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We would like to thank the team behind the book “Global Villa Design” for their interest in our work!

Describe the project or client that has most inspired you!

We have been very lucky with this client. Great architecture requires great clients. For example, House H could not have been implemented without the vision, faith and trust that this client had in my ideas and the hard work of ABIBOO’s team. When I met the client of House H, a soccer player from Real Madrid, I asked them to spent a lot of time with them and asked hundreds of questions. By doing so, I was able to really go deep into their needs and their lifestyle and be able to bring up something very profound through architecture. The process itself was inspiring as many of their personal passions also grew in me.

Which project has given you the most satisfaction thus far?

I loved working on our private villas. We have designed villas for sports people, diplomats, business men, actors and for “the neighbor next door”. I enjoy realizing that no matter what we do in our professional time, when it comes the time for our private space, we are all very similar in the emotions that we can build around them. I also enjoyed working on some our largest projects, like the town entire townships we have designed in India for affordable homes. The retail and cultural projects are also of great fun because they take a larger impact in the city and its inhabitants. At the end, every project has their own soul and like children, it is difficult to choose among them.

What do you think that is essential in a home?

I think a strong character is essential in a home. Complexity and non-hierarchical layers of needs are common now. We used to have just a few requirements for our private houses but now, we have so many that it is mind blowing. I think there are two approaches to resolve this need: The first one is to create a very large space that could accommodate a flexible layout to adapt to such changing needs. Although this approach could work from the programmatic point of view, it ends up creating a space that has no character, no soul. An architect that I like a lot, Louis Kahn, used to say that every space should be the best that “it is meant to be”… it should have a strong character. I therefore prefer the opposite direction and create a diversity of spaces with their own intrinsic characteristics and to connect them in such a way that brings great flexibility.

In the case of House H, I call this approach a sponge structure. Every cell in a sponge has cells with different characteristics but there is no hierarchy among themselves and the relationships among them are very profound. The house is 1400 m2 and the site is 4000 m2. It has 60 different spaces that interrelate to each other in a very rich and nonlinear way. Some spaces are small, others are large, some have ceiling, others are opened to sky, some have soft flooring, others have water flooring, some have the feeling of flotation while others are very dark and intimate. The client and I wanted to give the experience of a very large house. By creating the strategy explained, it gives the experience that the house is huge, really huge, because you have so much emotions and sensations going on. 

What are your thoughts on the importance of renders in architecture today?

I see renders as a communication tool. In many cases they are useful to explain ideas to people that are not used to envision empty space. However, they lack the actual texture and materiality, which I consider essential in architecture. The texture and materials are so associated with the tactile experience that they become a fundamental tool for my architecture. 

Now that computer generated visualizations are so commonplace, is there still a place for physical model making or sketching designs by hand?

As mentioned before, I think that 3d visualizations are a tool for communication. They add value to the rolodex available to the architect but they are only a part of the design process.

Who has been the biggest influence on your work?

I believe my architecture has influences from two different directions. Christopher Alexander identified them in the 60s as “self-conscious architecture” and “unselfconscious architecture”. The first type is related with “designer architecture”, like the one we do in ABIBOO. The second one is related with vernacular designs, architecture whose designer us not identified. I love the research of authors like Bernard Rudofsky, also during the 60s, on “architecture without architects”. Charles Jencks proposes that these types of architecture is sometimes more important to architects than the one from designers that we all study in the books of Architecture. In my case I agree these inspirations are the main source for my designs.

Once said that, I also have learned from very important “Design Architects”. I had the luck to work in my youth with Toyo Ito — winner of the Pritzker Prize, with Inaki Abalos — Chair of Architecture at Harvard University, or with Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) — designers of the Burj Khalifa. I did learn a lot from all of these masters of the XX century and it would be impossible for me to be the architect that I am now without their direct influence. I am also passionate about the work of other architects from the past like Frank Lloyd Wright or Richard Neutra but the list is endless. I think I learn from everyone I come across either through books or in person.

I could identify two other influences in my way of thinking architecture. Phenomenology is closely related to my interests for strong experiential creation and I do have a lot of debt to the ideas of many philosophers, writers and architects associated with these lines of thought.

I also breath and share interests associated with dynamic nonlinear processes, connected with the called “chaos theory”. However, I look at these theories from a different angle than many current architects do. Many postmodern architects are looking into ideas related with chaos theory with formal solutions like fractal, biomorphic non-Euclidean forms or parametric designs. My interest associated with the “complexity of chaos” goes more to the process itself than to the actual forms of architecture.

I also believe many of these formal approaches are a direct reaction to the lineal and “righteous” thinking of the rationalism of the XX century. Like a Zen saying suggests, a reaction does not bring much value, but an embracement does. I think embracing some parts of rationalism is very good because it allows us to move forward and bring innovation by incorporating the past, instead of just reacting to it. I believe Architecture has to be cost effective, buildings need to be able to get built on schedule, without overly complex systems associated with a pure formalistic interest. At ABIBOO we have no fear of using curves, fractals or non-Euclidian spaces if needed to accomplish the experience we want to create but we are not attached to it and is not our focus. We like to think we are free from form and that our “style” is as dynamic as the emotions we want to create. Therefore, we are applying at ABIBOO the ideas associated to chaos theory but to our design processes not to our forms.

