Acknowledging and maintaining the value of self-built, fragile outdoor light structures that populate a magic yard built by ancestors. A triple house, one indoors, one outdoors, one where porches become the core that keeps past, present and future kin together.
A 1000 m2 plot at a five minute walk from the center of Reus. In the middle of the site, a self-built country house. A hidden misfit gem. When it was first built, it was in the rural outskirts of town, some worker ́s retreat to spend weekends, summers, growing some vegetables. Since then, it has been surrounded by all kind of suburban and urban constructions. It still keeps its quiet, peasant ́s atmosphere. The late grandfather bought this mas many years ago. He spent the second part of his life taking care of it. Using his skills as a watchmaker, he patiently assembled additions, welding, screwing and growing all kinds of rooms, huts, shacks, porches, fig trees, palm trees, plants and shades: An outdoors abode, a second house around the former one-floor self-built construction. The house was in a perpetual state of construction, a never-ending laborious enjoyment for its dwellers. And then in 2016 the father died, and the place was empty.
A year after the father’s passing, the son, his wife and daughter -the JECs- decided to move back in. Their only initial demand was that they wanted to live on a ground floor. The plot is big enough for a single-storey house, so they don’t have to go up and down the stairs when they get old. The old mas has two floors, a flat roof -a terrat- on top, and an underground cellar.
The JECs first question was whether it was better to keep the existing mas, or to demolish it and build a new structure instead?
Through the years, on the weekends and holidays, the watchmaker invented a magic, humble, loose atmosphere. Improvised porches where the family used to gather to cook, eat, and spend most of their time. The JEC’s recollection of these daily cheerful memories, and the fact that the first day we visited the site the house was exactly as it was the day the father died, transformed this dense absence into an immaterial source. Memories became another important shelter to nurture.
The value of this place was not the existing main house. Although its structure was quite in good shape, what made it inhabitable were its self-built garden structures. These outdoor shelters are the real quality of this place. They are impossible to design. Probably they are impossible to reproduce. They are extremely fragile, to the point that it seems impossible to repair them. What we needed to find was a way to up-cycle these structures, and add some more inhabitable air among them. Our approach was not to touch what we wanted to keep -we would just paint it.
So neither we kept the existing mas as is, nor we totally demolished it. Instead, we placed more inhabitable air in the worst area of the plot, which was often shaded by the main house. The extension is family to the existing porches. In order to minimise the impact of this new structure, we kept its weight light as a porch, using CLT panels and thin steel tubes.
The presence of quite tall apartment blocks on the northern and north-western side protects the site from the strong Mestral winds, and shades it during the hot summer afternoons. Surrounded by this slight geological ring, a microclimate unfolds.
We took advantage of our neighbour’s accidental gift by using some lighter construction techniques and opening up towards the western light. By maintaining the old constructions, we got three autonomous habitats, that the family will use according to their changing needs through the seasons and decades. We erased any trace of program or specific use in the mas. Kitchen, gone. Bathrooms, gone. Rooms, gone. A space devoid of any program or even suggestion of use. What could be foreseen as a buffer space might become the daughter’s house. What was thought as a guest apartment might become the writing room...
We separated the bid in two: one for the off-site CLT panels system, with a tolerance of 2 mm; the other for the on-site wet and hot masonry work; and established a very simple protocol so the two parts could work well together. The engineered timber extension was assembled in two weeks. The old house took almost a year to be ready, and it ended up in a final paradox: we had to change many construction details to adapt them to the specific skills of the masons, moving from BIM to bricolage, as if their hand’s were conduits of
the late father’s soul, imprinted in the up-cycled terrazzo pavement or the polished brick floors.
The late father’s workshop is now a very popular guest apartment.
NOTE: JEC is an acronym made with the three inhabitant’s names, but it also means winter coat in Catalan.