In 1962, Japanese architect Kazuo Shinohara declared that “a house is a work of art” and highlighted the intellectual and aesthetic values that a house must embody and that justify its existence. The house as a critical proposition implied a sharp and subversive exercise against a context of rapid growth and urbanization in Japan, where metabolism reigned and housing was considered an object of mass consumption, a disposable property.
The 1966 Huarte House came to be almost at the same time as this declaration. It was designed in Madrid during the Spanish desarrollismo (developmentalism or “economic miracle”) as a radical and unorthodox proposition. It is the outcome of a collective effort: the design of architects José Antonio Corrales and Ramón Vázquez Molezún as well as other artists close to the house, along with the family that commissioned it. They were able to offer, during the dictatorship in Spain, a rare example of a domestic Gesamtkunstwerk, a total work of art, that is currently uninhabited.
Today we continue to recognize the physical qualities that defined its domestic program, its architecture continues to be impeccable, it has the exact shape of the Huarte House, but its observation is purely archaeological. The Huarte House, a house without inhabitants, is an architectonic display that nowadays has nothing to show beyond itself. It is a form detached from its function, a character from Luigi Pirandello in search of its destiny.
To visit the Huarte House, to walk through its courtyards and the different rooms, to observe a selection of artworks still present in the house and remember those that were relocated, to speculate about the books that piled up in the bookshelves in the library now empty, or to traverse the void under the house, the underground gallery, is to contemplate a house that is no longer a house.
The study and contextualization of this key building of the then new Spanish architecture becomes essential to understanding the aesthetic and ethic evolution in Spain. The radicality of this architectonic proposal and the series of projects created around the Huarte family has positioned it as the connection not only of a family that has had a key role in the development of contemporary art in that country but also a testing ground for new forms and avant-garde proposals devised by architects and artists.
The Huarte Family and their Patronage
Just as it is complicated to understand the complexity of the house by only observing its plan, it is impossible to understand the significance of the Huarte House without knowing about its owner Jesús Huarte, his family, as well as a selection of artists such as Jorge Oteiza whose influence in the conceptual approach to the house is unquestionable.
Jesús is one of the four children of the developer Félix Huarte Goñi and Adriana Beaumont Galduroz, both from Navarre. Although Félix was a businessman that led several companies operating in multiple sectors, one of his main activities was to establish Huarte y Cía, a construction company that, among other works, built one of the symbols of the first Spanish modernity: the Frontón Recoletos, a sports facility designed by architect Secundino Zuazo and structural engineer Eduardo Torroja. Their children continued that connection with avant-garde architecture in different ways: sometimes building the new symbols of Spanish architecture (among others, Torres Blancas and Banco de Bilbao Headquarters in Madrid, both by architect Francisco Javier Sáenz de Oíza) and sometimes by commissioning key works for themselves, such as the house that Francisco Javier Sáenz de Oíza designed for Juan in Formentor, or the Huarte House that architects José Antonio Corrales and Ramón Vázquez Molezún designed for Jesús.
In the same way that the family’s economic potential diversified, its influence over the cultural landscape at the time was felt in multiple and unusual areas in Spain. The Huarte family decided early on that a certain percentage of the annual benefits received from their family businesses would be used for patronage. That is how Grupo Huarte took part in a decisive and altruistic way in the then closed cultural world in Spain and in almost all the artistic disciplines:
- Music: with the support of the Huarte family, Luis de Pablo founded the Grupo Alea (“Luck” in Latin), promoting, among other things, the development of contemporary music and creating the first laboratory of electronic music in Spain.
- Literature: with the creation by Jesús Huarte in 1964 of the Alfaguara editorial (“the fountain that flows” in Arabic) under the leadership of writer Camilo José Cela, future winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature and close friend of the family. Cela later commissioned Corrales and Molezún to design his house in Majorca.
- Cinema: with the establishment by Juan Huarte of the film production company XFilms that started with experimental documentary films directed by Néstor Basterretxea and continued with auteur films by directors José Luis Garci, Pío Caro Baroja, and José Luis García Sánchez, different from the commercial films being released in Spain at the time.
- Architecture: with the dissemination of the new Spanish architecture after founding the Nueva Forma magazine directed by architect Juan Daniel Fullaondo. Its monthly releases between 1967 until 1975 amplified the architectural culture of Spain, influencing in a decisive way in the thinking and practice of architecture during those years.
It would seem that there was no artistic initiative in those complicated years for the avant-garde where the Huarte family was not involved in one way or another. All this period of cultural activity reached its highest point in the organization of one of the most important cultural experiments of the twentieth century in Spain: the Encuentros de Pamplona (Pamplona Encounters) that took place in 1972.
