Architizer's editor Sydney Franklin has interviewed Jeff Brock together with Seves about the design process of the characteristic glass blocks used in the façade of Panticosa Thermal Baths. You can read the full interview here.
Thermal Baths is such a unique project in terms of materiality. Can you speak about the various materials used on the project and why you chose them?
The idea of designing the Glass Block for the project was really a synthesis of various lines of thinking, some of which antedate our work in Panticosa, others of which come directly from our response to the site and the building program.
We have always striven that our project interiors enjoy abundant daylight, and with this specific end have employed in our work not just glass but various spectral and reflective materials to carry and color both electric and day-light. At the same time we are always very wary of creating conditions of excessive glare, and often use materials that diffuse and soften sunlight, without, I should say, ever flattening it.
The Termas de Tiberio building was, because of the confined condition at the building site (set between an existing church, a reconstructed hotel and abutting a steep mountain slope), together with the vast volume called for by the client’s program, turning out to be a rather bulky mass, not easy to attenuate and make sleek. For the interior to be well lit with the little sunlight that falls in the cirque, we decided early on that the façades should be largely translucent.
At the same time we had been intrigued by an unusual terra cotta unit we noticed in the façades of buildings by Miquel Fisac near where we lived and worked. These units lap over one another like clapboards, creating and interesting texture dominated by a horizontal shadow line and coincidently shedding water in a very functional way in the same way that clapboards do.
More specifically, can you explain the use of glass block and how that benefits the project?
We decided to try to make such a unit in glass for our use in Panticosa, an idea at which every manufacturers scoffed until we began a conversation with SEVES, an Italian manufacturer. The resulting unit, the Panticosa Block, was developed by Moneo Brock in collaboration with engineers from SEVES for use in the project and it remains part of their catalogue.
Continuing with the idea of making the façade translucent, we felt it was necessary to incorporate an interior finish to hide the secondary structural elements that were necessary to support the glass block, and it was of course necessary that this layer also be translucent as well. We opted for alabaster, an elegant and translucent stone with a long history as a means of bringing light to building interiors, but here applied in a novel way. We were able to avoid the appearance of framing elements entirely by supporting the stone on PMMA acrylic elements.
For the floor stone in the baths and pools area we found a lovely blue marble from a small quarry in Portugal, and in the dry public areas we opted for a green slate, again trying to keep in tone with the aqueous environment we were creating.
In smaller, more intimate areas we applied tiles of various types. Hydraulic, ceramic and glass, in many cases incorporating stronger colors and patterns, always attentive to the scale of the spaces, their character and the details of the materials’ interactions.
In the baths area we have exposed concrete wall surfaces up to 3 meters, and above that a sort of stucco that we invented where mica dust is mixed into the mortar to give a spectral effect. In the entry hall we called for the long wall opposite the entry to be given a coating of stucco lustro in an aqueous green color. Elsewhere walls were tiled, and there are a few painted walls.
Most ceilings are not dropped but are exposed concrete slab. This presented a challenge when locating light fixtures and other installation. In many areas there is a technical floor, housing ductwork and electrical conduits above the slab.
What kind of reputation has the project received over the years and how did its location and context influence the design?
The Termas de Tiberio project has been well received, winning design awards on the one hand and operating as the chief draw to the Panticosa Resort. From its inception it was a key element in the developer’s plan to create a grand and elegant resort, including hotels, fine restaurants, a casino, a high-performance sports training facility (with spa, naturally), and meeting and entertainment center. Unfortunately, the financial crisis hit just as our project was reaching completion, and a few elements of our design were never realized. When construction finished, only the hotels, our baths building and the Casino were finished while the other projects had to be dropped in whatever state they were in at the time. The resort is operated on a seasonal basis, during the summer months and during the ski season, when the Valle de Tena draws visitors.
Why was it important for the design to maintain an emphasis on the building's interaction with light and views?
We saw in historic photos of the original baths buildings, hotels, casino and restaurant an odd attempt to create a microcosm of the 19th century European city, and it was our view that the emphasis of the new building should shift toward the magnificent mountain landscape. With this in mind, we located windows and terraces in such a way as to offer visitors the choicest of perspectives, whether these be broad panoramas, isolated views of distant peaks or framed views of the immediate woodsy surrounds. We saw the interaction with the mountain landscape as an important component of the wellness concept with which we were working, deeply valuable for the creation of a space of calm contemplation, as was our intention in the Thermal Baths project.
Connected to the foyer of an elegant luxury hotel, the Café de la Reina or “BUR-BU-JA-JA” adds a colorful and casual note to the complex. A cafeteria during the day, the space transforms into a sophisticated cocktail bar at night, the patrons immersed in iridescent aquatic colors.
A long curved green bar runs through the space, while “seaweed” camouflages the curtain wall and the mundane view of the city beyond, dissolving it into small fragments of an organic, aquatic world. Smoothly curved walls with reflecting belts, circular benches and round tables create a sensual atmosphere where space and movement interact.
