Integrated Architecture

For many centuries, architecture was vernacular. Reflecting the environmental, cultural and historical context in which it existed, it used available materials to fulfill the local needs. Vernacular architecture, almost by definition, is a sustainable architecture, since it uses the locally available resources without exhausting them.

Javier Barba integrates vernacular concepts into each of his projects, delicately intertwining them with timeless design and bioclimatic architecture. Based in Barcelona, Barba has designed homes, resorts and wineries in Spain, Portugal, the Greek islands, Java and Baja California. As an heir to the pantheistic tradition of the Mediterranean — the view that Nature and God are the same thing — Barba is greatly inspired by the spirit of the place. Space and light are the essential qualities, a feeling of being unconfined and unpretentious. In all of his projects, he takes maximum advantage of the views and the locations, reducing the energy consumption and incorporating the buildings into the surrounding landscape.

BiniChic recently met up with Javier Barba in his studio, where we had a chance to talk about bioclimatic architecture, his works as well as some of the stories behind them. Barba is currently putting the final touches on his second book, edited by Loft and coming out at the end of February.

Above and below, two views of Casa Monjo, in Menorca’s Cala Pregonda, a perfect example of integrating architecture into the landscape.

BiniChic: What is your source of inspiration?

Javier Barba: The location. Well, the location and the client. First, I meet the client and see if we have a mutual empathy. Usually, a client calls because they already know and like what I do. Then, I go to the location and see what the site itself tells me.
When I see a large rock or a tree, I design around them — I imagine an outdoor living space, or a patio — I could never fathom ripping them out.
Once, I went to Mykonos to visit a location before starting a house, and there was a large rock in the middle of the bare pasture overlooking the bay. The owner — now a good friend of mine — and myself sat there, looking at the view of the Mykonos bay, sitting in front of the rock, sheltered from the chilly wind. On the rock sat a lizard that was sunning itself when we got there.
After designing the house — the rock became the centerpiece of the outdoor living-room — I told the workers “Don’t even think of getting rid of the lizard.” It was sort of the house’s symbolic guardian. We even paid homage to it with a small hand-made sculpture that now sits on that same rock.
Later, when the house was already finished, I was walking around the patio and found the lizard sitting there. I took that as a sign that the house was a success. He’d come back to his original home — actually, he was more rightfully there than us…

Photos below: views of Tsirigakis House in Mykonos, home to the lizard mentioned above.

BiniChic: What kind of questions do you ask your clients before starting a project?

Javier Barba: I ask them to prepare a list of their necessities: how many people will use the house, how they live, who wakes up first… a bit like a doctor diagnosing a patient.
Then I have to figure out a design that can complement their lifestyle, stimulating or relaxing them. It’s a slow process — discussing feelings, walking the lands, doing sketches, making models. We like to enjoy our work and build a lasting relationship over a long period of time.

Below, images of Stag Cellar’s Wine Cellar in Napa Valley, California.

BiniChic: What makes your architecture green?

Javier Barba: Well, first I would start with the concept of integrated bioclimatic architecture. I believe that integrating architecture with nature is the basic philosophic principle of green architecture.
A lot of it is plain common sense — protecting from strong winds but using cross ventilation, landscaping rooftoops, recycling water to irrigate, making a home energetically self-sufficient with solar power.
Our next project is for a prominent figure in the Middle East, and she wants a completely carbon zero project. That means that nothing can come from over 200 kilometers away from the construction site.
We also did a proposal back in 1992 for a completely sustainable Island off the coast from Barcelona — Ecópolis — and even though it was never constructed, I still hope that someone with a visionary spirit will want to carry it through. Maybe we can get a chance to make it reality in this next project.

BiniChic: Who are your favorite architects?

Javier Barba: Well, as far as classics, I’m a fan of Frank Lloyd Wright — for the way he rooted buildings in the site. He was a leading proponent of organic architecture. He had a wonderful way of working the living rooms and the bedrooms — he opened up the spaces in a way that hadn’t been done before . I was surprised when I went to visit some of his buildings once , and noticed that he didn’t really pay much attention to the kitchens or the bathrooms.
As for a contemporary architect, I really like Renzo Piano. I think he’s a master at what he does. He’s done many wonderful projects, but the Tjibaou Cultural Center in Oceania is especially interesting. It’s a wonderful example of paying homage to vernacular architecture and local traditions without falling into a parody of it.

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5 Responses to Integrated Architecture

  1. Erin says:

    Barba’s work and concepts reminded me of this mountain bike hotel by Philip modest Schambelan and Anton Fromm. Check it out at …talk about designing for your client! Great post!

  2. antonio gabriel monjo says:

    Me llamò la atenciòn de que mi apellido coincidiera con el nombre de esta residencia,¿Quisiera saber porquè se llama asì y en que parte de Menorca està situada?.Mi abuelo naciò en Ciutadella y yo estuve allà en el 2005. Por si tuvieramos alguna relaciòn de apellido,mi abuelo se llamaba Gabriel Monjo Gelabert,naciò el 28 de diciembre de 1870 y falleciò en Còrdoba,Argentina en el año 1926,hijo de Joan Monjo Monjo y de Marìa Gelabert Brinis,todos de Ciutadella. De todas maneras, agradecerè toda comunicaciòn que puedan Uds realizar.Un caluroso saludo de un Monjo que admira mucho a Menorca,Hasta siempre!

    • BiniChic says:

      Hola Antonio,
      Gracias por tu interés. La casa está en la cala de Pregonda, al norte de la isla. No te puedo proporcionar más información de por qué se llama así, ya que el arquitecto no ha querido publicar el nombre de sus clientes. Monjo tiene varios significados en catalan ( monje; el nombre de una especie de focas Mediterraneas, tipo de columna, etc), así que también podria ser un nombre en honor a alguno de estos elementos. Saludos!

  3. antonio gabriel monjo says:

    agradeceré cualquier contacto que me pueda relacionar con Monjo.Pudiera ser un e-mail,alguna direcciòn postal o cualquier otro medio apto.(nº telefónico,etc.)Mil gracias.(les aclaro que estudié arquitectura
    ,pero la abandone a dos años de recibirme)Ahora estoy Doctorando en Comunicaciòn Social).Un abrazo des-
    de Argentina.

  4. antonjo gabriel monjo says:

    La publicación de mi nota no se corresponde con lo que yo envié y resulta un tanto confusa de entender. La envié en español pero parece una traducción bastante irregular de otro idioma.De todas maneras, muchas gracias y también por sus notas que son muy buenas.Hasta pronto!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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