Conceived as an homage to the patriarch of the family, Félix Huarte, who had died a year earlier, the forward-thinking art festival included poetry, experimental cinema, visual arts, and music. The Huarte family covered in full its cost and allowed the participating artists complete freedom to conceptualize and design it. For a few days, in a capital of a Spanish province, art took over the streets, with hundreds of artists presenting works far from the type of artwork that the residents of Pamplona could envision at the time. At its epicenter, eleven large pneumatic domes designed by architect José Miguel de Prada Poole that became the gathering spaces and the anchor to the interventions.
The radical proposal coincided with a complicated sociopolitical context, with threats from the terrorist band ETA and the rejection from the left, who were against proposals organized by a business conglomerate close to the ruling class of dictator Franco. The radical aesthetic and the tense environment of the late franquismo put the celebration of the festival at risk. The Encounters, intended to take place every other year, never celebrated a second edition, contributing to its mythification and its consideration, today unanimously, as a singular moment that placed a grey Spain in the vanguard of contemporary art and connected it with its citizens.
What happened in those Encounters is, to a large extent, the perfect synthesis of what the Huarte family was. It is then understandable that when Jesús Huarte and his wife María Luisa Giménez Altolaguirre decided to commission a house a decade earlier to move away from work (until then they lived in the building that was home to their offices located in Paseo de La Habana), they got an inward but tremendously lively house thanks to the freedom that the architects Corrales and Molezún had, the perfect single-family home that a family like the Huartes needed: their private universe, an island in the middle of a grey period.
Oteiza and the Huarte House
The connections between the family and the Spanish avant-garde art at the time were particularly intense, becoming determinant to some of the most important artists of the twentieth century. Despite that Jesús has always tried to downplay his importance, without the decisive support of the Huarte family, the work of Jorge Oteiza, for example, would have been different, due to the economic support he received as well as for the encouragement to experiment in his work. At the University of Navarre Museum, you can visit the private collection that María Josefa Huarte, Jesús’s sister, donated and that includes several artworks by Oteiza, including a fireplace surround that she had in her house in Madrid. It is a symbol of the coexistence of domestic life and art for the Huarte family.
But the relationship between the Huarte House and Jorge Oteiza is not only defined by the owners of the house. For the Spanish Pavilion—known as the Hexagon Pavilion—during the 1958 World’s Fair in Brussels, architects Corrales and Molezún invited the Orio-born artist, among many others, to participate in the exhibition display inside the pavilion. The influence that Oteiza’s work had on the architects was evident and has been explicitly mentioned since then. The connections multiply as the Grupo Huarte itself was in charge of the fabrication, shipping, and installation of the exhibition of the Spanish Pavilion in Brussels.1
In the Huarte House, one of the main spaces was dedicated to a single work by Jorge Oteiza (although there were five other works located around the house). As a backdrop of the main gathering courtyard, one could find one of the main works of the artist as he transitioned to abstraction, Monumento al Prisionero Politico Desconocido (Monument to the Unknown Political Prisoner), also known as Prometeo Múltiple en Casa Huarte (Multiple Prometheus in Huarte House) on the express desire of Jesús who, in an interview, mentioned: “we changed the name because to have a sculpture that is an homage to a political prisoner in the house of a plutocrat…”2 Defined by two separated vertical elements and connected by its base, “the substance of the proposal is the void defined by the relations between the minimum formal elements.”3 Oteiza considers that the sculpture creates a void. That void aimed to create a cosmic microspace isolated from nature.
Similar to that sculpture, the Huarte House is better understood when one considers what was not built: the voids that articulate the different domestic spaces. The voids and the courtyards understood as the origin of a parallel universe. Built at a time when zoning was not as strict as it is nowadays, the house occupies almost the full parcel. The Huarte House can be understood as a sculptural piece where architects remove volume.
To Inhabit the Void4
The main void of the Huarte House is known as the gathering courtyard. Its limits are defined by the parents’ living room (south), the dining room (east-west) and the stepped and landscaped citadel that Corrales and Molezún designed instead of a conventional wall to protect the house from the road and the north orientation.
This capacity to define the limits, providing height, depth, and volume turns the house into a world in itself that ends where the stepped landscape ends. It is in this space where the main artworks of the house, dominating the space, come together. They are located in the private terraces that are the backdrop to the openings of the main rooms and that are used as display areas.
The architects, good friends of the Huarte family, provided them with a framework to enjoy artwork as a way to connect diverse disciplines. Similar to the traditional Roman house that reserved a space to exhibit sculptures, in the gathering courtyard we find two of the preferred artists by Jesús Huarte: Carlos Ferreira and the previously mentioned Monumento al Prisionero Politico Desconocido by Jorge Oteiza.
