Spanish Architect Jose Selgas Strives for the Vulgar

Cartagena Auditorium, photograph by Iwan Baan

Spanish architect Jose Selgas' creations are vulgar. 

(His words, not mine.)

Eliciting a nervous laugh from the studio audience, the self-deprecating humor of the co-principal of the innovative firm Selgas+Cano (along with Lucia Cano) is only matched by the simple brilliance of his constructions. Presenting his firm's work and philosophy as a part of the Dallas Architecture Forum's lecture series, Selgas at first apologized for his poor English and then proceeded to speak near-perfect English throughout the presentation. 

Selgas+Cano, perhaps most famous for designing and constructing their own unique 'office in the woods' (it's actually on a large residential lot), is focused on creating an architecture that is immediately accessible and beautiful to the common man or layperson. Selgas self-identifies as vulgar not in the sense of being rude or tasteless, but in the sense of identifying with the common man and the singular individual. Rather than starting with simplicity as a baseline and building complexity from there, S+C uses beauty that the layperson can understand as an ultimate goal of their built work. 

The lecture, co-sponsored by Studio Outside, quickly made its relevance to landscape architecture known. With all of their projects, Selgas+Cano strives not only to work with the land and the topography, but allows the natural surroundings to shape the architecture absolutely. This is most notable in their Silicon House, the form of which was decided by the topography of the site as well as the existing vegetation, both large and small. Selgas shows rare deference to the natural characteristics of a site yet his creations enhance the landscape in which they are situated. 

Silicon House, 2006. Photograph by  Iwan Baan

Silicon House, 2006. Photograph by Iwan Baan

This is an allotment on a gentle slope covered by evergreen oak, elm, ash, acacia, prunus and plane trees, all seeded spontaneously by birds from the surrounding plots. All of these trees and their canopy perimeters were measured and drawn on to plan. Le Corbusier said he wanted the empty La Tourette courtyard to be populated naturally with vegetation, by birds and the wind. Le Corbusier left a void in his architecture to be populated by nature. We think this project has arisen in opposition to that idea.
— Jose Selgas via ArchDaily

The concept of change over time plays a very important role in S+C's work, as well, just as it does in nature. The Silicon House is designed to gradually become more and more hidden by the vegetation, turning an embedded, multi-layered abode into a contemporary version of a hobbit hole (albeit far more fashionable). Large windows out to the nature bring to mind Corbusier's residential constructions, which inevitably encased the boxed home in floor-to ceiling of glass. While Corbusier's homes are reminiscent of a human terrarium through which nature could observe its curious human pets, Selgas does a better job of balancing the roles of nature and its hominid cohabitants.

Nature has left us a gap and here, only here, can we populate it with something that is architecture, because it is rational. We agree with la Tourette, however, that neither camouflage nor integration nor what is called “ organic architecture “ have ever really been sought. The house adapts by pure opposition. In Italy, some of the motorway bridges are painted sky blue. An innocent, sweet camouflage that only works as expected on a few days and at certain moments, yet we find it most beautiful on the days when you can actually see the trick. The ultimate purpose is (it would be an exaggeration to say “always”)whatever is admired.
— Jose Selgas via ArchDaily

Ultimately it is the sense that the architecture of Jose Selgas is honest that gives it wide appeal, perhaps even appeal to the vulgar masses. Such as myself. I suppose I could also say that he is down to earth, which in his case could be true in multiple senses of the word. Just take a look at his Madrid office (or atelier, which sounds infinitely cooler to me) to see what I mean:

Selgas+Cano Office, Photograph by Iwan Baan