This fearsomely difficult site in the small town of Oropesa, in the province of Toledo, was hemmed in by the remains of three dilapidated historic houses and the protected ruins of a brick arcade marching through the site like a huge aqueduct. From these unpromising ingredients, Madrid-based architects Ignacio Pedrosa and Ángela García de Paredes have sculpted a pair of contemporary houses of astonishing beauty for a brother and sister.
Using the grain, the mass and the texture of the historic elements, the architects wove a new architecture through the constrictions and around a new central courtyard. The brick arches were part of what had been intended as an elevated connection between the castle and the Church of Nuestra Señora de la Asunción, but which was never completed. It was, in a way, a ruin from the beginning. The architects have maintained, restored and consolidated those architectural remains, using them to frame new spaces and as sculptural interventions in the interiors.
These are not huge houses by any means. The plans of both are long and thin, and the original openings to the outside are small and mean, intended to keep the searing sun out rather than let light in. Yet by opening up the spaces to their full height (two storeys), keeping additions light in weight and crafted in thin, folded steel, and in allowing the scale of the ruins to intrude inside, the architecture is given a kind of epic interior scale.
Repairs have been made using the flat, Roman bricks similar to those in the old arches. The rough stone indicates the surviving structure of the original houses. It makes for a curious composition both inside and out: walls become patchworks of history, decay and repair, almost like abstract-expressionist canvases.
Inside, the brick and stone surfaces have simply been whitewashed, creating strikingly modern and airy spaces that are clearly very different from the dark, dank and multiply subdivided rooms of the original houses. The interiors seem to exude an abstract, sculptural quality — at times they can look a little like a beautiful architectural model. This curious quality is brought out further by the extremely stripped-down kitchens, steps and walls.
There is something reminiscent here of Witherford Watson Mann’s exquisite interventions at Astley Castle in Warwickshire, England, but also of Rafael Moneo’s Roman museum in Mérida (1986), in which the Spanish architect used similar thin bricks to create the awe-inspiring scale of a Roman interior while remaining determinedly contemporary.
Photographs: Luis Asin
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