Stunning buildings made from raw, imperfect materials | Débora Mesa Molina

Architecture is a profession
with many rules, some written, some not, some relevant and others not. As architects,
we’re constantly gravitating between following these rules by the book or making a space for imagination — for experimentation. This is a difficult balance. Especially through architecture, you’re trying to challenge preconceptions
and push boundaries and innovate, even if just using what we have around
and we overlook all the time. And this is what I’ve been doing
along with my team, Ensamble Studio, and from our very early works that happened
in strict historic contexts, like the city of Santiago de Compostela. Here we built the General Society
of Authors and Editors, a cultural building. And on top of all the regulations, we had to use stone by code and our experience was limited, but we had incredible
references to learn from, some coming from the city itself or from nearby landscapes or other remote places that had impacted
our education as architects, and maybe you recognize here. But somehow the finished products
that industry made available for us as architects
to use in our buildings seemed to have lost their soul. And so we decided to go
to the nearby quarries to better understand the process
that transforms a mountain into a perfectly square tile
that you buy from a supplier. And we were taken by the monumental
scale of the material and the actions to extract it. And looking carefully, we noticed hundreds of irregular
blocks piling up everywhere. They are the leftovers
of an extraction sequence: the ugly parts that nobody wants. But we wanted them. We were inspired. And it was a win-win situation where we could get this residual
material of great quality, doomed to be crushed, at a very low cost. Now, we had to convince our clients
that this was a good idea; but foremost, we had to come up
with a design process to reuse these randomly shaped rocks, and we had not done this before. Today everything would be much easier because we would go to the quarry with our smartphones
equipped with 3-D scanners and we would document each rock, turn that into a digital model — highly engineer the whole process. But more than a decade ago, we had to embrace uncertainty and put on our boots, roll up our sleeves and move to the quarry
for a hands-on experience. And we also had to become the contractors because we failed at finding somebody
willing to share the risk with us. Now, luckily, we convinced the quarry team
to help us build a few prototypes to resolve some of the technical details. And we agreed on a few mock-ups, but we got excited, and one stone led to another until we succeeded to build an 18-meter-long
by eight-meter-high structure that recycled all the amorphous
material of the quarry, just supported by gravity — no mortar and no ties. And once built and tested, moving it to the final site
in the city center to unite it with the rest of the building was a piece of cake, because by having isolated uncertainty and managed risk in the controlled
environment of the quarry, we were able to complete
the whole building in time and on budget, even if using nonconventional
means and methods. And I still get goosebumps when I see this big chunk
of the industrial landscape in the city, in a building, experienced by the visitors
and the neighbors. This building gave us
quite a few headaches, and so it could have well been
an exception in our work, but instead it started to inform
a modus operandi where every project
becomes this opportunity to test the limits of a discipline
we believe has to be urgently reimagined. So what you see here are four homes that we have designed,
built and inhabited. Four manifestos where
we are using the small scale to ask ourselves big questions. And we are trying to discover
the architectures that result from unconventional
applications of pretty mundane materials and technologies, like concrete in different forms
in the top row, or steel and foam in the bottom row. Take, for instance,
these precast concrete beams. You have probably seen them building bridges, highways,
water channels — we found them on one of our visits
to a precast concrete factory. And they might not seem
especially homey or beautiful, but we decided to use them
to build our first house. And this was an incredible moment because we got to be architects as always, builders once more and, for the first time,
we could be our own clients. So, here we are trying to figure out
how we can take these huge catalogue beams of about 20 tons each and stack them progressively
around a courtyard space … the heart of the house. And due to the dimensions
and their material quality, these big parts are the structure
that carry the loads to the ground, but they are much more than that. They are the swimming pool; they are the walls that divide
interior from exterior; they are the windows that frame the views; they are the finishes; they are the very spirit of this house. A house that is for us a laboratory where we are testing how we can use
standard elements in nonstandard ways. And we are observing
that the results are intriguing. And we are learning by doing that prefabrication
can be much more than stacking boxes or that heavy parts
can be airy and transparent. And on top of designing
and building this house, we get invaluable feedback, sharing it with our family
and our friends because this is our life and our work in progress. The lessons that we learn here
get translated into other projects and other programs and other scales as well, and they inspire new work. Here again we are looking
at very standard products: galvanized steel studs
that can be easily cut and screwed, insulating foams, cement boards — all materials that you can find
hidden in partition walls and that we are exposing; and we are using them to build
a very lightweight construction system that can be built almost by anyone. And we are doing it ourselves
with our hands in our shop, and we are architects.
We’re not professional builders but we want to make sure it’s possible. And it’s so nice that Antón
can move it with his hands and Javier can put it in a container, and we can ship it like you would ship your belongings
if you were moving abroad … which is what we did five years ago. We moved our gravity center from Madrid and the house of the concrete
beams to Brookline. And we found the ugly duckling
of a very nice neighborhood: a one-story garage
and the only thing we could afford. But it was OK because we wanted
to transform it into a swan, installing on top
our just-delivered kit of parts, once more becoming the scientists
and the guinea pigs. So this is a house
that uses some of the cheapest and most normal materials
that you can find in the market that applies the ubiquitous
four-by-eight modulation that governs the construction industry. And yet a different
organization of the spaces and a different assembly of the parts is able to transform
an economically built home into a luxurious space. And now, we’re dreaming and we’re
actively working with developers, with builders, with communities to try to make this a reality
for many more homes and many more families. And you see, the world around us
is an infinite source of inspiration if we are curious enough
to see beneath the surface of things. Now I’m going to take you
to the other side of the moon: to the sublime landscape of Montana, where a few years ago
we joined Cathy and Peter Halstead to imagine Tippet Rise Art Center
on a 10,000-acre working ranch. And when we first visited the site, we realized that all we knew
about what an art center is was absolutely pointless for that client, for that community, for that landscape. The kind of white-box museum type
had no fit here. So we decided to explode the center
into a constellation of fragments, of spaces spread
across the vast territory that would immerse the visitors
into the wilderness of this amazing place. So back in the office,
we are thinking through making, using the land both as support
and as material, learning from its geological processes
of sedimentation, erosion, fragmentation, crystallization — explosion — to discover architectures
that are born from the land, that are visceral extensions
of the landscape, like this bridge
that crosses Murphy Canyon. Or this fountain. Like this space topping a hill … or this theatre that brings to us
the space of the mountains and its sound. And in order to realize this idea, construction cannot be perfectly planned. We need to embrace the drastic weather
and the local craft. We need to control
just those aspects that are critical, like the structural, the thermal, the acoustical properties
embedded in the form. But otherwise, improvisation
is welcome and is provoked. And the moment of construction
is still a moment of design and a moment of celebration where different hands, hearts, minds
come together to perform a final dance. And the result then cannot be anticipated. It comes as a surprise. And we unwrap architecture
like you would unwrap a birthday gift. Architecture isn’t uncovered: it’s discovered. It’s extracted from the guts
of the earth to build a shelter, one of the most basic human needs. Architecture, art, landscape, archaeology, geology — all made one. And by using the resources
at our disposal in radical ways, by making a space for experimentation, we are able to bring to light
architectures that find the beauty latent in the raw and imperfect
things that surround us, that elevate them and let them speak their own language. Thank you. (Applause)

