Design today knows no boundaries: whatever is produced has to be imagined, drawn, projected in order to become real. The process acompanying the creation of architecture is not so different from industrial design. Designing a new car, for instance, figures as one of the trickiest, most intriguing moments. We decided to pick up the challenge ourselves and cross a car with a house. Naturally we chose two rather special protagonists.
A house tucked away in the Andalusian outback; a car of the very latest vintage: two seemingly opposite worlds coming together. But in the design statement they make, the two objects may be closer than they appear.
The Casa de Retiro Espiritual is a masterpiece by Emilio Ambasz, one of the most complex, sophisticated architects around on the world scene. His utter disregard for quantity of output allows us time to digest any architectural tour de force he may care to make.
A river flows through virgin countryside below a hill; on top of the hill rises a sculptural beacon of a house. Two white walls shimmering under the Andalusian sun form a perfect right-angle that seems to enfold and announce the building from afar. On closer inspection, one realizes the sleight of hand: the two walls are stage-sets, empty inside, generating an other-worldly architecture of line. Two staircases climb the white walls on the inside, their steps tapping out a silent rhythm in duet with the handrail which runs up in a continuous wave gouged into the masonry. Up one goes to the mirador, a tiny wooden balcony, all arabesque carving to heighten and contrast with the pure lines and colour of the walls. The mirador commands a breath-taking view stretching across tracts of Andalusian landscape. It is easy to imagine time ticking past in that boundless expanse.
As in the best Ambasz creations, dreamlike impossibility of design unexpectedly delivers a reality: in this case, an underground house. A flight of steps lead down from the courtyard enclosed within the white right-angle. The entrance-way presents a long angled glass wall. The effect would be high-tech were it not for the Arab-style decoration of pillars and dosserets injecting a note of warmth. The soberly elegant interior is lit by a great open stair-well while snaking trenches score the ground to show where the house lurks unseen below.
A motor-car, we were saying: the latest Volvo XC70, state-of-art technology and a by-word for Swedish safety, active or passive. It represents Scandinavian design at its best, where every little detail has been thought with attention on clean lines and intelligent functionality. The pure design recalls Arne Jacobsen in some of its classical inside lines. The Swedish creators of this mobile design object must surely have seen the Paimio sanatorium by Alvar Aalto. Memories throng to mind and with them a question: can one really talk of car architecture? Car design, yes; but architecture is a stronger term, hinting perhaps that we live more and more in our cars, and not just houses.
Contemporary architecture has learned to blend the worlds of art, design, graphics and fashion. Maybe some of the vehicle’s visual impact does come from that background allusion to architecture. Can it be an accident, anyway, that so many architects have fallen under the Volvo spell? It used to be said that a Volvo was for ever.
The latest Volvo combines technology, safety, performance and economy of consumption with sophistication of design and a transversal play of references to adjacent worlds. The rhomboid shape of the rear profile, the encircling “catwalk”, the clean line of the center stack, the graphic inserts in fancy materials (no longer just wood, but aluminium and titanium. leaves out of architecture’s book). A host of safety devices: some active, like automatic control of downhill auto-brake and safety distance-keeping; others passive, like baby-chairs that simply fold away into the back seat.
Lines of imagination connect the Andalusian home to that most perfect of means by which to reach it; lines of reality remind us that architecture and futuristic car design may find common ground in form and detail. Thus, an ideal link exists between the formally pure staircase up to the mirador and the sweep of the car’s tail lights. The shell-like cut of the headlight unit picks up that patch of sky glimpsed above the entrance well of the sunken house. Car lights flashing through the night recall the blue gashes of light from underground spilling out like a dancing wake onto the hillside by night.
Every now and then, if one lets the imagination go, opposite extremes meet up and ideas engage in dialogue.