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The Architect of Stars

Interview with JOAQUÍN TORRES, ARCHITECT

By Juanjo Bueno, Photos by Tania Sainero & A-Cero

Architect Joaquín Torres in front of one of the artistic works that can be found in his Madrid office.

Joaquín Torres, popularly known as „the celebrities’ architect“, is internationally renowned for the successes that, together with Rafael Llamazares, he has achieved from A-cero studio based in Madrid. He has designed houses for Javier Bardem and Penélope Cruz, one of the most well-known couples in the world of film, football players like Cristiano Ronaldo or Víctor Valdés, Spanish ex-president Felipe González and even Madonna.
We talked with Torres about his career, his clients, both famous and anonymous, and his view of today‘s architecture, modular construction and sustainability.

On Location: How did your passion for architecture come about?
Joaquin Torres: It is very difficult to answer this question because there is no particular day, week or month. It is an attraction, a passion that matures in you from a young age. At least, it was like that in my case. From an early age, I enjoyed designing and was very receptive to the impressions that large constructions and vast spaces trigger… You could say that my relationship with architecture has always been very professionally oriented.

Your clients include prominent personalities from the world of politics and sport. When designing your properties, do you focus not only on your own requirements but also on your clients‘ personal characteristics?
When I work for a client, no matter who it is, I naturally try to empathise as much as possible, to put myself in the other person‘s shoes and, above all, not to judge. This is because it has happened to me, for example, that what may seem strange to me from the outset is quite necessary in the other person‘s everyday life. So what is important is a consensus between architect and client, more acceptance or at least negotiation and less coercion on both sides. That‘s why it‘s so interesting when builder and architect are one. Then, everything becomes much easier. Everything flows.

Hotel Iniala, one of A-cero‘s iconic works, in Thailand

Joaqín Torres

„Modular, industrialised building will prevail and usher in a new social and artistic era.“

JOAQUÍN TORRES

As an architect, you have shown that the design of a space does not have to contradict its functionality. How important are sustainability and energy efficiency in your work?
Today, everyone is talking about sustainability and energy efficiency, but I have to say that it is quite fake. Firstly, the public is not willing to pay more for sustainable architecture, and secondly, they are not willing to do without anything… We know very well how an architecture translates into sustainable design when we look at the famous buildings of yesteryear, or what a true Passive House project actually entails in its original conception. Today, many companies sell the „Passive House“ label in the trade. What is clear, however, is that no one wants to live in underground or semi-subterranean structures with extreme alignments and very few openings. A building is not sustainable just because we grow a lot of grass or plants on the roof. Building sustainably means building differently. Industrial building is much more sustainable than traditional building, and yet the client often objects. Hopefully, sustainability will be no longer just a fad but will become embedded, but I fear that we all still have a long way to go. We need to realise that sustainable design means more than just putting three solar panels on a roof.

A-Cero is the architect of luxury villas in Miami
Joaquín Torres’ clients include top stars like the “Queen of Pop” Madonna, footballing legend Ronaldo and Hollywood stars like Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem.

Where does the name A-cero come from, the architecture firm where Rafael Llamazares also works?
When we started, we were three friends, three naive people (Alberto Peris, who later became self-employed, was also there). We were newcomers to the world of architecture and were starting „from scratch“. We were also looking for a name that would appear first in a search for architects in the Yellow Pages (at that time, 27 years ago, the internet was hardly used). The name is of course also due to the connotation with the building material (“Acero” means “steel” in Spanish). It seemed to us that it had many architectural connotations and so we decided on that name.

Innenausstattung einer der Suiten des Iniala-Hotels in Thailand.

Is the pandemic we are experiencing really changing the way homes are designed, or is this just a temporary sensation that will disappear when normality returns?
To my regret, I fear that it will be short-lived and very soon forgotten. It was hard, but people don‘t change their habits so easily, and we need many more stones along the way to make us think again. That is my feeling, as pessimistic as it may be. When I hear that the pandemic has changed us all and made us grow up, I tend to be sceptical.

Hotel Iniala, one of A-cero‘s iconic works, in Thailand

As an architect, what lessons have you learned from the last economic crisis?
I learned not to grow quickly, to consolidate what you have and not to think you are unbeatable. It was really hard, very hard, when an employee came to you crying so that you wouldn‘t fire him because he is not able to raise his children. It is the hardest thing I have ever experienced in my profession, and I swore that I would never fire an employee again without legitimate reason.

In which direction do you think architecture will develop in the next few years?
I think that industrial construction will continue to grow. A different way of building is needed in the world of architecture and construction, and it makes no sense to build in the 21st century in the same way as in the 19th. Modular, industrialised building will prevail and usher in a new social and artistic era.

Joaqín Torres

„Hopefully, sustainability will be no longer just a fad but will become embedded.”

A-cero has opted for the industrialised construction method. Is this forward-looking?
I believe that it will take a very long time because man is very reluctant to change. However, I sincerely believe that a different construction method must be established, and just as reinforced concrete was the protagonist of the modern movement, industrialisation will open new horizons. At A-cero, we are committed to A-cero Tech. We started developing our building concept 15 years ago, and four years later we had our first show house ready. Today we are more committed than ever to our system, our industrialised houses, and it is working well for us. We have created a very good-quality product with the A-cero design touch, and we are confident that we will continue to grow in the years to come as we are about to open another new factory. In any case, there is still a long way to go and as entrepreneurs, we have to „educate“ the customer so that they also decide to industrialise.

Interior of Los Molinos nursery school in Getafe, Madrid.

Do your international background and experience show in your localist architecture?
One‘s own experiences are always a very enriching aspect of a designer‘s work, and international and national experiences shape future work. We try to give more every day, and the only way to do that is to learn and understand. Is there a need for architecture legislation in Spain? I believe that rules and standards are necessary to ensure certain minimum requirements but not to limit talent. What is clear is that today‘s regulations often set the upper limits, and that should not happen.

Why?
It is unacceptable that people have no protection against living in spaces that provide only a minimum quality of living. It is not possible to live on 15-20 m2, or with a minimum of lighting or ventilation. These are just examples, but minimum requirements should be guaranteed, otherwise speculation would be even greater.

Do you think that the architectural profession is as socially recognised as it should be?
The architect has lost his social prestige. The question we architects should ask ourselves is „Why?“, and then we should carry out a self-critical analysis instead of always blaming others.

What projects are you currently working on?
Fortunately, our office is currently working on important projects, from a magnificent villa in La Moraleja, managed by Avellanar Homes, to an urban and architectural development in Castellón, „Los Cálamos“, on the Costa Azahar, on a plot with more than 2 km of beach. This will doubtlessly be a project you will hear a lot more about. We are also working on a residential complex with our industrial flats in Isla Canela (Huelva) for the developer Pryconsa, as well as a residential block project in Águilas (Murcia) and the development of luxury detached houses „La Quinta de Luanco“ in Asturias. We are also developing several projects in Vélez-Málaga and Torre del Mar (Málaga) for the property developer BDL Investment, as well as large projects for Kronos Homes in Puerta de Hierro (Madrid) and Estepona (Málaga). And so on up to about a hundred projects of different sizes and types.

Joaquín Torres in his A-Cero office in the centre of Madrid.

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