Slab, point-access
Girasol Apartments
Coderch, José Antonio | Madrid, Spain | 1966
Image of Girasol ...
West facade, detail

ProjectGirasol Apartments
ArchitectCoderch, José Antonio
Addresscalle de Lagasca/calle de José Ortega y Gasset
Building TypeSlab, point-access
Number of Dwellingsc. 28
Date Built1966
Dwelling Types3 BR flats
No. Floors7
Section Typeflats
Exterior Finish
Construction Typesteel frame
Ancillary Servicesshops, parking

Il Girasol or “Sunflower” is one of the few projects by Coderch built outside Barcelona. Located on a corner site in a district of established infill apartment buildings in the Salamanca quarter of Madrid, this seven-story, party-wall building combines residential and commercial use. The building actually consists of 5 narrow towers that are organized diagonal to the street grid, a move to capture more south light from the street facade. The five towers are separated with long, undulating walls that have narrow, curved frontage along calle de Lagsca on the west, a terraced front along calle Jose Orgega de Gasset on the south and a narrow zone of terraces opening on the east to the interior of the block.

The individual towers are organized with one very large dwelling per floor. Elevators, stairs, and service spaces are located on the interior of the site. The apartments are organized into two parallel zones, a narrow zone of smaller rooms along one wall and wider zone of open living spaces along the other. These spaces all open to terraces that step back from the street façade and the distinctive curved wall of the master bedroom. This deep erosion of the west façade creates an alternating rhythm of solid and void along calle de Lagasca. The repetitive, petal-like composition of the plans and the spatial explosion to the south seem to be the source of the sunflower metaphor. While the expression of a steel structural frame is obvious in the cantilevered terraces and open structure of the two bottom floors, the alternating rhythm and use of brick walls are a gesture to the vernacular context of the neighborhood.

Vertically, the building is organized into three distinct zones. The lower zone along the street forms a two-story high space that contains the entrances to the elevators and stairs to the apartments above, entrance to the basemen parking, stairs connecting to a level of offices on the mezzanine, and shops along the street. The deep indentations of the street façade and courts at the rear of the buildings admit natural light into this multi-level space. The middle zone contains five floors of apartments that partially cantilever over the sidewalk and is expressed in the alternating solid-void pattern of the blank bedroom walls and deep cutouts of the terraces. The use of vertical wall elements for solar control was a strategy used by Coderch before in the Maquinsta apartments in the Barcelonetta (1951) where the continuous vertical panels were treated more as a brise- soleil element attached to the building rather than the zone of occupied spaces used in Girasol. The top two floors form the third zone of apartments that step back from the street façade forming larger roof terraces.

While the apartment plans in the 5 towers are all slightly different, they share a similar distinctive organization that was a reoccurring theme in Coderch’s residential projects of the 1950’s and 60’s. In these examples, the living spaces form a zone of open living areas served by a kitchen and domestic area, opening to a pool or outdoor garden with the bedrooms extending as an organization of repetitive, stepped elements each with a corner window. Casa Uriach (1961) and Casa Rozes (1961) are examples of this type. Girasol can be seen as 5 Casa Uriachs placed side-by-side resulting in a similar repeating stepped organization. Coderch also applied this idea in later apartments projects in Barcelona, the 6 Blocks and Las Cocheras (1967 & 68), and other inbuilt projects designed in the 1970’s.

The typical Girasol apartment is large and well planned reinforcing the idea that these are really large private houses adapted to a multi-family living pattern. A long interior hallway connecting the bedroom on the street façade and the domestic quarters overlooking the interior of the perimeter block reinforce the extreme length of the dwelling. The deep cutout of the west façade and the arrangement of terraces admits daylight deeply into interior rooms. Even the entry vestibule located virtually in the center of the plan receives some natural light. A generous suite of living spaces opening to exterior terraces and equipped with a fireplace, and the suite of service spaces that open to the interior of the block. A distinct Coderch genre results from the way materials are used, steel frame, terra cotta brick walls, floor to ceiling glass, and wooden jealousies. The defined volume of each apartments is about 45’ x 90 ’ and the actual enclosed area is about 4,000 square feet in size. The bedrooms, baths, and service spaces are organized along the long undulating wall that separates units, and the recesses in the street façade admit light to the living room and its terraces and to the stepped bedroom terraces. An elevator and stair connect to a vestibule more-or-less in the center of the plan. The stepped form is essential to getting day lighting deep into the dwelling where rooms have full height windows and doors that open to terraces that have glass balustrades. A system of awnings, roll down blinds and pivoting wooden jalousies are used to control the sun. The blank walls of the master bedroom form the vertical surfaces along the street facade The façade along calle de José Ortega u Gasset has few windows, a measure of protection from the sun.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Coderch’s work is the architect’s attitude about solar climatic issues. In the early houses, while siting strategies were important, solar control was achieved primarily with various exterior window accessories, screens, blinds, and awnings. Coderch’s use of these window elements for security and solar control were entirely consistent with a long tradition of Mediterranean window details. Coderch’s use of solar elements evolved in various ways from full-height sliding wooden, louvered panels in some of the early houses, to control details like roll blinds and built-in awnings, or the continuous adjustable horizontal wooden jalousie systems such as those used in the Barcelonetta housing and the calle Bach apartments of 1958. Painted wooden louvers always presented a maintenance problem and the vertical jealousies that were introduced with Girasol seem to be made of hardwood and were, therefore, easier to maintain. In addition to localized control at the window, however, Coderch was also experimenting with building forms, organization, and siting as ways of achieving solar efficiency. A well-known block of apartments in Madrid designed by Secundino Zuazo in 1931, the Casa de las Flores, may have inspired Coderch’s interest in the terrace as the instrument of solar design. It seems that Coderch actually worked in the Zuazo studio in 1941 but, in any event, he was living in Madrid during this time. It was called the ‘House of the Flowers” because of the cantilevered metal terraces that supported flower planters along the terraces at the corners of the building. While the corner balconies were applied to an otherwise quite conventional perimeter apartment block, they suggested a modern attitude about the relationship between solar control and the actual building form, that the building shape could be derived from the need for solar protection. Coderch was experimenting with solar responsive building forms from the early part of his career; overhangs, cantilevered terraces, canted walls, and stepped building forms. Girasol represents the most developed application of these principles with the plans canted for better building orientation, deep-set terraces and overhangs to shade glass, and the positioning of windows for better solar orientation. With Girasol, climatic design was not just limited to window protection and treatment, but was the generative raison d’etre for the whole building. Clever design response to solar issues was having a dynamic impact on the organization of the plan, the shape of the building, the siting, and the position and details of the windows.

Coderch, J. A., J.A. Coderch 1945-1976, Xarait Ediciones, Madrid, 1978, pp. 97-102.

Architecture + Urbanism, Feb., 1976, p. 104.

Sherwood, Roger,

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