onda, Spain, 2014; Saline Joniche, Anthropic Park, Reggio Calabria, Italy, 2018