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SLOW LIVING . Inhabiting the Countryside

Workshop 1: Hrvoje Njiric [19-23F] with Diego García-Setién


Since architects in the last century have been mostly focused on the city, a concern on inhabiting the countryside has remained very limited. Statistically, 50% of the world population still lives in the rural conditions and thus it is relevant to focus on these issues as well. Furthermore, we can trace an exodus of urban population toward the rural alternatives, motivated by radically different living conditions, by the economy of giving over their city dwellings to tourists and by the possibility to pursue the dream of an Arcadian welfare. We shall take this notion as a point of departure for our exercise and observe various durations of this voluntary drawback, be it for a weekend, for the summer or, fed up of urban frenzy, even permanently.


The village of El Atazar, 50 km north of Madrid, offers a perfect test-bed for our research. Protected by nature and legislation, it has to be maintained carefully – in terms of size and density. This terra incognita should be mapped with great precision. It would be wise to get rid of embedded preconceptions of village life, because nothing is really as it seems. The farmers have embraced the cutting-edge technologies to cultivate and produce, the new settlers have imported a number of typical urban activities to the countryside. Landscapes are digitally monitored and maintained, combined with industrial plants popping out everywhere and changing the perception of the territory. The land costs have reached new peaks and therefore our planning has to be driven by these circumstances. This is why we shall try to investigate to what extent dense collective housing schemes could be introduced into a typical single-family house environment.

Any similarity to the Neue Heimat movement from the 1920s in Germany, however motivated by a different ideology behind it, is worth considering. Any similarity to the utopian concepts of the 1960s would be welcome too. We should not forget to check out some of the Spanish efforts to repopulate the country such as those designed by Fernandez del Amo's Vegaviana. What typologies could be transferred from the city and what has to be conceived anew? How would different price categories influence the layout of the settlement? Could we take over the standard access and communication patterns from urban situations or shall we come out with some more appropriate repertoire of staircases, walkways, galleries and landings? It would be operative to understand our planning as a process, as a settlement that can grow or even shrink. What would be the extent of an initial phase? How to introduce and adjust the (semi)public domain into these configurations?


Finally, how could a concept such as the “slow living” influence our designs?



  •  Site info

The total population of the Community of Madrid is not evenly distributed in the region, adding up to 6 million people. Madrid’s capital concentrates more than 3 million, while some Km. away we can find small towns where meeting a neighbor is not easy. Small towns with less than 100 inhabitants where time seems to have stopped and life is far from resemble that of the fast-paced city. Among these is the village of El Atazar. After the civil war, most of the population left the village, and only since recent years, rural tourism has attracted visitors, and has even recovered new neighbors.


Just 1 hour away from the capital, this little village sits on the southern side of the mountains in the Region of the lower valley of river Lozoya, a rugged territory which altitude spans from 700 meters at its southern border, to 1.439 meters at the top of Somosierra. The village is located at a considerable height, around 1000 m.a.s.l., and the Lozoya River is its natural border with the neighboring town of Patones to the South. Possibly founded by the Arabs around the XI century, the municipal term of El Atazar used to count with watchtowers, as part of the Arab defense network of the kingdom of Toledo. The town layout resembles a fan with extensive squares and streets: around the main Plaza de la Constitucion buildings are compact, to become dispersed in its borders. These buildings are basically dedicated to mixed residential-agricultural use, with corrals or stables attached to the houses, and are an example of the typical ‘arquitectura serrana’, based on slate flake stone walls and wooden structure roofs, and was declared "nucleus of rural interest".


El Atazar reached in the XVII century, its historic peak of 212 inhabitants. The village’s economy was mainly based on agriculture and livestock, being this mountain territory traversed by a dense network of cattle ravines for transhumance, so important in both Castillas. From these prosperous times, the town has preserved a set of threshing floors, called Paved Eras, and located on the northeastern edge of town. They were used to thresh the grain and they are paved with slate stones. The municipality has rehabilitated them and turned this space into a large park, where visitors can understand the hard work of the field while taking a pleasant walk looking towards the valley.


The landscape here is arid and rugged, without abundant vegetation. Existing pine forests were chopped and exhausted during the XVI century, due to the demand of wood for boat building, for energy purposes, or for the creation of cattle pasture. Only a few forests (pinus pinaster and pinus sylvestris) can be found today in the Region, as a result of repopulation plans, and in the basins of the rivers Puebla and Riato, being most of its surface occupied by scrubland (steppe, rosemary, lavender), and rock roses next to the Lozoya River. Some areas of El Atazar belong to the National Hunting Reserve of Sonsaz, since it has a great variety of fauna, with mammals such as rabbits, hares, partridges, wild boar and roe deer; birds such as pigeons, the gray heron or the mallard; reptiles like the collar snake, the snout, the bastard, the gecko or the ocellated lizard and fish like the barbels, the bogas, the trout and the pikes.


The proposed site for the workshop sits on the southern side of the village. It has a total surface of 2,5 ha., with a maximum of 170m along and a maximum of 160m, across the slope.

Oriented towards the southeast, its highest point is at 980m, while its lowest point is at 950m, with an average slope of 17%. The site faces the valley of Lozoya and looks directly to El Atazar dam, the largest reservoir in the entire Community of Madrid. It was built in 1972 and its capacity represents 46% of the water reservoir of the whole Community. The dam is formed by a vaulted wall 134 meters height. When built, the reservoir left the town completely isolated, since it passed over the old road connecting El Atazar with Cervera de Buitrago. Today, the road to El Berrueco and Torrelaguna passes over the dam.


The site offers great opportunities such as the village re-population, a piece of landscape with little existing vegetation, the best sun-exposure, great views and clear horizon!



  • Timeline 

Monday 19.02 at 10.00

Input 1 :           HNJ - Introduction + countryside as a theoretical/practical discourse

                        DGS - Introduction + referential projects and theories + site description

Task 1 : - choose one applicable settlement example and explain its relevance for our project

            - study and define the actual site conditions

            - explain your interpretation of slow living

            - elaborate 3 apartment types/units, 3 price categories


Tuesday 20.02 at 14.00

Presentation of Task 1

Input 2 :           HNJ - housing typology, communication zones, outdoor areas

                        DGS – Piled plots. Collective housing, Suburban quality.

Task 2 : - assemble the units into clusters/blocks/rows/mats/...

             - make a GIF of the assemblage process


Wednesday 21.02 at 14.00

Presentation of Task 2

Task 3 : - place the structures onto the site, make necessary adjustments (from prototype to the real site limitations/opportunities)

            - propose applicable communication modes

            - elaborate a suitable solution for traffic and parking

            - organize the territory between the houses

            - introduce/add minimal but sufficient (semi)public programs


Thursday 22.02 at 14.00

Presentation of Task 3

Task 4 : - adjust the projects to the critiques

             - prepare the presentation (one A1 presentation panel, model of the unit(s), model of the settlement, .ppt presentation - max.10min)


Friday 23.02 at 16.00

Final presentation (with guest critics)

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