Despite the reduced size of the parcel, the careful consideration of the space allows an expanded visual perception. The idea of stepping the landscape increases the free area, amplifying the dimension of the unbuilt area. The treatment of the landscape expands this feeling of spaciousness, despite the small space. From the conceptual phase of the project, there was a proposal for a gradual treatment of the garden: from the structured garden, with flowers and grass close to the house, to the wild garden with large elm trees that defined the parcel.
Opposite to the gathering courtyard, the heart and core of the house, the parents’ living room barely had any furniture, only the one purposely designed by Molezún for the house that is intrinsically connected to the architecture. The furniture is right above the floor so that the point of view leads you diagonally toward the stepped landscape, the sculptures, the vegetation, and the sky. A series of sofas surround the built-in fireplace that anchors the interior. The walls of the fireplace are decorated with a mural by Lucio Muñoz. The artworks surround the inhabited space completing it without the need of extra artifice.
On the other side of the dining room, the element that connects the main spaces with the service spaces, we find the second of the voids: the courtyard for the children. Originally, it was separated visually from the gathering courtyard thanks to an opaque sliding panel. In this courtyard, the architects designed a swimming pool.
This void, dedicated to more private uses, was closed off on all sides by the building, unlike the gathering courtyard. It is in this courtyard where one can better understand the complex and experimental nature of the Huarte House.
The complexity of the Huarte House lays in the volumetric definition of the built space: there is not a unique approach that defines the solution of each wing, beyond the terracing that covers almost of all the south edge. Each roof responds to a need and a location: the large roof for the library (the most recognizable element of the house); the small roof, the only pitched roof that cover the child’s bedroom; and the sloped roof of the bedrooms that allowed to free the courtyard with the pool with its ascending slope.
The Huarte House connects here, with its large tile roofs, with the traditional house more than with a rigid project that is restricted to a single fixed idea. As mentioned by Corrales, these roofs are not designed to follow a single pattern but to resemble a small town with roofs freely arranged. The Huarte House is both a single-family home on a small parcel and a small town.
The house naturally combines the construction solutions of the modern movement (such as the flat roof that is landscaped above the service wing) with other solutions of traditional architecture.
The last main courtyard is the private one related to the bedrooms. In the Huarte House, the different levels of privacy needed in a house are organized thanks to the hierarchy of the courtyards. This courtyard of the bedrooms is the smallest one and it is located at the end of a path in a house that can be opened or closed thanks to the large sliding doors.
It is important to note that the initial project by Ramón Vázquez Molezún had that private character under the image of a bunker, with a proposal that located the house at the center of the parcel. But Jesús Huarte’s wife, María Luisa Giménez Altolaguirre, wanted a home with courtyards, perhaps because of her Cordoban origins. The project was modified into a horizontal home and open to courtyards thanks to the contribution of José Antonio Corrales.
The rest of the voids of the parcel are defined by the access courtyards. The main access is located along the north side. This void presents itself as the main road access for vehicular traffic, similar to a suburban American house. The architects knew that vehicles, in this suburban area, would be the typical mode of transportation to access the house, so they dignify and connect it with the pedestrian access, with a large overhang that connects the door of the house with the parking area. The other access is for service, direct to the main street, and used to ventilate the different service rooms.
There is a final void in the house that doesn’t present itself to the exterior like the others, but that doesn’t mean that it is not as relevant: the void is the large underground gallery that connects the house as a ring and where all the installations are located. This way, repairs could take place without affecting the house, remaining unaltered.
Despite the experimental and avant-garde character of the Huarte House, it has a clear influence of traditional architecture. In the end, what the architects wanted was to have solid and good construction, using traditional materials such as brick, roof tiles, or ceramic tile. Under that fundamental approach, there is a technological house that performs like a watch, with the mechanism hidden but accessible.
Natural and Artificial
In a similar manner that the smart use of construction elements shaped a great domestic space (“it was a minimal house marvelous to live in” said Jesús Huarte”),5 the manipulation of natural elements help to create the perfect house.
Corrales and Molezún established a comprehensive approach to the parcel, providing the Huarte family everything that they needed. In this particular universe with a small population, they also included the natural elements: vegetation and water. As landscape is the result of human intervention in nature, in the Huarte House they achieved to create a unique landscape at a small scale.
They naturalized parts of the built areas, for example, the service volume, where the kitchen, office, and service bedrooms are located and that achieves a similar appearance as the terraced walls of the parcel. On top of that roof, they included climbing plants with perennial leaves so that it has a green carpet is all year round. However, the climbing plants located in the façade and that occupy the wooden pergola are annuals. The project also uses nature for thermal control, with the leaves of the vines stopping excessive summer light from entering the house.
