Spanish studio Husos Arquitectos has designed a 46-square-meter apartment in Madrid for a young doctor and his bulldog Albóndiga (‘Meatball’). During the design process, the studio analyzed several specific characteristics of the dwelling to be refurbished, as well as the daily activities of these two flatmates. The original layout of the apartment had a double east-west orientation, but the excessive compartmentalization of the spaces obstructed the cross-ventilation in the bedrooms, which meant that the west-facing spaces were excessively hot in summer.
Both Jaime and Albóndiga are very sensitive to the heat, which is extreme in July and August in Madrid – something that the design of the new dwelling had to take into account. Bulldogs, in general, are delicate animals, being sensitive to high temperatures and requiring special care. Besides, this dog, in particular, is especially fragile as he is a rescue dog, who narrowly escaped being killed at birth as his health did not meet the standards of commercial selection.
For this commission, the size of the bedroom wasn’t important, but the living room needed to be large enough to stretch out and watch TV series in, to write up medical reports in, or to receive friends or more intimate companions. In the case of occasional encounters, the living room is often a central place of the house in the gay sexual culture in Madrid, while frequently reserving the bedroom for closer relations. Despite the small size of the apartment, the new home needed to allow Jaime to invite friends to stay over without having to open out a sofabed, which would take up a lot of space in the living room.
Husos Arquitectos began working bit by bit on these and other similar micro realities of the apartment’s occupants, like for example the important problem of Jaime’s sleep pattern – a frequent issue among doctors working in hospital emergency rooms. To recover from night shifts, it’s important to take naps during the day, as the circadian rhythms are disrupted. The design team realized that a siesta space should be an important feature of the design; it would preferably be an alternative to Jaime’s usual bed, which would be reserved as a place to sleep at night.
This project was based on various actions. The interior space has been redistributed to create an ample living area, open on both east and west sides of the building, which allows air to circulate during the hot summer months, at the same time as turning the west facade into a kind of climatic cushion for the dwelling. A vertical vegetable garden has been designed on this side, taking advantage of a balcony that gives onto the central courtyard of the apartment block, which is visible from the corrala and protected on the inside by a set of two curtains, one made of transparent plastic, creating a greenhouse effect in winter, and another made of a porous textile that provides shade in summer. The incorporation of a domestic vegetable garden, designed in close collaboration with horticulture and irrigation system consultants and with the client, complements Jaime’s other experiences with sustainable food-growing as a member of responsible consumption groups.
“The tomatoes, herbs, and other species planted in the new domestic vegetable garden will provide an excess of produce that he will be unable to eat on his own, giving him the option of sharing it with others,” said Husos Arquitectos. “In this way, the vegetable garden supplies not only food, but also the potential for extending the relational capacities of the dwelling.”
The design also includes a watering system that makes use of the grey water from the shower. Water is temporarily stored and then filtered to irrigate and maintain the plants which, as well as providing food, work as part of the thermal control solution to keep the interior cool.
The architects said that this method is so successful that it was not necessary to install any mechanical cooling system such as air conditioning, even for the hottest months of the year.
Distributed within a 1.5m wide strip along the south side are the bedroom, a dressing room, a storeroom, and a multiuse capsule that works as a space to receive guests who might stay overnight or wish to rest alone, as a place to take naps that is different to the bed, or as a place to receive visits while lying down. The uses of the living room are thus extended and transformed.
This capsule-periscope is the ideal place to read since it allows the reader to sit with their back to the window and simultaneously enjoy the view of the acacia trees on the street, as well as the sky, via an interplay of mirrors. By closing the sliding door, the space inside becomes private, and from the outside, the door works as a great video projection screen. A series of cotton hemispheres serve as islands for the bulldog to rest on inside the dwelling that are at once soft and refreshing. These are fixed to the floor with suction cups, which enables Jaime to choose and change their placement.
The walls, storage units, and floors are made of a combination of plywood boards and pinewood pieces made in a carpentry workshop and assembled on-site. Husos avoided plastering the walls, opting instead for a solution with breathable mortars in the bathroom, walls, and ceilings.
In contrast with the antiseptic, supposedly neutral, white ambiance of hospital wards where most doctors work, the atmosphere of the new dwelling is cozy and changeable, according to the lighting that Jaime decides upon, and according to the time of day. Walls and floors are warm colors like orange, cream, and the natural colors of the pine and birch plywood, with a few details in pink and purple that reinforce the non-heteronormative nature of this home space.