A skin made of ceramic
A visually striking, high-quality landmark stands out from the rural landscape on the outskirts of Vitoria-Gasteiz, a historic city set in the heart of northern Spain’s autonomous Basque region.
The building creates a splash of white against the green canvas of the fields, surmounted by a red-tiled roof. The building’s shape reflects the ancient archetype of a house with two sloping roof pitches set atop a simple cube, although in reality the volume consists of two twin units united by a connecting space.
The building concept is the idea of architect Ignazio Ojarzabal, with the full agreement of the owners, a young couple with three children.
The aim of the project was to focus on the clarity of composition, the simplicity of lines and volumes and the uniformity of materials so as to create a balanced dialogue between the natural and built environments.
But the design concept that really won the clients over was the idea of transforming the sculptural volume into a form drawn by light. As soon as the sun emerges from the heavy Atlantic clouds, the building appears to find a fresh luminosity, lit up by the sun’s rays reflected from the snow white surface of the house.
But instead of plaster, the facades are clad with a ceramic covering that combines the tradition of a time-honoured material with the outstanding performance of cutting-edge technology. The building is clad with large porcelain sheets like a second skin. This material is a kind of ceramic mineral (Kerlite Snow from Cotto d’Este), a product enhanced by the inclusion of zircon grit that can be produced in large format sheets with a thickness of just 3 mm.
The versatility of this cladding material (it is lighter than aluminium and easier to work than conventional ceramic tiles) has allowed it to be used to create a tailored cladding. The sheets have been used to create horizontal bands of three different heights that intersect in different ways on each of the facades. The result is a fascinating sense of movement that lightens up the compact volume of the building and is particularly evident at the corners. Moreover, the material’s ease of application also gave the architect the idea for an original compositional solution. A portion of the building’s plinth was clad with coarsely broken-up offcuts of Kerlite to create a mosaic decoration that breaks up the material uniformity of the facade. And pieces specially cut to size were also used to line the door and window openings. The eave-less roof, a common design in Atlantic countries, means that shadows are not cast onto the façades at any time of day, leaving them immaculate.
But the ceramic skin that envelops the building has more than just an aesthetic role: it is also a highly successful solution for cutting costs and improving living comfort thanks to its insulating capacity and the perfect barrier it provides to air, water and light.
White reigns supreme both inside and out, enhancing the sensation of extreme clarity and diffused light that dominates the entire project.