My earliest memories—and yours, I’d wager—are of spaces: kitchen windows, dining-room tables, and snowy backyards. Place and memory are closely tied in our densely packed brains, hence all of the recent fraternizing between neuroscientists and architects.
So space affects memory. But could memory also affect space? That was the question for elii, a Spanish architecture office that accepted an unusual commission for a home several years ago. Their client requested that the architects design her new home—on the outskirts of Madrid—based on happy memories.
"When we asked the client about how she imagined herself in her new house, she answered that she was looking for a space where she could be as happy as she had been in her past two houses," explains architect Uriel Fogué over email. "All of a sudden we were entrusted with the task of editing these spatial memories and transferring them to a new place."
After seeing photos and hearing more about her past homes, the architects at elii designed a house based on their best qualities. They chose a prefab timber construction system to replicate the quaint prefab home the client had left behind, designing seven modular units connected by transparent bridges.
Happy memories of a ranch house in the wilderness, surrounded by animals, spurred the designers to focus on created plentiful outdoor spaces, like a ground-floor patio, a second-floor deck, and a roof deck. Rainwater collection on the roof is distributed throughout a private central courtyard outfitted with desert plants. "We tried to incorporate and promote the clients memories, desires, experiences, and fictions in the design process," Fogué adds. A precast concrete patio slopes downward toward the backyard. Circular perforations in the concrete foundation light up at night—on one side, the holes form the words "sweet home."
When you think about it, it’s not really such an unusual brief. After all, the phenomenon of wanting to live in a "modern" space—a place void of tradition—only originated in the 20th century. Really, it’s far more remarkable that her request for a "familiar" space is such a rare phenomenon.