The art of living – ADC

Bespoke, full-height, sliding minimalist windows from panoramah! articulate a sculptor’s house in Madrid.

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Sérgio Padura

Exchanges between sculpture and architecture are always challenging and productive. The Berned House in Madrid, property of the sculptor Arturo Berned and designed by himself and his architect collaborator Ignacio Rejano, confirms this assumption. Berned’s artistic work seeks to reinterpret both shapes and space by exploring mathematical laws and geometrical layouts. Arithmetic, Euclidean space, and the golden ratio, are the main compositive tools used to shape steel, the material in which he produces most of his sculptures, giving form to a very per­sonal formal universe.


Dealing with the concepts of balance, light, mass, emptiness, fullness, dialogue or tension, Berned uses sculpture as an or­ganising element; a device that facilitates the unders­tanding of space. Whether operating inside buildings or at an urban scale with monumental works, his artistic proposals explore scale, size, and the arrangement of forms to create permanent complicity between the city, architecture, and sculpture.

Frequently dealing with the ambiguities that emerge from the translation of two-dimensional forms into a three-dimensional world, Berned’s geometric shapes seem to mirror the abstract production of the Russian avant-garde, particularly El Lissitzky’s Proun studies and the Suprematist experimentations of Kazimir Malevich. Albeit with different grammar and geometric language, one can find the same concepts of light, mass, emptiness or fullness in the architecture of the Berned House. Only instead of steel, its shapes are made of concrete, wood, and glass.


The house is in Mirasierra, a ward belonging to the district of Fuencarral-El Pardo, north of downtown Madrid, and bordered by the Cuenca Alta del Manzanares Regional Park. Its name translates as ‘view the mountains’ and derives from the panoramic views of the mountainous landscape that one can enjoy from the neighbourhood’s privileged location.

Mirasierra was founded under the name of Colonia Mirasierra in 1950, aiming to build a residential area that combines the presence of nature with close proximity to the city. Up until 1960, it saw the construction of luxury villas for consuls and diplomats of various nationalities, and in the 1970s, housing schemes for workers of the national telecommunications company, partly built by political prisoners, in what constitutes today a somewhat controversial debate. The neighbourhood is now a high-end area, home to colleges, universities, tennis clubs, golf courses and natural parks.



Ground-floor plan; detail section

Located in the urban fabric of the original Colonia, the Berned House is a 760-square-metre, three-story house composed of a solid 22.8-metre-long concrete block standing above a permeable prism of glass. The living and dining areas occupy the ground floor, which is timber-clad towards the street, communicating with the plinth that defines the entrance by a central pivot door while fully opening to the garden opposite and the 20-metre-long pool through large floor-to-ceiling sliding panoramah! minimalist glass doors.


The upper floor, with the bedrooms and study, is a massive, solid concrete volume with minimal openings carved out as if the artist had carefully sculpted them. When approached during the daytime, it offers a convincingly opaque impression. The board-formed concrete reveals a wood grain pattern on the finished face – a horizontal texture that counters the vertical rhythm of the timber louvres. However, upon entering or at night, our perception contradicts this. As the inner lighting dissolves the solid brise-soleil of the upper floor, the building reveals its true nature as a shifting, almost ambiguous barrier between the front access and the private protected space of the back courtyard.


The pure geometric shapes and the rigorous formal minimalism of the house appear closer to Malevich’s grammar of fundamental geometric forms than to the articulate El Lissitzky’s Prouns that bear so many affinities with Arturo Berned’s sculptural works. One could think of the house as the perfect setting to show artworks rather than an inhabited sculpture where one could dwell or visit. But the relationship between art and architecture goes beyond this formal reading. The building’s economy of means and spaces, combined with its ciculation strategy, are key to its success. Designed to be seen and understood by a spectator in motion, this ‘cinematic’ architecture echoes the spatial themes of its author’s acclaimed sculptural works.

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Source: Architecture Today