Thanks to the flat roof of the service wing that has vegetation, part of the built area turns also into a landscape. That way, the volume that houses the work area, generally secondary in a house, at the Huarte House turns into a modified topography, becoming the limit of this small world. Similar to the Roman house, here they achieve a controlled nature, projected and maintained by humans.
This use of the green roof is another element that positions the Huarte House in the modern movement. However, there is another natural element that connects it to traditional housing. In the gathering courtyard and the courtyard of the bedrooms, we find two fountains with three waterspouts designed by artist Pablo Palazuelo that emerge from the center of circular stone pieces.
In the construction drawings of the Huarte House we already find these two groups of fountains, one placed parallel to the main volume (in the gathering courtyard) and the other one located parallel to the bedrooms (in the intimate courtyard). That gives us certain clues about the construction of the house: on the one hand, the constant collaboration between owners and architects during the project (by introducing these elements from the beginning), and on the other hand, the importance of art for the owners. The presence of water that cools the environment and makes noise as it hits the stone elements relates it to the traditional houses in Andalusia.
Corrales and Molezún’s masterful skills to address the harsh climate of Madrid are evident by studying a specific element of the Huarte House: the dinning wing, placed perpendicular to the main daytime wing and that connects it with the service area. Similar to the domus, surrounding the courtyard and the gardens, is the dining area. In classical antiquity, we find two or more triclinium, placed in multiple orientations to benefit from the different seasons of the year. In the Huarte House, we find the winter dining area—closed, with small longitudinal windows at the viewing height of a seated person—and the summer dining area—protected by the sun by the large, slopped roof and with a double orientation east-west that could open completely thanks to the large sliding doors.
Finally, in the courtyard for the children, we find the elevated pool attached to three walls that, besides refreshing the most enclosed courtyard in the house, turns the water into a place of entertainment due to its connection to the spaces for the children. This is similar to the houses of Arab tradition, where the pools of the large houses were designed more for entertainment than ornamentation.
Public and Private
The Huarte House is a paradigmatic example of the transition between public and private spaces in a domestic context. For a family like the one of the Jesús Huarte, that organized parties and events often, it was important to have an ample space to welcome their guests. That function was fulfilled by the parents’ living room and the gathering courtyard that were directly connected to the main entrance to the house. The rest of the house could be kept isolated or incorporated into the party thanks to its sliding doors and opaque movable walls. The transition to the private areas of the house did not require a traditional corridor. A series of rooms and sliding doors, as well as the size and location of the courtyards, created a natural transition.
It is a house that develops mostly on the first floor, with only two rooms on the second floor. In those two rooms, there is not a progressive transition between public and private spaces. Both spaces are accessible only through a small spiral stair that can be closed with a sliding door, demonstrating the privacy desired for them. Both spaces were carefully considered: the studio was designed by Jesús de la Sota, brother of architect Alejandro de la Sota, and the library was designed by Molezún and included bookshelves highlighting the horizontality of the space to echo the interior of a ship.
Macla, Mamua, Bismuto, Vicario Intervention
To do an installation here and now is a speculative proposal. It requires one to explore the relation between the already absent bodies and the architecture, to neutralize (or not) the domestic character, and to underscore the role of a house—that is no longer a house—as a display of artworks created by artists.
These artworks and the house itself have an unoccupied void, an inability to develop their original purpose, an anomalous and treacherous continuity of the total work of art.
Macla, Mamua, Bismuto, Vicario is the title of the 2018 intervention by Karlos Martinez B. and Javier Arbizu organized by Caniche Editorial in collaboration with the Fundación Museo Jorge Oteiza and created specifically for the Huarte House in Madrid. The intervention explored the limits between bodies and architecture, as well as reflected on the human scale and its relationship to objects.
The intervention featured varied references to the modern movement, as a series of modules that draw inspiration from Breuer chairs and other implements for domestic use such as keys, glasses, silicone, trousers, and sandals, whose functionality has been usurped. We approached these objects with reservations: they are fragile and awkward. Our expectations are put to the test, for these objects serve as substitutes for what we would expect to happen in the places where they are found. However, they do not fit into the modernist logic and ideals of the building where they are presented.
In the work of Martinez B. and Arbizu, the potential and latent is as significant as the real and manifest. The transformation of everyday objects through manipulations and adjustments, as well as subtle juxtapositions, provokes a gliding between functionality and the shape of objects and spaces. In this way, the artists intend to question the limit between bodies and space, the human and the non-human, and ultimately, between figure and ground.
Drawings of the Huarte House from the Servicio Histórico at Fundación Arquitectura COAM