What would you say is your strongest asset and how have you developed that skill over time?

I would say it is the ability to create radical experiences through organic architecture. I am very passionate about Organic Architecture. Contemporary architects usually understand architecture as the combination of form -shell- and the inner empty space contained inside such form. Such approach to design usually conceptualizes the form or space first. This design process is associated with a deductive thinking that goes from the general thoughts to the details. I think this approach is acceptable if we see reality as finite, in alignment with the Platonic views of the Universe. However, in the unlimited reality of the XXI century, where everything seems to be at reach and where change is the main characteristic of our time, I believe it is not possible to respond to reality with a deductive approach to the design process. Therefore, I am an advocate of inductive thinking where architecture, space and form are conceived from the bottom-up. I call this “Inductive growth” and, in this approach, relationships become even more important than the actual objects.

The second important topic of my research is the creation of intense experiences that are mainly sensorial and emotional. Of course, I give great importance to the sight but I pay special attention to the other senses too. The emotions and intuition, which could be called a sixth sense, is as relevant to architecture as the rest of the senses. Hence the importance of incorporating the cultural context, environment and the sub-consciousness to emphasize the experience of architecture.

The third criteria that I explore in my projects is radicalism. Andrea Palladio was the first architect that truly combined theoretical ideas with actual practice. Many others have come since then, with the goal of achieving the same level of success in the marriage of ideas and its execution. I drink from this same fountain of wisdom so I tried to execute my projects following my ideas in architecture with as much clarity and radicalism as possible.

What is your overarching philosophy about architecture and design and how does it influence how you approach and work with clients?

Since the late Enlightenment and the ideas of Friedrich Hegel, architecture has been conceived as the way to represent the “spirit of a time” (Zeitgeist). However, we now live in a society that is in permanent change. As Paul Valery wrote “Interruption, incoherence, surprise are the ordinary conditions of our life and our minds are no longer fed by anything but sudden changes and constantly renewed stimuli… We no longer know how to make boredom bear fruit.”. How then to represent such an ever-changing world through architecture if there is nothing that lasts?

The search for an answer to this question is the main core of my architecture. I think Form was a fundamental part of design during the XX Century when reality was more static, more solid. However, I believe that nowadays, any focus on form design will be obsolete too soon. My approach is that, if the sight stimuli through form will come obsolete no matter what, we should then focus on the full sensorial and emotional experiences, which allow adaptability over time.

I think that vernacular Islamic Architecture has mastered this difficult solution best than any other in History. The castle of Alhambra in Spain, where I am originally from, is a masterful example of what I mean: the importance of the sound through water, or the touch of light, or the smell of introverted gardens that bring us closer to a deeper sense of being. I had the luck to spend many months of my childhood in Andalucía (former Al-Andalus) and learned early in life the unexplainable beauty of the non-visual experiences. The “immaterial” or shapeless elements in architecture that provide smell, touch, sound, taste and emotional connection with our deeper selves is something that is timeless, something that can bring us closer to a true representation of today’s changing world.

Therefore, I would say that my goal is to create strong experiences that change in time along with the people that interact with the architecture. This required a change in the focus. While most architects have focused before on space and form creation, I am more interested in physiology as processes. I like to say to my clients that an architect is more like a philologist or a sociologist. Before drawing anything, I spent countless hours talking with my clients or researching on the final consumers of my architecture. I want to know the deeper subconsciousness associated with the user so I can evoke something powerful through architecture. The solutions to this search are difficult to appreciate thought photos… I think it is an architecture to be experienced.

I acknowledge that by trying to go deep into the understanding of the sub consciousness some might think that my designs are too exclusive or personalized. I agree and I disagree at the same time. I believe than when a space has a very strong spirit, or sense of emotional connection, it has so much character than anyone will enjoy it and appreciate it. I used to live in Japan working for Toyo Ito and one of his influencers, Kazuo Shinohara, used to say that if a space is really beautiful it will adapt any type of future change in program.

I agree with this point of view. A good example is in New York, where we have one of our ABIBOO offices. The loft space was associated with warehouses and manufacturing activities but the space created is so powerful than now it is a trendy way of doing residential projects. It has happened with House H too.

We finished the project in early 2015 and since then the client, a famous soccer player, has received a couple of offers to sell -which he did not accept- because the spaces created in the house are so strong and have such a sense of “self-spirit” that anyone can resonate with them, even if the house was designs as an exclusive “Haute Couture” villa.

As a summary, my design philosophy is not to be attached to a form but to a design process. A process that among many characteristics, gives great importance to sensorial and emotional experiences. I think the role of an architect is more to listen than to talk, it is more to sense the true spirit of a place, of the client needs and of the society itself. This will allow to respond to the Zeitgeist of our world in permanent change.

The copyright of photos, images, videos, and ideas indicated in this Think Tank section belong to each artist/ creative studio/ company mentioned or referenced in the links below.

¡Nos gustaría agradecer al equipo detrás del libro “Global Villa Design” por su interés en nuestro trabajo!

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Los derechos de autor de las fotos, imágenes, videos e ideas mostrados en esta sección pertenecen al correspondiente artista/ firma creativa/ empresa mencionada o referenciada en los correspondientes links indicados a continuación:

Source/ Fuente: Li Aihong (2018). Global Villa Design. Artpower International.