100 Replies to “Stunning buildings made from raw, imperfect materials | Débora Mesa Molina”

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  2. 👍The road to growing a channel can be difficult! that's why i watch these videos! can't wait to share my story on how I got 1K followers so quickly!

  3. I love this channel! The content posted here is really inspirational which has helped me with their strategies! anyone who wants to learn how let me know!?

  4. I can appreciate the house in the thumbnail for the creativity involved in the design however to live there would feel like being inside a twisted nightmare.

  5. Irrelevant. I live in the UK. Taylor Wimpey wouldn't even put windows in thier houses if they thought they could dictate the market. Furthermore, the government would stand by and do nothing about it.

  6. Why would you build a massive, ginormous roof that does not even protect the entire audience from something as basic as rain?

  7. Débora Mesa Molina i am quite impressed at your beautiful wall. question. is it REALLY not possible for it 2 fall? sometimes things fall of shelves in my house. in the closet i hear a bang…. something fell. i admit i stack haphazardly but what if a stone WAS 2 SLIP?

  8. Um… what about earthquakes or other disasters? Not sure I want umpteen thousand pounds merely balanced above my head…

  9. Love that swimming pool! She, or whoever is behind the exceptional design ideas showcased here, is really very clever. If she really had significant input into the processes illustrated in this video then she's a great argument against Cultural Marxism; no diversity hire could be quite as impressive as this. The way she looks after her body leads me to suspect that she is the real deal.

