It's a brand-new day in Seville, Spain—where Morales Giles MGM converted a 1920's villa into the Hotel Holos
Mario López-Cordero -- Interior Design, 4/1/2008 12:00:00 AM
Approached by the owner of a 1920's house in Seville, Spain, to convert the building into a boutique hotel, architect Sara de Giles anticipated nothing more than a standard renovation. And her reaction was less than enthusiastic. She and José Morales, the principals of Morales Giles MGM Arquitectos, also teach their discipline at the Universidad de Sevilla—so they're immersed in theory daily. A run-of-the-mill face-lift just isn't their bag.
"But it turned out the client wasn't looking for a simple remodel," De Giles explains. In devising a 3,000-square-foot transformation and expansion, Morales Giles MGM saw an opportunity to explore the relationship between historic and contemporary architecture. That's where the fun began.
The Hotel Holos is in Heliopolis, a residential neighborhood built to house dignitaries traveling to the city for the Exposición Iberoamericana de Sevilla of 1929. The area is protected by strict preservation laws, so the architects couldn't change the original structure of the house, and any new construction would be restricted in size to the square footage of the outbuildings being demolished. (Dating from before the advent of the preservation laws, these structures were not original and thus not protected.) In other words, it was an even exchange: Morales Giles MGM could add only what it subtracted. Removing a shed, a doghouse, and a carport from the garden would allow for the construction of a 200-square-foot glass café pavilion where guests could gather for breakfast.
Turning a private house into a hotel of course required conforming to more stringent fire codes. But there was a catch-22. While safety regulations decreed that the villa's main staircase was too small, preservation laws prevented its expansion. Morales Giles MGM's only recourse was to build a staircase of the correct size on the exterior of the house—and account for the square footage in the allotment for "outbuildings."
Now, however, the proportions were off. "The staircase was huge in comparison to the size of the house," De Giles says. To help restore the balance, she and Morales devised what he describes as a "kind of veil to hide the stair. Then it occurred to us that the same veil could hide the café in its pleats." Morales Giles MGM ultimately took that idea one step further, developing the veil as a canopy that expands and shrinks as it travels around the back and side of the property and eventually morphs into a wall along the street front.
Made from aluminum beams, this futurist latticework bursts from the white stuccoed side of the villa to shelter 2,000 square feet that technically remain outdoors, cleverly evading the new-construction proviso. The villa's patch of lawn and flowers, which would have looked out of place in this new environment, made way for a hard-scape of white Andalusian limestone rocks and African teak decking. At the perimeter of the property, the teak planks angle up to conceal incandescent fixtures installed behind. At night, Morales says, the light is "enveloping."
The canopy also extends above the roof of the café. Because it's built of glass held together by structural silicone, without support beams, the pavilion seems to float in the dappled shade. "We were interested in transparency and lightness," De Giles notes.
Morales Giles MGM then retrofitted the interior of the house to match the bold exterior landscape. Minimalism prevails, and materials are a defining factor. To unify outside and in, public areas are detailed in aluminum. The same beams that form the canopy reappear on the ceiling of the lobby. Sheets of stamped aluminum line the walls and cover the stairs leading up to the seven guest rooms.
Marking the vertical transition, beech becomes the dominant material. Most of the hallways and the simple, serene guest rooms are clad in flat panels of the wood. The clean lines extend to the ceilings, where Morales Giles MGM avoided overhead lighting, instead hiding fixtures in vertical channels tucked alongside the studiously unfussy built-ins. Bathrooms follow the same uncluttered mandate, with nickel-finished fittings and shower stalls clad in marble native to the Andalusian region.
All of which illustrates an important lesson that De Giles and Morales might teach in their "Projectos Arquitectónicos" class at the university: The most banal of circumstances can sometimes lead to the most compelling architecture.