Blas House in Sevilla la Nueva (Madrid), by Alberto Campo Baeza

Having a steep and “uncomfortable” site yet with a beautiful view over the horizon, a professor of literature in Madrid approached the architect, Alberto Campo Baeza, to design a house for his family where they could “listen to music”. As a present he gave the architect a beautiful book of poetry, as it were provisions for starting the design process. Thus, the client directed the architect whose world-wide reputation was recognised for his poetic treatment of natural light.
With this mutual cultural understanding between the client and the architect, a house was being born where one listens to the music within the silence.

A house for emotions; to forget and remember
The first day that the client, Francisco de Blas, visited the architect he gave him a book of poetry from 1950 with the complete work of the Spanish poet Luis Cernuda (1902- 1963) who had been a member of the group of poets, Generation 27, with Federico García Lorca among others. Cernuda’s poetry was dense with intense emotions, describing sensitivity and love, pain and solitary, and the contrasts between the realisation of his personal desires (the wish) and the limits imposed by the world around him (reality). His most famous poem Donde habite el olvido (1932-33) describes a world where one forgets all one’s problems and in that way manages to achieve the freedom that one longs so much.
This was the reading material that the professor of literature transmitted to his architect. It seemed as if Francisco de Blas wanted something more than a house, that he wanted place where emotions and reflections were part of the building material. For Campo Baeza, this was a welcoming challenge. In fact, he intended his architecture to speak poetry and in order to transmit that to his architectural students he started every lecture for his classes at the University with an opening of the poem, Auguries of Innocence by William Blake:

To see a World in a grain of sand.
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the Palm of your hand.
And Eternity in an Hour.

The house in the mountain for listening to silence
With these provisions, Campo Baeza went to visit the site with the client. It was to the southwest of Madrid with a wonderful view to the north towards the mountains and 3000 squares metres with a difference of 15 metres in height from bottom to the top. Despite that the client thought it very uncomfortable, the architect realised immediately that the place was perfect for the brief that the client had given him. Being so high, the surrounding houses would disappear and would leave the horizontal landscape in the distance to be enjoyed.
Studying the slope, Campo Baeza decided to make a platform for the house to sit on and to divide the house into two conceptual elements: a solid concrete box sitting firmly on the ground emphasising its sense of gravity and another transparent glass box placed on the concrete box with a light and simple steel structure that almost disappears into the landscape. The perfectly carved out box contrasts with the structural qualities of the second, the viewpoint situated at the highest point of the house. They are two opposing states or qualities of how light transmit through the material; one completely opaque and the other completely open.
Inside the concrete box is the programme of the house dividing the spaces so as the living areas - the four bedrooms and the living room - have a view of the framed landscape through square gaps that open out to the horizon. The effect is as if the landscape is far away from our reach in the distance. The opposite is felt in the totally transparent box on its roof where one is literally absorbed by the power of the surroundings. It is here that the inhabitant can loose all sense for the time, to listen to the sounds of the ambience, of the silence, of the music of the landscape. One recalls the effect of John Cage’s musical piece “4 minutes and 33 seconds” (1952) where the pianist sits in silence in front of the piano while the audience listen to the sounds of the surroundings. No two people listen to the silence in the same way. In fact, people are generally not educated in listening to the silence.
In de Blas house one finds peace within oneself and gains freedom. The experience is deeply personal, based on reflections; forgetting and remembering and relating oneself with the environment. Francisco de Blas and Alberto Campo Baeza have made a house where its poetry helps to build another more subjective poetry of the one who perceives the place.

Photos: Estudio Campo Baeza
a. Alberto Campo Baeza (b. 1946)
b. Why should this house appear in so many books on Houses, whether it is a World Atlas or a pocket book on Houses?
c+d+e+f. Light is not only capable of revealing the spatial form, but also of dematerialising its structure.
g+h+i. A path from the sense of gravity to the sense of transparency.