Colour and light

2017-07-01 L’Osservatore Romano

Elsa Valero’s studio is almost opposite the Alhambra. It has clearly defined lines and is whitewashed, treated with lime, the façade is dotted by the vertical windows which adorn the walls, spaces which have become the symbol of one of her most emblematic constructions. The light filters through them. The interior space is diaphanous, as is her architecture in which, branded by fire, Mies van der Rohe’s “Less is More” predominates. Echoes of a Campo Baeza [a Spanish architect] are heard in her works, which are very beautiful; they too are white and horizontal. And the voice of an Álvaro Siza, a Portuguese architect, is to be heard too in this horizontality which she exhibits in her houses, for example, those she built in Realejo, Granada, or in those at Gojar, or in the Alameda complex in Malaga, where rooms succeed one another, which once again let in the light and where there is space for living.

The interior and of the church in Playa Granada

The architect Valero says that she discovered colour and light through the intense gaze of her mother, a painter. “In a cultural time when the density of noise is enormous, I put my stakes on architecture which acts in silence, serenely, without demanding attention”, she wrote in a presentation. And so it is. We have already seen it in her houses, in the Galleria Sandunga, an important meeting place in the area, and also in the enlargement she made for Plácido Arango, where she returns to playing with those vertical openings planted in the green meadow as if they were growing from the earth itself. Valero has achieved the recollection of which she speaks in the church at Playa Granada, a cement building, which would pass unnoticed and which no one would identify as a church, where the invitation to contemplate is born precisely from the naked cement.

Born in Ciudad Real, Valera breathes Granada, she identifies with the city and with the land. She says that being original means returning to one’s origins and thus with this building she went back to the beginning: “It is in the tradition of the early Christian churches, with an atrium, an octagonal baptistery, a crypt, a bell tower and a choir. And at the same time it was built using a contemporary language, as a building of the 21st century must be”. And it is here that one also recognizes the teaching of her master Félix Candela, the mentor of Calatrava.

The Church is accessible to everyone, it has no surrounding walls. From the outside its profile stands out, with a bell tower soaring to a height of 17 metres in a single block. This is the part that rises from the complex, itself no taller than the surrounding buildings which do not exceed eight metres in height. We write that for Elsa Valero “less is more”. When one enters the church one finds oneself in a single space with openings through which the light is let in and is softly disseminated, but without disturbing or distracting. Light is queen here, it enters between the spaces of the lantern to reach the altar, it is at the same time sober, humble and majestic. Through a shutter the luminous rays play hide and seek; they filter through thanks to perforations in the cement, a material that becomes noble in Valero’s hands.

The exterior of the church in Playa Granada

“Fashions do not interest me. Constancy interests me more than brilliance, coherence more than artistic composition, and by originality I mean the rediscovery of the genuine meaning of things”, says Valero, who has a spectacular curriculum vitae. A teacher in Granada, she has also taught in Berlin, Rome, Mexico and London. But she prefers to contemplate and to devote herself to what she does best, that is, to building, to giving light and livability to the spaces she designs: “More light does not always mean the best light”, she says with obvious wisdom.

“I am interested in architecture that is rooted in the soil and in its time. I accept the conditions of architecture as the rules of a very serious and amusing game which I try to play with consistence and rigour. Although speaking of service is not in fashion, I consider an architect’s work, with the aim of making people’s lives more pleasurable, a service par excellence. It is a noble undertaking which seeks to build a more beautiful and more human world, a society which is more just. Architecture is not for the nostalgic but rather for rebels”, she declares, and sticks faithfully to this ideal.

Already from early in the morning Valero works with her team in the studio without stopping. At the same time she teaches. She likes to look, a pleasure for which it is necessary to forget the clock and the cell phone, which is in the drawer: “I am very interested in the contemplative approach. To look well one needs to contemplate, which does not mean only seeing but stopping to listen to this silent music. Silence and contemplation go hand in hand. It is important to keep the ability to wonder. It is necessary to learn how not to attract attention, architecture very often consists of “disappearing”, she said in an interview.

Gema Pajares