“We like to think of each project as if it were the first, last, and only. But maybe our most important project is our architectural studio in itself and the people that surround it.”
Fran Silvestre, founder of Spanish firm Fran Silvestre Arquitectos, sees his practice as a constant work in progress. His firm, based in the eastern city of Valencia, is never finished when it comes to shaping a collective architectural ethos, always looking to refine and perfect its craft and deliver the goods for clients. Simultaneously, the practice is a workshop of innovation for a single, monochromatic material: each project can be viewed as an exemplar in how to specify and apply stucco to stunning, contemporary effect.
While Silvestre has developed his own incredibly distinctive brand of modernism over the past decade, the architect emphasizes the importance of artistic inspiration from a host of cultural figures from across southern Europe: “Mediterranean architectural tradition influences noticeably our work. Many things influence us, from Andreu Alfaro’s sculptures to the architecture of Álvaro Siza as well as others which are much more difficult to decipher. We like to think that creativity merges both imagination and remembrance.”
House on the Castle Mountainside, Ayora, Spain
Siza’s influence is particularly strong in some of the firm’s recent projects, particularly House on the Castle Mountainside in Ayora, Spain, which channels the spirit of Álvaro’s many residential works. Crisp, clean lines give the external surfaces of Silvestre’s residence — perfectly rendered in stucco — the appearance of folded paper, as if an architectural maquette has been blown up to full size and neatly inserted into the rocky landscape.
Another extraordinary illustration of Silvestre’s penchant for purity of form and finish can be found on the rugged coastline of Alicante, where the bold form of “House on Cliffside” cuts into the terrain. Evoking Alvaro Siza’s dramatically lit Fez House in Oporto, Silvestre’s design elucidates each architectural element, dramatizing each in the process: cantilever, staircase, picture window, and pool. Each amounts to a moment of architectural theater on a domestic scale.
House on Cliffside, Alicante, Spain
Silvestre is a staunch advocate for harnessing three dimensions as an integral part of the design process. “Models are always the starting point of our projects,” he says, reflecting on his firm’s own in-house creations. “We usually approach each project from three different perspectives, which are materialized in several models. Based on them, we talk in the studio, and, after making a reviewed synthesis, we settle on the project that will be developed.”
Silvestre’s unending exploration of modernist ideals culminated in a project completed in 2014 in Bétera, Spain, that will surely stand as a seminal moment for the firm. Casa Balint, a private residence within a golf course near the city of Valencia, comprises a pristine elliptical volume that pares form and function down to a pure physical entity that is unassuming and dramatic in equal measure.
Applied in this manner, stucco becomes the ultimate anti-material. The architecture punctuates the landscape as a gleaming, monolithic mass, against which the bold textures of the surrounding environment are thrown into focus.
Casa Balint, Bétera, Spain
Together with its crescent-shaped swimming pool, the snow-white walls of Casa Balint echo the cultural icons of Calatrava and Niemeyer, yet the building remains modest in scale and provides just what its inhabitant needs without grandstanding. Indeed, the client for each of Silvestre’s projects plays a key role in bringing these contemporary gems to reality:
“Clients are fundamental, behind a good project stands usually a great client. We generate a process of dialogue in which the people who will live with each project are both partakers and protagonists,” explains the architect. “This process highly enriches our work and gives it the identity and depth that the clients project in them. Alfaro Hoffman is also present from the first conversations, since he is in charge of designing the interiors.”
Atrium House, Valencia, Spain
Asked what he hopes the future will hold for his firm, Silvestre is characteristically philosophical in his response: “Enjoyment for what we do every day. Each working day has its surprises and happiness. Time builds quiet-but-rapid changes.”
While Silvestre is an advocate for living in the moment, it seems likely that the buildings currently being produced by his firm will remain alive within modern architectural discourse for a very long time to come. Meanwhile, if an architect needed convincing that stucco is more than just a cheap, utilitarian material, this firm’s work provides unparalleled evidence.