Many of the great architectural works that, throughout the last four decades, Ricardo Bofill and his team created all over the world, are very well known. However, the projects that the self-called ‘Taller de arquitectura’ (architecture workshop) has been undertaking to renovate old houses and buildings, perhaps are not as acclaimed.
The architect Hernán Cortés (Barcelona, 1981) has been working at Bofill’s firm since 2012. His main focus has been reviving rehabilitation as a practice. Now, Hernán has begun to take on his own renovation projects where he manages all their different stages: from the acquisition of a space to its complete refurbishment.
The first of these projects is a stately flat located in Barcelona’s Eixample district. This is where our interview takes place. On my arrival, and to break the ice, I can’t help making a comment about the architect’s name. He appreciates, arguing that it is a good indicator of his interlocutor’s historical references. Feeling somewhat flattered, I take a look around me.
The refurbishment is practically finished. Although the floor is still covered with protective cardboard, the essence of the result can already be perceived. Hernán invites me to sit in a makeshift office, where we are joined by his wife, the creative Caterina Maza Krebs, and their playful Brussels Griffon, Chloe. We sit in what I imagine to be one of the living roms of the residence. “Part of what drew us to this flat was its perspective and symmetry, and the large dimensions of the hallway and different spaces.” Hernán speaks clearly and with determination.
“We were also captivated by all the original woodwork,” he continues. Indeed, most of the door mouldings and other details have been stripped to bring out the purity of wood. “I like to bring out the beauty of everything that is handcrafted,” Hernán explains and adds: “What I appreciate most about a project like this is the creative freedom it gives me. Without the pressure of deadlines or clients, I can let everything slowly take shape.
When you do the research and make decisions with fewer stipulations, your professional essence comes out.” I agree with his way of thinking. The act of turning ideas into reality allows them to consolidate. This is also the way to truly share them. “Exactly!” he enthuses. “If certain clients are not entirely convinced by a particular design, I can invite them here to see what I’ve done, to see real results.”
Hernán and Caterina walk with me as I look around the extended interior. Although the space is balanced and harmonious, there are also surprises, touches of a theatricality without ostentation, such as majestic arches, or the continuation of a corridor beyond you imagined the dwelling would end. Among all, there are countless details to be discovered, from a selection of designer furniture that deserves an article in its own right, to specific ideas that Hernán points out: “just here there are three types of white: one for the wall, one for the wood and one for the floor.”
As we continue our walk, I learn how Hernán’s taste for craftsmanship is also reflected in the large rear balcony, where traditional balcony shutters, along with a lush arrangement of ficus alii that provide both shade and privacy. “These types of shutters are an example of how I like to work: incorporating what has always been there and still works perfectly.”
“Now that you’ve already put in all those ficus alii, does that mean you’re moving in?” I ask. They did consider it at some point, but their final intention is to sell it. “We’d like to create a lifestyle that consists of buying homes, refurbishing them, bringing everything we know to the project and then selling them. It’s a way of making each space your own without the need to own it,” Hernán explains. And I understand that this is precisely where the opportunity to try out each process takes on its full value: the reciprocity that emerges when impregnating a space with your knowledge while allowing it to bring all its wisdom to you.
After leaving this spectacular home, it only takes me a few minutes to reach Plaça Urquinaona. I notice while I walk how, in recent years, a part of the neighbourhood has had its classical heritage noticeably tinged with casual modernity. It would be easy to say that Hernán is doing the same with his project, but his way of working is far from the youthful, colourful and rebellious aesthetic found in many establishments around the area.
Rather than a desire to break with the past, what I perceive in his work is a renewed continuity, a kind sobriety that honours the passage of time, but above all, a labour of excellence and audacity. Indeed, Hernán’s renovations may have served him as a laboratory for experimentation, but this is a case of trial without error.