Sixth Edition 2017-2018
Born in Ciudad Real (Spain) in 1971, Elisa Valero Ramos graduated from the ETSA (Escuela Técnica Superior de Arquitectura) Valladolid in 1996. She completed her PhD at the ETSA Granada in 2000 and won a scholarship from the Real Academia de España in Rome in 2003. She is the author of five monographies, has worked as reviewer and lecturer and was invited by numerous architecture schools in Europe and by the UNAM in Mexico City. She is currently Professor of Architectural Design at the ETSA Granada.
This is how Elisa Valero describes her work: “At a moment in our culture when noise is enormously dense I have chosen an architecture that acts in silence, serenely and without drawing attention to itself. […] I am interested in living space, landscape, sustainability, precision and an economy of expressive resources. I am not interested in styles. I am more interested in books than in magazines, in consistency than in genius, coherency than artistic composition. And I understand originality as the rediscovery of the true meaning of things. I am interested in architecture rooted in the earth and in its own time. I accept the determinants of architecture as the rules of a very serious and enjoyable game and I try to play it in a coherent, rigorous way. While it is no longer stylish to speak of serving, I believe that an architect’s work is a quintessential service intended to make people’s lives more agreeable—a noble calling that seeks to make the world more beautiful and more human and to make society fairer. Architecture is no place for the nostalgic, it is a job for rebels”.
The Judges decided unanimously to grant the Swiss Architectural Award 2018 to Elisa Valero for the extension of a school building in Cerillo de Maracena (Granada, 2013-2014), for the experimental houses in Granada (2015-2016) and for the church in Playa Granada (2015-2016). According to the panel, “Elisa Valero’s architecture is driven by a strong personal commitment and by an innovative research of construction solutions, which enable her to comply with the conditions required by functional programs and create very high-quality buildings, whilst making use of limited resources”. The Judges appreciated how Elisa Valero’s work deeply reflects the objectives of the Swiss Architectural Award, a prize that aims to encourage public debate on the potential of architecture by involving three Swiss Schools of Architecture.
Extension of a school building in Cerrillo de Maracena
Granada (Spain), 2013-2014
The Cerrillo de Maracena School is located on the outskirts of Granada, a very poor area between the motorway and the railway. The work is an extension made to provide the school with a multi-use room, a second set of stairs for evacuation purposes, and a covered school yard, which is mandatory.
A volume, which is to become the new west façade, has been conceived which will be connected to the school on the first floor, located above an existing classroom and a part of the playground. A very innovative building system, Elesdopa, was developed, which optimizes concrete by using a double sheet of reinforced concrete sprayed on both sides of a 20 cm thick thermal insulation core. The thermal mass and generous size of the insulation are passive systems used to achieve comfort without mechanical heating or cooling. This also means a substantial reduction in the amount of concrete used and in building costs, while improving its seismic behaviour. There is only one finish, structural concrete, inside and outside.
The light is carefully controlled by a brise-soleil cast in situ, addressing concerns such as stray footballs, vandals and thieves breaking the glass. On the inside, there is just light and space for growth. The requisites are low cost and energy efficiency. There is no alternative. My first work, when I was 24 years old, was the restoration of “Los Manantiales” restaurant by Felix Candela, an octagonal-plan concrete shell formed by the intersection of four hyperbolic paraboloids. Its geometry makes it possible for a 5 cm thick sheet of reinforced concrete to cover a surface of 1750 m2 supported only on eight points. I learnt there that most of the time less is enough. Less material, less energy, less money is enough to solve human dwelling problems; it is enough simply to let light play inside; enough to achieve imperfect beauty. There I also found the answer to my concerns about the environment and sustainability. Reducing the consumption of materials and energy is not just an economic advantage but also an ethical need for every person on this small planet where we live.
My current research focuses on new concrete construction systems to achieve low cost, low-energy buildings. Concrete is the most widely used composite material in the world. The use of a local, easily available material with very good structural behaviour could provide high quality, low-cost housing to large sectors of the population. This is just the beginning of a research path through on-going projects. We are now fighting to reduce embodied carbon in concrete, using alternative reinforcements to minimize the use of iron and the production of waste material. We will keep working towards a more environmentally engaged architecture, an architecture within everyone’s reach, an architecture that will lead us to a fairer society.
Granada (Spain), 2015-2016
Located in the neighbourhood of Jewish origin called the Realejo, one of the oldest in the city of Granada, the building is situated at the end of a small street that culminates in a flight of steps, like many others on the western slope of the Alhambra. The neighbourhood is characterized by its strongly accented topography, which allows the houses to face the Vega and the Sierra Nevada.
As a result of an experimental project, eight different apartments tailored to the needs of each owner were built for a neighbours’ cooperative around a garden, in which the paving is perforated with small holes in a regular pattern, so that the rainwater can escape back into the ground. At some points the holes change in size to allow for the planting of small trees or plants. Designing to bioclimatic principles reduces energy costs and the building itself is almost zero energy because of the great continuous insulation, high thermal inertia and adequate orientations. The walls, floors and ceilings are all in structural concrete, using the double wall Elesdopa system (except the roof), cast in formwork. This has also made it possible to reduce the building costs (545,850 euro for a building area of 1040 m2), as well as minimizing the number of structural pillars, so giving full continuity between the garden and the parking area under the building. This experimental building is not perfect and we had to learn how to solve new problems during the construction process. Architecture is a risky game.
© Video by Daniele Marucci
Church of Santa Josefina Bakhita
Playa Granada (Spain), 2015-2016
On the coast, south of the Sierra Nevada and very close to the sea, rises the slender tower of a new chapel. It is a simple piece of concrete, set among the trees in an open garden. The challenge of building a space for an encounter that is about transcendence is such that it was decided not to try to do anything new, but to refer to the tradition of the early Christian places of worship. The architecture is therefore placed at the service of the liturgy, incorporating the elements that form the whole: the atrium of access, the baptistery with an octagonal font at the entrance, the crypt, presbytery, belfry and choir. The set of conditions for this work were: the topography, with a gap to allow access to the nave from the garden to the west and to the crypt from the east, and the high water level which determined the ground level of the building; the urban regulations, which required that the building, except for the bell tower, should not exceed the height of the single-family two story dwellings in the area; the aggressive environment for steel due to the proximity of the sea, and the importance of acoustics. The sine qua non condition needed to make it possible was economy. These conditions defined the rules of the game which achieved the final result by eliminating everything not strictly necessary. Light was the principle raw material. It materializes the idea that God is the light of the world, the idea of one God in three persons. In the temple there are just three entrances for light. A single light source illuminates the church in three different ways. The construction is essentially of concrete. The vertical structure is a conventional reinforced concrete wall construction, with internal insulation, while the horizontal structure, foundations and ceiling slabs use the Elesdopa system. In most cases this system also avoids any need for other finishes, so the construction is both very economical to build (345,000 euro for a building area of 891 m2) and maintenance is practically reduced to zero. On the ceiling of the nave, the variable thickness of the slabs avoids having a parallel floor and ceiling which is not acoustically suitable. Concrete, the artificial stone of our time, also has a symbolic value. The nakedness of this contemporary stone speaks of constructive sincerity and sobriety. These timeless values purify the architecture from ornament and allow light alone to shape the spaces.
© Video by Daniele Marucci