As in all great partnerships, the backstories of Eduardo Cadaval and Clara Solà-Morales overlap and intertwine in perfect harmony. Their journey from academia to practice has taken them thousands of miles over the years, but ultimately came full circle, culminating in the founding of Cadaval and Solà-Morales, based in the architects’ home countries of Mexico and Spain.
Córdoba-Reurbano Housing Building, Mexico City, Mexico
Tepoztlán Lounge, Tepoztlán, Mexico
While they may have returned to their roots, the duo can trace the origins of their flourishing studio to Boston, where they founded their practice in 2003. Harvard's Graduate School of Design provided the pair with an opportunity to explore theoretical approaches to complement technical knowledge acquired in their home countries. “We both have strong technical backgrounds: Barcelona's School of Architecture and the National University of Mexico,” explain Eduardo and Clara, “but at Harvard, we found a very strong conceptual approach. We like to think that our work is informed from these two backgrounds. We look for strong conceptual projects with appropriate technical solutions.”
Solà-Morales completed a Masters degree in Architecture, while Cadaval majored in the same subject, but specialized in Urban Design. From the outset, the pair was equipped to work on a much wider variety of scales than conventional startup studios, taking on design challenges of all sizes, spanning everything from “objects to city fractions.”
TDA House, Oaxaca, Mexico
In 2005, they relocated to Barcelona — where Solà-Morales studied, and both would ultimately teach — and set about turning their ideas on contemporary design and theory into a built reality. An early breakthrough came in the form of TDA House, a contemporary concrete residence with strident cantilevers in Oaxaca, Mexico.
The building encapsulated the firm’s penchant for bold, modernist forms, illustrating their ability to harness the inherent strengths of a simple material – there is also a healthy dose of playfulness, with vibrant dashes of deep red throughout. The building's strong relationship with the surrounding environment touches on Cadaval and Solà-Morales’ desire to connect with the context on each project. “There are themes that appear in many of our projects that are very important for us: the threshold between inside and outside. The relationship with the landscape, with the city.”
The firm’s portfolio of highly contemporary residential projects has continued to grow ever since, both in Mexico — those wonderful hammocks make a second appearance in the Tepoztlán Lounge — and across the Atlantic in Spain. In 2012, they produced what is perhaps their most distinctive structure to date, completing the X-House on a hillside in Cabrils on the outskirts of Barcelona.
X-House, Cabrils, Spain
The cross-shaped mass, more like a fragment of infrastructure than a building, was the result of a “constructive exploration,” symptomatic of a firm constantly striving to develop new ways to form space within specific contexts. Aiming to produce a protective, almost fortress-like barrier between the homeowners and their neighbors, the firm employed some truly radical processes — 20-feet-high walls of high-density concrete were projected into place against single-sided formwork.
This remarkable approach illustrates the firm’s unquenchable thirst for experimentation, utilizing all manner of materials and construction techniques, however unorthodox, to achieve the desired result for their clients. Indeed, rather than a conventional architectural practice, Cadaval and Solà-Morales call their studio “a laboratory” in which “research and development are key elements of the design process.” Hence, their assertion that “more than a single perfect building, we are trying to build a coherent body of work.”
Sunflower House, El Port de la Selva, Spain
The X-House also demonstrated the firm’s ability to mix and match scales, an increasingly common feature of their work. The recently completed Sunflower House is a case in point: this cliffside residence in El Port de la Selva, Spain, is a natural evolution of the X-House and includes vast high-strength windows that are more commonly seen in Manhattan’s skyscrapers rather than family homes on the Spanish coast. Fierce ocean winds and saltwater spray dictated what was needed, and Cadaval and Solà-Morales sought out a product accordingly, unafraid to use materials of commercial architecture in a new context.
In keeping with their constant desire to evolve and grow as a practice, the duo have increasingly looked to explore architectural ideas on a macro scale, drawing on their background in urban design to produce master plans for key areas in Neuchâtel, Switzerland, and Cieza in Spain.
Neuchâtel Waterfront Park, Neuchâtel, Switzerland
These in-depth urban studies — particularly that of Neuchâtel, where Cadaval and Solàs-Morales have proposed a new waterfront park — demonstrate the architects’ interest in exploring multiple disciplines, undeterred by the modest scale and relatively young age of their firm. This is all part of a steady process of development for the studio, with Eduardo and Clara advocating a gradual evolution: “We tried to go slowly. We needed time to do our work the way we wanted to do it. So we started with very small projects, and, little by little, we have been accumulating scales.”
This rigorous attitude, combined with an intimate knowledge of the context in which they work, has led to substantial recognition from their peers: the firm was named amongst the world’s 10 best young offices by Wallpaper magazine in 2007 and one of the most ‘vanguardist firms’ by the Architectural Record in 2008. Their most significant accolades to date, though, have come from the countries that they call home: a Silver Medal at the Mexican Architecture Biennale in 2010 and the Prize of the Ibero American Architecture Biennale in Cadiz two years later.
While local success has been plentiful, it seems likely that Cadaval and Solà-Morales will see increasing recognition on an international level in the coming years. Their flexibility, combined with a passion for innovation, puts them in a strong position to branch out in diverse contexts on every scale. It appears the far-reaching histories of these two architects form just the beginning of a grand architectural adventure for this firm — their transatlantic journey has only just begun.