In the centre of Madrid, architect Carlos Arroyo and his team create a home-cum-office that acknowledges the need for flexibility in modern interiors.
“It is an unstable house. It will never be finished”, declares architect Carlos Arroyo with mock fatality, referring to his project – TSM3 Unstable House in the town of Madrid. Cheekily titled and perhaps more evocative of an errant chemical compound, Unstable House is a large single-space lofty envelope that allows its inhabitants the flexibility of changing spatial dynamics as and when required thanks to pre-determined arrangements for wiring, walls, wet waste and a lift.
The concept of office-by-day/house-by-night is not new, although Unstable House which is a house-by-day, doubles up as an office-by-night on certain days of the month when it is used as a showroom to exhibit lighting designs to select guests. Currently, lighting effects are used to transform the interiors; eventually as the family members increase or as office needs develop, the entire space can be easily customised to suit newer needs.
TSM3 Unstable House which started off as a ground floor terraced property of 59.80 sq.mts. is today a transformed space with 2.5 new floors and an added 154 sq.mts. Inside the newly built-up area, the most striking feature is the absence of any bricks or concrete. The floors are 10cm-thin metal floor slabs and the walls are screwed-on OSB panels which can easily be removed for a change in interiors or to accommodate new electrical changes. The effect on the whole is one of informality, depth and lightness.
“Dry mounting is obviously a very efficient way to work,” says Carlos referring to the modern materials his firm opted for in order to meet the client’s need for a flexible interior at minimum costs. Another advantage of replacing brick and mortar with metal is that all building materials are reusable and hence environment-friendly.
But it’s not just the interiors that are unstable; the house’s façade too which resembles 19th Century Madrid architecture is actually an illusion. In order to conform to Municipal regulations of a 19th Century façade, the architects used sheets of extrusion polystyrene with chalk-based renderings to create a typical baroque ‘Trompe l’oeil’ of stone ashlars. The black colour of the frames which recalls the classic silhouettes of the 18th Century are also fitted into the contemporary graphic imagery creating a pleasing harmony of modern and traditional.
While on the topic of unstability, half the building is cantilevered over the neighboring convent since the ground floor was only partly accessible due to the right-of-use by the convent. The cantilevered half is clearly visible in the striking blue steel beams. “The outside feels definitely contemporary in an atemporal sort of way”, admits Carlos.
The spiral staircase which winds through the house divides the floor plan into two large adaptable spaces on either side of the stairs. All the main installations are concentrated within a central passage which makes it very convenient for wet areas to be added or removed, with no grey energy waste.
Since the architects were instructed to deliver a basic arrangement that could be expanded upon, installation of radiators and air-conditioners were left unfinished. As the owner’s vision for the house takes definite shape, heating and cooling systems will eventually make an appearance. In the meantime, the house has a micro-climate of its own, adapting to the changes in the weather outside.
The top part is like a greenhouse for winter. In the summer, the transparent parts are covered with awnings and a draft is created by sucking air from small openings under the sidewalk through the deep brick basement where it is cooled naturally and then goes up the central part of the house.
In 2011, TSM3 Unstable House was nominated for the Mies van der Rohe Awards. What’s really surprising about this type of architecture is that there aren’t many such homes around. Given the fact that more and more people are choosing to work from home and have multiple roles to play in the same space, it is clearly evident that Unstable House is an idea whose time has definitely come.
Text By Christabelle Athaide
Photographs Miguel de Guzmán