Like many southern Spanish cities once populated by the Moors, Murcia draws much of its charm from ruins and preserved structures built centuries ago, but the disrepair of some of these buildings can end up overshadowing their beauty. Faced with one of these decaying structures, Spanish architects Clavel Arquitectos transformed a crumbling Murcia attic into a futuristic penthouse apartment. Using a system of "living bubble" rooms and extensive living walls Clavel created a contemporary version of the hanging gardens of Babylon which preserves a piece of history while bringing a flash of the 21st century to Murcia.
Originally proposed as a gallery extension to the home below, the rooftop program presented multiple complications. The penthouse is affected by strict zoning that limits modifications to the locations of existing exterior walls. The existing layout consisted of tight, double loaded corridors with minimal openings, leaving residents uneasy when entering the rooms on either side. In order to create a more comfortable spatial configuration, the architects designed a system of “habitable bubbles.” By covering and breaking the existing outer walls, and replacing them with extensive glazing that curves seamlessly around corners, the architects blur the boundaries between inside and out and provide panoramic views of the valley beyond. Each bubble houses a different use – dining, living, sleeping and toilets.
The lack of room within the interior hallway was resolved by utilizing the shape of these living bubbles, and “popping” them at key locations. At a central intersection between two corridors, each adjacent living bubble chamfers at its corner, creating cohesive volumes for each room and expanding the interior circulation space. At the same intersection, the living room corner is removed, further opening up the space and guiding the resident’s eyes towards exterior strip windows and the view beyond. The dining room can be viewed through internal glazing, visually extending the corridor at one terminus, while glazed doors bring the outdoors in. Doors open away from the central space and into rooms, keeping obstructions away from circulation. The composite effect of these minor spatial moves is an expansion of tight interior spaces with minimal structural disruption.
Material choices enhance the open feeling of the penthouse, relying on light colors, reflective surfaces, varying cladding materials and creative lighting strategies. Opaque white glass covers the walls of each bubble, brightening up the space while visually extending floor and ceiling surfaces via reflections. An art display system ties in the client’s original gallery program; flush mounted rails running along these walls run horizontally through the space, enhancing the linearity of the corridor while keeping the resident’s eyes moving.
Flooring in public zones is made from slabs of grey phyllite stone, and within each “living bubble” solid wood flooring is the treatment of choice. The difference in color and shade between the two enhances the brightness of perimeter living areas, continuing to guide residents’ eyes to the exterior. The ceiling is treated with perforated gypsum board, attenuating some sound reflections caused by copious amounts of interior glass. LED strip lighting within coves at the top and bottom of each wall create a floating illusion, and enhance visual reflections throughout.
On the exterior terrace, LED strips continue along the facade, highlighting not only the living bubbles, but a sizeable living wall garden. The vertical plantings, arranged from a modular system, create a stark material contrast to the sleek glass “bubbles.” Yet these two languages work together because they are both alien and familiar to Murcia; the scale of the penthouse massing and its monolithic facade relate to regional architecture, and the living walls reflect the essence of Moorish hanging gardens. By implementing contemporary materials and sustainable features in a modest but striking scale, Clavel Architects has built a rooftop oasis that is truly timeless.
All photos © Clavel Arquitectos