Belén Moneo, Jeffrey Brock
Andrea Caputo, María Pierres, Sandra Formigo, Andrés Barrón, Spencer Leaf and Silvia Fernández
The church “El Señor de la Misericordia” is located in the center of a new town-like urban development in Monterrey, Mexico, surrounded by an impressive mountain landscape. The most important factor in the siting and orientation of the church is its relationship to the largest open space of the development, a verdant plaza. Its main entry opens right onto the plaza, and with an unobstructed width of 11.5 meters (38 feet), this opening allows for the visual connection between the church’s interior space and the plaza. This entry is at once delineated and protected by a large trapezoidal canopy cantilevered off the main façade.
Above the entry canopy, the façade is a large flat wall without fenestration or ornament, an emphatic and nearly square plane, declarative of the otherness of the space behind and within: the sacred space of the church interior. Its blatant frontality toward the square is entirely intentional.
It is thought that the plaza can function as an annex to the church, with religious celebrations and rites spilling out of doors when attending crowds exceed the church’s capacity of 350 worshippers. On the other hand, when the bustle of the square comes into conflict with the solemnity of the church’s activities, large sliding screens attenuate the connection to the square and restore the peaceful atmosphere to the temple interior.
The project aims to go beyond the accommodation of religious rituals and liturgical events as currently practiced in Monterrey, to where the spaces of the temple represent the development of an architectural language with a very long history, where the architecture speaks of both continuity and renewal, finding references to a great heritage of ecclesiastical architecture while simultaneously remaining unquestioningly contemporary. The temple is seen not just as a place of meditation but as a social and educational center as well.
While the character of the church is undoubtedly contemporary, its volumetric concept was derived from traditional church plans; the design presents recognizable architectural features taken from early Christian temple prototypes such as the bell tower, the stained-glass windows, the frontal altar, the baptistery, the choir, the three chapels and the lateral courtyard. The architectural proposal is therefore thought to be both recognizable and new.
Being free-standing and in the center of the new town development, the configuration of the exterior volume presents a design that, while modern, communicates solidity and aplomb. The rotund forms are thought to be reminiscent of the first missions built by Friar Junipero throughout the American Southwest, constructed of wood and adobe.
The 43 meter- (141 foot-) -tall bell tower can be seen from a great distance, and serves as a landmark and reference for drivers on the highway to Santiago, on which Pueblo Serena is located.
The plan is that of a basilica, with a rectangular central nave some 15 meters wide, 18 meters long and 15 meters high (W:49 feet, L:59 feet, H:49 feet), its long axis running north-south and oriented towards the altar. There are multiple sources of natural light in the interior. Behind the baptistery a long glass wall runs the length of the nave giving views of an enclosed patio. The glass is protected from direct sun by a lightweight horizontal sunscreen projecting into the patio space, and the visual connection to the surrounding urban areas blocked by a massive stone screen at the patio perimeter. Within the patio, a water fountain spills a cascade of streams into a lower patio at the basement level.
Above the baptistery is a version of a rose window, a nine-square grid opening to the west with colored glass. To the southeast, three small chapels each enjoy daylight from high skylights, each one oriented towards a different cardinal direction so that the color and level of light in each chapel changes throughout the day. Finally, above the altar is a fourth high skylight, whose light washes down behind an inclined panel cut into four sections to reveal a large Latin cross, the cross glowing with the light from above.
As with all churches, the acoustics of the central nave were of paramount importance. The renowned acoustic engineers of Arau Asociados made a thorough study of the conditions inside the church and helped us develop a detailed approach to the configuration of its interior surfaces, including the application of diffusing wood battens on selected walls, notable behind the altar, at the back of the three chapels and the choir, and over the entry door.
Sustainable solutions were sought at every opportunity. After ensuring the project’s incorporation of thermal insulation of far and away greater performance characteristics than is typically used in local construction, we devised a system of natural ventilation that takes advantage of the bell tower’s great height to create a strong chimney effect drawing air through large-scale grills incorporated in the entry façade. Daylighting was also carefully studied to be sufficient without the need for electrical lighting in all spaces for use and work, while at the same time we took great pains to avoid insolation during the hotter months, to keep the thermal gains as low as possible. Finally, much of the building program is located underground, where temperatures are constantly comfortable, with daylight being provided by generous sunken patios.
The interior design is fully integrated with the architecture, and the furnishings are by Moneo Brock, from the wood benches to the altar, the choir and the multiple screens, the sliding doors at the entry, the doors to the main sanctuary and the screen that separates the baptistery from the central nave. We also designed elements of a more artistic nature, such as the stained glass windows of the “rose window” (a reinterpretation of the gothic feature, here oriented to the west for maximum effect during the evening Mass), the stained glass at the entry to the ossuaries, and the two sanctuaries, sunbursts made of gold or silver triangles canted to catch light from all angles.
Various artworks were commissioned for the church under Moneo Brock’s curatorial guidance: a large sculpture of Christ on the cross carved in wood by the Galician artist Francisco Leiro, a mural in encaustic of John Paul II in the third chapel painted by Pedro Cuní of New York, and a tall painting of the Christ the Merciful by Carmen Pinart of Madrid, now hanging in the second chapel. These pieces by contemporary artists, respectful of the traditional content called for by church’s benefactors and clergy, complete the space.
