The practice revitalising a Taiwanese waterfront, an impressive new concrete bridge in Aarau and creative takeaways from Mallorca.
When architects are overseeing a renovation, it can be challenging to strike the balance between the needs to conserve and introduce contemporary features. Architect Carlos Gómez Sos’s revamp of his family’s medieval home – known as La Posada and located in a small town in the province of Huelva, southwestern Spain – was a five-year labour of love that found the necessary equilibrium.
“The house hadn’t really been modified since the 18th century but I didn’t want to demolish it,” says Gómez Sos. “Every residence has a soul and you first have to understand that soul before you can move forward. I recycled as many materials as possible and preserved traditional construction techniques and materials, particularly the exposed stonework and woodwork design.”
Gómez Sos turned to local artisans for fresh additions to the space, including raw-wood panelling, custom bookcases and new stairs. “There’s a robust tradition of carpentry in this village in Huelva, where architecture isn’t just a profession but a matter of pride,” he says. It’s appropriate, then, that the space also doubles as the architect’s studio. “For architects, work is a lifestyle, so La Posada is my reflection of this attitude towards my profession.”
Spread across three floors, the home’s defining feature is a large, newly installed window that overlooks the garden. Its construction was a delicate operation that involved cutting into an interior wall but Gómez Sos was there every step of the way. “Like the captain of the ship, if the project had gone down then I would’ve gone down with it,” he says. “Life is about finding comfort in a place – and I’ve found the place where I belong.”
I rounded out my summer with a trip to Mallorca. While the Balearic island is home to famous architecture, there are plenty of small details that creatives can apply to their own work. Here are five design-minded takeaways:
1. Use common sense
Getting to some of Mallorca’s beaches can require scaling cliffs but simple design additions make it possible: large eye hooks screwed into slippery rocks offer secure grips, concrete pads poured between boulders function as diving boards, and handrails made from olive trees are a steadying presence when walking down a hill. In many countries, these wouldn’t pass building codes. Sometimes applying common sense over standards is a sensible option.
2. Details matter
The metal pit lids and manhole covers for the water infrastructure in Deià are beautiful. Finished with the town’s crest and an embossed striped pattern, they’re reminiscent of Le Corbusier’s manhole covers in Chandigarh, where cast-iron lids are engraved with a map of the city. Deià’s small detail makes potentially ugly infrastructure something to be proud of, lifting the quality of its streets.
3. Show some restraint
Speaking of Deià, the pretty hillside village is defined by its green-shuttered, limestone houses – an architectural status quo that could be threatened by developers. Thankfully, the town council has regulations to preserve its charms. Such guidelines ensure that the character that makes the town appealing isn’t destroyed – plus, architects often work best when given a set of constraints to adhere to.
4. Hide in plain sight
The Miró Mallorca Foundation is home to three outstanding buildings, with its flagship designed by Rafael Moneo. Sleek stone walls gently bounce light around the room… until it hits the bright-red fire extinguishers, which the Spanish architect didn’t intend to make a focal point. Can we design these so they don’t detract from the architecture? Fire-hose company Safe Crash makes cabinets that slot into the walls of buildings, hiding their products but ensuring that they’re on hand if anything goes wrong.
5. Rethink tradition
Artesanía Tèxtil Bujosa is one of Mallorca’s oldest family-run textile workshops. It has long made curtains, bedspreads, table furnishings and upholstery for wealthy families on the island but Stefania Borras saw an opportunity: clothing. Her fashion brand, Datura, uses Bujosa for a limited-edition clothing line, Terra, which sits within her wider collection. Bujosa’s textiles have strengthened her brand’s connection with the island.
The southern Taiwanese city of Kaohsiung is home to one of the island-nation’s biggest ports. Despite this fact, the 100-year-old Gushan Fish Market, in the metropolis’s waterfront Gushan neighbourhood, has gone from a bustling place of commerce to a forgotten waterfront asset in a matter of decades (a booming offshore fishing trade is supposedly to blame). In a bid to reclaim some of the site’s former glory, Taiwanese design studio CM Chao Architect & Planners was tapped to lead a revitalisation that has preserved the historical memory of the market while making it suitable for contemporary needs.
To do so, the architects opted to keep the original, century-old Dutch-style brick structure at the site’s entry. “[By preserving] the original structure, the public can appreciate the history of the market as they enter,” says CM Chao, whose team connected the old entryway to a new linear building that now houses the fish market, as well as the government’s Fishery Office and the newly minted Gushan Ferry Station.
It’s a move that provides the building a purpose beyond fishy transactions and is complemented by landscaping from landscape studio Motif. The Taipei- based firm has designed a series of pathways that snake through mounds of grass that provide public servants, vendors and passengers a place to unwind on the seafront. The result? A project that sensitively taps in to the site’s history to inform its new use – and an admirable model for any city looking to breathe life into their own forgotten sites.
The town of Aarau in northern Switzerland is defined by the Aare river: its riverbank on the edge of its old town is a place of leisure for locals and has been the site of countless constructions spanning the river since Roman times. A newly finished bridge, defined by seamlessly constructed concrete arches, might just be the most elegant attempt yet. Designed by Basel-based architects Christ & Gantenbein, it replaces a concrete structure from 1949.
“We approached the design of the New Aare Bridge with a respect for this history and a vision for the future,” says Emanuel Christ, who co-founded Christ & Gantenbein with Christoph Gantenbein in 1998. For the new bridge, the architects drew inspiration from Aarau’s medieval architecture and the river’s natural environment to create a structure that looks traditional but has features – such as large openings beneath its deck, which offer glimpses of the waterway from riverside paths – that could only be achieved by using modern construction methods. “Together with the engineers, I think we managed to create a blend of old and new in a bridge that connects not just two sides of a river but also the past and the present,” says Christ.
The five arches partially rest on the two foundations of the old bridge, with a geometry that, according to the architects, “employs concrete sparingly”. Seamlessly linking with existing streets and promenades, the 119-metre-long structure has space for drivers, pedestrians and cyclists. The result is a structure that is impressive architecturally and is an essential civic work. Or, as Christ puts it, “The New Aare Bridge is not just a bridge – it is a piece of the urban fabric, contributing another layer to the city’s evolution.”