Castellet is a very small town on the top of a limestone hill by the Foix dam. The hill belongs to the Serralada Prelitoral, that separates the catalan coastal areas from the interior territories. Its castle was built in the Xth century, and it has a romanesque church. The dam was built in 1928, and around it the Parc Natural del Foix was created in 1993. Its location and the views from the town over the dam and the Penedès, a wining region, have prevented it from being abandoned. Instead, it has become quite a popular place for foreigners to buy some of its affordable empty houses and spend their holidays there.
BuilderVILELLA CONSTRUCTOR, TIMBERLAB
Castellet, Dwelling along thresholds
How to turn an old house made of nine rooms isolated from each other into portals which its large family can inhabit according to their changing daily, seasonal and lifelong needs?
TERRITORY / ECOSYSTEM
NEEDS AND HOPES
An architecture of the well-traveled environment
Kirsten and Nico got one of these houses. They live in Paris and they need a place to spend time close to two of their kid’s grandparents. Another gravitational reference. They run Faircompanies, and this place might also become their permanent abode in the future. Through many years of traveling around the world producing videos for their Youtube channel, they have acquired a wide and open understanding of frugal and courageous modes of habitation, and they wish to apply and develop some of the ideas gathered along the way in making their own place.
The house is on the low ridge where the town has been built on, facing the pantà de Foix to the south and a hundred meters below. This manmade body of water brings up a cool breeze in the dry and sun beaten summer days. It also reflects its light bringing it into the house.
Before we started transforming it, the house was basically nine rooms, some are not even connected between them. The house was in fact almost three houses side by side. In section, very distinct floors: the basement, at the edge of the dam level, iwas a workshop, and two empty cellars. The ground floor contained the living room, a small bathroom, the kitchen and a bedroom. The first floor was under three different roofs. It had a bedroom, and then two uninhabitable spaces which were too low.
There are neither material manufacturers nor builders and carpenters in the town or in its near vicinity. Due to the presence of the castle, the whole town anatomy is protected through an old, unclear heritage plan which tries to maintain its old looks intact.
This is how the house was:
Cross section towards the dam
These nine rooms were too isolated from each other and the outdoors. Its structure was in good shape, although the southern end of the top floor roof needed to be removed if it was to be made inhabitable. This end corner of the house had the biggest potential in terms of opening it to the surrounding views.
SEARCH AND PLAN
Living in the doorstep
How to increase communication of these nine rooms among themselves and with the immediate and far surroundings? Horizontally, by taking the doors away, making the resulting holes much bigger, and opening new ones where there is none; vertically, by removing parts of the existing floors and roofs. We build deep thresholds where we place all services and some domestic functions, untaming and freeing the rooms from any pre-established program. By inverting the common sense logic, static actions are based now in these thresholds, which also contribute to reinforcing the structure of the house. Removing part of the existing floors brings more space in the house, which feels bigger, and cross ventilation to all the rooms. A new roof at the west-end room makes this space actually inhabitable, opening up to views of the pantà de Foix, while bringing a totally foreign haptic quality -wood- into town.
Cross section towards the dam
A house can do without bedrooms. There is no house if there are no beds. How can a house have no defined bedrooms and still provide the best possible situations for sleeping, resting, healing, making love?
These widened and new openings need a new structure. On the basement, it is made of concrete blocks, because they need to bring down all the weight from the above floors. On the ground floor, it is gero bricks, which will let less weight through. And on the top floor, to make it as light and easy to lift as possible, the new structure is GL24h and KV-H pine.
Concrete block basement.
Brick ground floor.
Wood first floor.
We take out whatever is in bad condition, and introduce three standard structural pieces within the house -concrete blocks, bricks and 10×10 pine studs. Transformation stages:
The house only started revealing to us once the construction started. The noise of stones falling, dust of the going floors, the scorched walls. The more light got in, the older the rooms looked, the darker the corners turnt. In every visit, each wall became more present, fragmented, more broken and of itself, and less aligned with our plans.
As in many towns built around a castle, some of the stones found in the house might have been part of it. A blurred extension of an ancient life, of a long gone atmosphere. Every week the house became more medieval, in a more remote time that we couldn’t reach. Our sketchy and robust plan allowed us to make ultra-local decisions that were atonal, unelegant, loosely executed, thus erasing the last prejudices of our project and letting an older, more imperfect house to surface.
Ground and first floor