Thanks to the opening up of two large sunken patios, the various spaces on the basement level are flooded with natural light. Around the north patio are the parish’s administrative offices. The patio to the west with the cascading waterfall has to one side classrooms and multifunctional spaces for the community and to the other the ossuaries and a small chapel for funeral rites, spaces that are made more private in their location behind the waterfall. One of the challenges facing us in the design of the basement was the need to connect to the commercial atrium at the lower level; to create a space of transition between atrium and church, we designed a vestibule lit by an open-air, prismatic skylight and, immediately below it, a reflecting pool.
The landscape design of Harari LA successfully integrates the architectural concept with that of the larger urban project, using Holm oaks and a spectacular control and selection of the planted material to mediate between the different built structures that compose the larger development.
Plaza Serena (Real Estate in Huajuco Canon)
Carretera Federal 500, Monterrey México
Belén Moneo, Jeffrey Brock
Irene Alberdi, Andrés Barrón, Fabrice Leray
Fabrice leray, Andrés Barrón
RGT Engineering (Gerardo Hernández)
Arau Acustic (Higiniarau)
The project proposes the recovery of an essential public space for Sencelles, Plaza de la Villa , which is currently a place colonized by cars and where the protected architectural elements do not get the attention they deserve because they conflict with the priority vehicular use of the square. Consequently, it is an action on an area that offers a great opportunity to recover a space of universal accessibility. In short, it is a square for everyone that keeps alive what was the history of the town and allows the coexistence of all social groups.
The new design of the square unifies the pavement with the sidewalks, widening the square, erasing the existing boundaries and architectural barriers, which together with the proposed traffic detour will allow the creation of a more fluid public space with greater flexibility for its different uses: from rest and the weekly Saturday market to traditional festivities.
It will therefore become an enclosure in which, guided by the new pavement and a series of pergolas with benches protected by shade and vegetation, will act as outdoor living rooms, allowing the gathering of different groups and ages in each of the spaces generated by the pergolas.
A fundamental aspect of the proposal lies in the universal accessibility to the square. The slight slope, along with a series of strategically placed ramps and a parking lot for the disabled in an ideal place in the square, promote total accessibility for anyone seeking to enjoy this new public space returned to the municipality.
Although the final consolidation of the square as a continuous space is pursued through its pavements, the vegetation and the pergolas act as a filter, not only providing shade but also generating the possibility of carrying out different activities at the same time. The green spaces are reinforced to create, through the vegetation, color, textures and also freshness and microclimates.
The vegetation of the parterres next to the pergolas becomes one of the main elements in the proposal. Through a set of species, which include a small tree grove along with upholstery and climbing plants, a new visual and sensory space is generated in the center of the square. The main idea is that the vegetation can provide color as well as texture in the diversity of greenery, as well as in the flowering of the different species proposed. As it is a public space that aims to host events of different kinds, it has been considered at all times that the species are resistant and easy to maintain.
The existing trees will cover this new vegetation. The project proposes to maintain and protect the existing vegetation, which is considered part of the square's character. An item is allocated in the cost estimate provided for the protection of these large and important trees during the construction process.
Ayuntamiento de Sencelles
Sencelles, Mallorca, Spain
5009,8 ft ²
Belén Moneo, Jeff Brock
Francisco Blázquez, Federico Pérez
This sustainable proposal seeks to preserve and revitalize the ecosystem of the River Tajo, recuperating this natural area for the enjoyment of all citizens of Talavera pointing out the possibility this Tajo Natural Park, beginning in Talavera, can grow, adding territories and cities in such a way that, in a few years, we could follow the river from the Guadarrama mountain to its mouth in Lisbon.
The project is understood as a series of interventions, all consisting with this promising idea. The River’s protagonism in the Talavera de la Reina cityscape will be reasserted. It will be made accessible for the enjoyment of all citizens through a series of interventions and activities that bring the natural landscape of the river closer to the city. Finally, this park could become a tourist attraction for Talavera at a national level, as a supra-municipal infrastructure, with economic and social opportunities for the whole city.
The proposed solutions and objectives include sustainable measures to improve water quality, recover the habitats and species of this section of the Tajo River, improve the landscape and enable an increase in the use of the river and its banks in forms commensurate with the conservation of its biodiversity and its landscape. Opening the project to citizen participation should furthermore serve to achieve greater knowledge of the river’s history and evolution.
It is intended that the river be for "all" in the broadest sense; allowing the growth of the vegetation and the complex of habitats specific to the place, sheltering numerous autochthonous species of flora and fauna, improving and recovering the enormously attractive scenic landscapes of the river and its fertile plain, and allowing access by the citizens of and visitors to Talavera to the shores and islands for their use and enjoyment. In short, it is about achieving a Natural and Human River Landscape Park.
Confederación hidrográfica del Tajo y Ayuntamiento de Talavera de la Reina
Talavera de la Reina
MONEO BROCK, BLASCO ESPARZA, EIN
Irene Alberdi, Mathilde Noirot