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Estate In Extremadura

Spanish firm ÃBATON faced the challenge of transforming an abandoned stable tucked away on a hillside far from city infrastructure into a state-of-the-art, environmentally conscious family residence without disturbing the pristine ecological and aesthetic milieu of Cáceres, Spain.

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© Ábaton Architects

The firm concluded that the design should embrace the immersive natural surroundings of the site. The facade incorporates local stone and weather-beaten wood, and the plan maintains the basic organization of the former stable, converting its haylofts into bedrooms. Two-story-tall openings capture sweeping views of the countryside and let indoor and outdoor spaces comingle. Yet the Off Grid Home does not falsify a sense of local authenticity. Part of the beauty of the design is its integration of contemporary building materials and design concepts foreign to the area: concrete and steel frame a surprisingly modern interior; serene swimming pools double as tanks to hold water for irrigation.

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© Ábaton Architects

Off Grid Home thus communicates that sustainability is not quantifiable by the number of solar panels lining a rooftop or how much recycled material is crammed into a design; instead, it is an idea to be carefully applied in new ways to each new situation.

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© Ábaton Architects

The Design:

When Carlos Alonso and his sister Camino were looking for a country home for their extended family, they stumbled upon an abandoned stable in rural Extremadura, Spain and recognized it as a special place.

High on a hill and far from city water or an electrical grid, the crumbling cow shed was far from the conventional image of luxury estate, but Carlos and Camino run the prestigious Madrid architecture firm Ábaton Architecture (which includes Camino’s husband and 2 other Alonso siblings) and could envision a transformation.

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© Ábaton Architects

Wisdom of those who work the land:

This part of the province of Cáceres (near the Portuguese border) has been home to generations of cattle ranchers and the Alonsos recognized the wisdom those who came before them.

“What we found here was magnificent. The position of the architecture is here as it was originally because the experience of the rancher was to choose the best position on the property where you have water and sun all year round.”

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© Ábaton Architects

A stable becomes home:

Building on the instinctual knowledge of the ranchers before them, the Alonsos preserved much of the old stable. The old watering trough became a fountain and interior patio where water now helps cool the home in summer. The hay loft above became bedrooms.

The facade is still the original stone, though given the homes crumbling state, they were forced to add cement behind it.

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© Ábaton Architects

A second skin for an off-grid home:

Without access to the grid, the Alonsos added photovoltaics and hydro power (weighted toward solar in summer and hydro in winter) and worked to ensure the home wouldn’t use much energy.

The original position of the stable worked to their favor. The southern exposure allows for the sun to be the main source of heat during the winter. It’s position and a generous eave prevents much sun from entering the home during summer, thus keeping it cool.

The Alonsos also added large wooden shutters that slide closed like a second skin, covering the large windows at night to trap in most of the home’s daily solar heat gain.

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© Ábaton Architects

Water pure enough to drink:

The home was located far from city water, but perfectly positioned below two streams that flow year round. Since there is no one else above the home on the mountain, the water is pure and can be used for drinking and bathing (after a simple filter and rest period to allow for the sediment to sink off).

The natural stone swimming pool acts as a holding tank for use in irrigation. And greywater is purified and the water is put back to use on the property for watering the fields. On those fields, cattle still graze.

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© Ábaton Architects

Mixing modern with wabi-sabi:

In many ways little has changed on the property. The Alonso’s added their taste in architecture: a mix of modern cement and iron beams with the well-worn stone, weather-beaten wood and local stone.

Their love of a Japanese aesthetic led them to incorporate nature into nearly every room in the home: bathrooms with views of the interior patio and its stone water fountain, bedrooms with huge picture windows looking out at chestnut trees or cattle grazing.

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© Ábaton Architects

Working with nature:

But the property has changed little with the arrival of the Alonsos. The house sits exactly as the stable did. The sun continues to hit it the same way and the water flows around it as before.

Even local rancher José Vicente Jiménez, whose family has worked this land for generations, is still here. His cattle graze the property and he clearly is pleased the Alonsos have rescued the old stable from certain ruin (he points to a nearby stable in the process of collapse).

The Alonsos share a mutual respect for the experience of those who used this land before them. “People from the country know a lot. They take from nature and their experience in nature, since it accompanies them and helps them to survive, and they work with nature, not against it.

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© Ábaton Architects

Ábaton Architects:

Located in a privileged environment in the province of Cáceres, the goal was to transform an abandoned stable into a family home by completely renovating it in a way that would be consistent and respectful with the environment.

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© Ábaton Architects

Problems relating to the electricity and water supply were solved through sustainability systems which ABATON uses in all its projects: a solar panel system with storage batteries was developed to supply energy during the summer; turbines were installed taking advantage of the course of the two streams that run through the estate providing electricity for the winter.

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© Ábaton Architects

Project Data:

Project name: Estate In Extremadura
Location: Cáceres, Extremadura, Spain
Coordinates: n/a
Type:

  • Type By Characteristic: Green & Sustainable House, Renovation / Expansion / Extension : House
  • Type By Site: Countryside / Suburb House, Hill House
  • Type By Size: Medium House – (201 sqm – 450 sqm)
  • Type By Structural: Stone House

Materials: Recycled Stone, concrete, limestone floors, steel, oak
Site Area: 5 ha
Project Area: 322 sqm
Status: Completed
Completion Year: 2010

Awards:

  • 2013 – Architizer A+ Awards – Category: Architecture +Sustainability – Jury Winner

The people:

Client / Owner / Developer: Carlos Alonso
Architects: Ábaton Architects – C/ Ciudad Real, 28 28223 Pozuelo de Alarcón, Madrid, Spain
Interior Design Project and Furnishing: Ábaton Architects and BATAVIA
Text Description: © Courtesy of Ábaton Architects, faircompanies, architizer
Images: © Ábaton Architects

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