Design Vanguard 2006

Outside Spain’s design capitals, BmasC Architects places modernity in context

BmasC Architects
Ávila, Spain

By David Cohn

Whether it’s a line of identical glass cases in a jewelry shop, or a row of repeated classrooms at a preschool, the designs of Arturo Blanco and Alegría Colón often involve an elegantly simple unfolding of abstract forms. Based in the small historic capital of Ávila, 70 miles northwest of Madrid, their practice, BmasC Architects, shows how Spain’s once-dormant regional centers are becoming motors of contemporary design. Blanco and Colón studied architecture at a small, regional school in nearby Valladolid. Since opening their studio in 1998, they’ve built eight projects and have nearly a dozen in various stages of development.

Click for complete slideshow of projects.

Pictured: Primary School, Sanchidrian; Photo © Luis Asín

Blanco and Colón view abstraction not as their principal goal but a way of developing the potential of each problem, each program, each site. For example, the architects complemented the lines of glass cases in their tiny jewelry shop in Ávila with an illuminated ceiling and dark stone floor so the composition draws the eyes of passing pedestrians deep into the space, a strategy of perspectival recession they also used in two shoe stores in Ávila’s historic core. At the preschool, also in Ávila, classrooms alternate with small wings containing service cores to define outdoor play spaces, while the rhythmic spacing of clerestory windows in the classroom’s upper volumes provides even daylighting. “We are interested in the pragmatics of architecture, its potential to transform realities,” states Blanco.

In their largest work so far, an addition to the Eras de Renueva High School in León, a long block of classrooms two stories high sits atop three perpendicular volumes (containing the gym, library, and cafeteria), with open spaces between them to visually connect the city and the playing fields. The south elevation, facing the city, is a collage of galvanized steel latticework within a metal grid, with screens oriented in different directions to create a range of textures. Seminar rooms and small offices irregularly line the opposite facade, creating an abstract play of wood volumes and voids on the exterior that allows daylight to reach central corridors.

In the Mayo House, a weekend retreat in the village of Las Berlanas, the architects again contrast upper and lower volumes, this time to create two kinds of living space: a relatively enclosed but social space on the ground floor arranged around a chimney and a walled garden; and an upper studio that steals views of the adjoining fields from above the bedrooms. According to Blanco, the juxtaposed volumes recall the sculptural stacks of hay bales the architects had seen in village wheatfields.

In both the preschool in Ávila and a primary school in the village of Sanchidrian, the architects weave together open spaces and built volumes to connect children with the outdoors. Thinking of the cold winters in Sanchidrian, they oriented the classrooms to the south, with fully glazed walls given a Mondrian-like pattern of fenestration.

Referring to the crisp detailing of their work, which regularly features different kinds of glass, zinc cladding, and accents of board-formed concrete and wood, Blanco says, “Although it might sound out of date, we believe in a new beauty based on a recycling of modernity.” In its mineral hardness and formal purity, their work claims its place beside the severe granite palaces, convents, churches, and fortified walls of medieval Ávila. At the same time, the light, spacious, and translucent play of their volumes breathes new life into this ancient capital and its rural surroundings.

Originally printed in the December 2006 issue of Architectural Record.
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Founded: 1998

Design staff: 6

Principals: Arturo Blanco Herrero and Alegría Colón Mur Education: Blanco: Polytechnic University ETSA, Madrid, Ph.D., 2005; University of Valladolid ETSA, M.Arch., 1997: University of Valladolid ETSA, B.Arch., 1996; Colón: Polytechnic University ETSA, Madrid, Ph.D., 2005; University of Valladolid ETSA, M.Arch., 2000: University of Valladolid ETSA, B.Arch., 1998

Work history: Blanco: CJC University ETSA, Madrid, professor, 2005–present; Colón: CJC University ETSA, Madrid, visiting professor, 2005

Key completed projects: Jeweler’s shop, Ávila, 2005; Municipal Preschool Education Center, Ávila, 2005; Primary Education Center, Sanchidrian, 2005; Mayo House, Las Berlanas, 2003; Eras de Renueva High School, León, 2003; Shoe shop, Ávila, 2002; Shoe shop, Ávila, 2000

Key current projects: Municipal Space for Youth, Ávila, 2006; Education Center, Piedralaves, 2006; Preschool Education Center, Sotillo de la Adrada, 2006; Huete House, Muñopepe, 2007; Municipal Cemetery, La Colilla, 2007; Industrial Nursery for Businesses, Ávila, 2007; 63 state-subsidized dwellings, Ávila, 2008; Social Houses, San Esteban del Valle, 2008; French Lyceum, Valladolid, 2008