The primitive light of Ensamble Studio

This salvage project in a former quarry saw light and stone carvings as an opportunity to rethink the dwelling in minimal terms.

This article was originally published in Domus 10523, January 2020.

Ca’n Terra is a house of the earth, and was first just that, earth then a quarry, voiding its Mares stone. Subsequently it was used by the military as an ammunition dump during the Spanish Civil War and later abandoned, only to be rediscovered decades later and become architecture. The found space has an industrial logic, artistic potential as a sublime cavern carved by hand and a mineral nature as an extract of the stony landscape on the island of Menorca.

Finding this excavated space in the bowels of the earth and reinventing its use meant writing a new story that could rescue it from its abandonment. The history of civilisation has evolved, transforming ideas into matter but here the process was inverted. We entered the space as would explorers, equipped with technology to boost our vision in the dark and scanning the solid structure that was built for us.

Layout of the former quarry. Drawing Ensamble Studio

Behind the scan was the architect’s eye, directing, interpreting and recreating the space, completing it with operations familiar to the stone: new cuts for air and light. Three skylights were carved in the darkest corners to illuminate and ventilate the space naturally. Stone surfaces were thoroughly cleaned of the accumulated mould and dirt, and translucent curtains were introduced to shield private areas. Mechanical systems were integrated into a number of cast slabs that follow the topography of the cave and cement was mixed with Mares powder to create new stone. Solar panels, a septic tank and a water cistern enable it to be used off the grid.

Architecture appeared and we can inhabit it. In lieu of the imposing action we often exert on the environment, we proposed a trip into the inner being of the matter and recognised the beauty of the spaces waiting to be lived in. This project has boldly sought a balance between nature and artifice, between history and time, between people and the environment.

(from the architects’ project description)

Ca’n Terra
Ca’n Terra, Menorca, Spain
Antón García-Abril, Debora Mesa Molina
Project team:
Ensamble Studio – Claudia Armas, Alvaro Catalan, Massimo Loia, Marco Antrodicchia, Sebastián Zapata, Arianna Sebastiani, Claudia Armas, Ekam Sahni, Yu-Ting Li, Joel Kim, Gonzalo Peña, Yvonne Asiimwe, Mónica Acosta
Project management:
Borja Soriano
Structural engineering:
Javier Cuesta
Development and site supervision:
Ensamble Studio
Urculo engineering
Built area:
1,000 smq
Design and construction phases:
In progress

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