all articles 25. July 2019

Interview with WAF Award winner OHLAB

They are seen as the “Oscars of architecture”: the projects nominated for the WAF Awards, presented during the World Architecture Festival (WAF) are regarded as being among the very best in the world of architecture. Architectural projects from 70 countries have now been shortlisted for the WAF Awards 2019. 

Among the nominated projects is ‘Xaloc House’ on Mallorca, the first joint project by the renowned Spanish architects OHLAB and Soy Real Estate, a property development company founded in 2017.

“To be nominated for a WAF Award with our very first project, that is something very special and it means a great deal to me,” said Alexandra Schmitz, founder and CEO of Soy Real Estate GmbH. The property developer first met Jaime Oliver and Paloma Hernaiz from OHLAB at the World Architecture Festival in 2016, where both architects won the WAF Award for the best ‘House - Completed Building’.

“As award-winning architects, OHLAB can now choose their own customers and decide who they want to collaborate with. So it makes me really proud that they decided to work with us,” Alexandra Schmitz said.

The winners of the WAF Awards 2019 will be announced at the World Architecture Festival, which takes place in Amsterdam from 4 – 6 December 2019.

In the interview, Jaime Oliver and Paloma Hernaiz from OHLAB provide an insight into the exceptional concept of the ‘Xaloc House’ project, which combines integration into the landscape with unique architectural design and a high degree of sustainability.

Interview with Jaime Oliver and Paloma Hernaiz from OHLAB

In 2016, your Casa MM received the award best house award at the World Architecture Festival. What does a second nomination mean for you?

Paloma: Being nominated means recognition for our work and the hard effort we invest in it. For us, the project always comes first, and we strive to do the very best job we can on every project.

But of course, it is also a great feeling to receive such recognition, especially in the form of a nomination for the WAF award because the jury is always made up of very prestigious architects. For us, it is a privilege to present our designs to other colleagues, in competition with outstanding projects from all over the world.

How did you approach the Casa Xaloc project? What important questions and challenges guided you.

Jaime: There were a few things that really occupied us. On the one hand, we are dealing with a detached, single family house, and a large one at that. A detached house is in itself not really a sustainable project, above all because of the fact that it is being planned for an island like Mallorca, with limited surface area for building and limited resources. On the other hand, we want to avoid simply erecting a large white box or some gigantic structure on the plot. This type of house often comes across as very showy and pretentious.

This is why we thought of integrating the house into the existing landscape of the plot, which is situated on a sloping hillside. Our strategy was to hide the living spaces in the hill itself - as if we had lifted up the hill with its all landscape and vegetation, put the structure in place, and set the hill back down again where it was. An additional idea was to split the living space into bedrooms and common residential spaces and to then separate these different modules from each other in order to maximize the residents’ enjoyment of the views offered by the plot and the landscape.

Casa Xaloc almost merges into the landscape. What was your inspiration for this fascinating architectural form?

Jaime:We found inspiration from the local vernacular architecture, the Mediterranean vaulted architecture, without wanting to mimic it exactly. Our construction is based on a series of vaults embedded in the hillside, with the arches visible from the outside in a style traditionally used more for storage spaces. Our design is therefore not for a house in the typical sense, but is rather an abstraction that draws on traditional vaulted structures found in Catalonia or Mallorca. The connection with the local culture was very important to us.

You are very demanding when it comes to the sustainability of your architecture. How do you implement this in Casa Xaloc?

Jaime:To achieve optimum energy efficiency, Casa Xaloc will comply with the Passive House standard. This means extremely low annual energy consumption of only 15 kWh per square meter, which is around 90% lower than for a normal house.

This is possible, above all, because the living spaces are located within the hill itself and we can make good use of the outstanding insulation this offers. The building is so designed that it uses the sun’s energy during the winter, whereas it blocks it in the summer. So this is a very simple kind of solar strategy, one based on numerous studies on solar energy.

You live on Mallorca yourselves. Where does your design fit in with the island’s existing architecture, and what future architectural developments would you like see?

Paloma: There is still a lot of room for improvements both to the design and also to the quality of the buildings on Mallorca. I am sure that this development will gradually happen because there is now a growing audience that is demanding such quality. What we would wish, and what we try to achieve with our own projects, is to integrate the buildings more intensively into the landscape and treat the ecosystem and natural resources with more respect. This is a great challenge, and we are hoping that our work can influence the quality of the island’s architecture and take it to a higher level.

What is the meaning behind the name Casa Xaloc?

Jaime:  Xaloc is the Mallorquín term for Scirocco, which is an easterly or south-easterly wind from Africa. So, Casa Xaloc has a south-east orientation, with a view across the bay. At the same time the south-east is always slightly fresher than the south and is additionally the best orientation for a house on Mallorca.

On exactly this location on the island, thermal winds cause a regular breeze twice a day during the summer, and we make use of this in our architecture to cool the house. Even though it looks as if it is built right into the hillside, there are patios at the back that allow for cross-ventilation around the house.

We thought it was a nice idea to name the house after this special south-easterly wind and also because of the orientation of the plot with its magnificent views.

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