  10. A great way to make design and construction infinitely more difficult to get permit. And @12:06 that pile of junk will still rip you off for about a million 🤔 and is that a drainage ditch they hang on mid air as a swimming pool???

  11. Any forms are valid if the proper anchoring are in place to keep them sound 😉 Also I like the hands on approach these innovative architects have beside doing a simple downsized scale model 👍

  12. This is a really fascinating talk, but it's really dumb. You couldn't hire these people to build you a house like this, or, "experiment" for you. Banal.

  13. Interesting work. But a lot of unnecessary fancy words to ultimately describe quite basic architectural structures.

  14. This is such a useless talk. It's basically LOOK WE CAN BUILD WEIRD STRUCTURES WITH BROKEN CEMENT. cool… what she didn't say is that every single one of those buildings is considered an ART piece. No person is allowed to live inside it. Until we update these old building codes nothing like this will ever replace the boring box modern home. I see all these people making cool pieces of art or tiny homes with renewable materials, yet when they set it up the city ordinance tears it down. But I don't see anyone lobbying to change the housing code or passing a bill to update the building code.

  15. The whole sense of architecture in this video has become a child's play, like we used to organise every object on top of each other and visualizing a wonderful structure in it. Just made it look so simple, but the effort to do it at this scale is beyond words.. Kudos to you for the talk. This is just, maybe the quint essence we're missing out in our lives, it's so simple but we still make it complex by running after things …

  16. Wooowwwwwww!!!! Those outcome structures at the last part of the talk are jaw-droping output and their architectural and structural solution and approach is really inspiring. I hope it is also executable/possible in our country, the Philippines. 🙂

  17. Externally beautiful – but I'd feel like I was rattling around inside one of them, and I wouldn't want to pay the heating bills

  18. Fun designs but you don’t seem to understand how materials wear from sun damage and weather. Also, awkwardly stacking stones has been a human past time for 200,000 years.

  19. I thought this is great, out of the box creative new unique ideas. Thank you for sharing, please ignore all the Debbie Downers.

  20. My son recommended me to see this video…I'm so glad he did…Some people would never have moved beyond living in caves or huts…one really has to try and build to go with the year round climate…I've been actively studying mostly housing building or renovations for the last 12 years from all over the world…I'm still finding new ideas and it still keeps me interested…so glad for people who share information and their videos on U-Tube…I'm thankful to those who made this video and cause my brain to yet again think of thinks new…I think the laws govern building to codes a real power play…people aren't really free to build what they may want…but I still see creativity a live and thriving and new building materials being developed all the time… It is all so exciting to me…Thank you all!

  21. Okay, the seemingly haphazard use of the prestressed concrete beams made me nervous, but I have to admit that using the earth as amorphous concrete formwork was pretty neat.

  22. Apart from the strength of these stuctures, what about heating of the building entirely made out of stone? I bet it’s not economical.

  23. This Lady is showing us a cube and says : "it's a beautiful house" I say it's a cube and not a house. Ugliness in architecture has become the norm . We are losing our craftsmanship and surrendered to simplicity

  24. In what civilized country on earth are you permitted to build a three story house with materials you put together yourself?!
    No ISO standards no nothing.
    That house would be declared a hazard and scheduled for demolition in my country.

  25. This is unique, but I don't see these kinds of buildings, in the context of being houses, even being *necessary*. Housing is often more expensive because of property values, not material; moreover, there's typically plenty of housing available… just at too high a cost. There isn't much reason to make houses in this way, especially if they're created unsafely to preserve visual appeal.

  26. Keven Hart starred in The Upside coming up with a project most producers deemed it might not sell due to the realism but what happened it SOLD. Franklin Leonard accidentally changed how movies get made, not to mention OK Go creats music videos out of thought. You also have this, this goes to show you don't have to listen to societies restrictions get a 9-5 job just because it's the "safe" as Jessie from Jumpcut would say (I'm not trying to sell his products I'm simply giving an analogy, tell him I directed you if you're interested in an online startup). This looks futuristic like something from Alita: Battle Angel. Learnable moment: don't listen to societies restrictions.

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