José Ángel Nieto. HOLIDAY TIME. TIME AS A PURPOSE IN THE DRAWINGS OF SOTA.

Abstract: Alejandro de la Sota left twelve freehand sketches depicting how life would have been in his unbuilt “houses by the sea” in Alcudia, Mallorca, in 1994. This paper aims to show that the analysis of one of these sketches specifically shows that what Sota drew is not so much the house but the holidays themselves. Since the drawings are intended to present a picture of the finished product, giving form to a way of understanding the holidays was the real purpose of the project. This requires going through the conception and the construction of the houses, but the latter were not the beginning nor the end of the process, and they do not take centre stage. This implies an enrichment of the work, which begins by including within itself issues that otherwise might have been left out, or at least relegated to the realm of the merely anecdotal. In addition, since the holidays are above all a parenthesis in time, a period, a break taken in the working year, we can conclude that what these houses ultimately propose is the shaping of specific time.  

 

Keywords: Sota, Alcudia, holidays, drawing, time, free time, tourism, leisure 

 

 

  1. Holidays: what is represented and what is intended. 

 

 

“I am, as I have said many times, an enemy, a big enemy of architecture. I think architecture has denied itself by doing itself". [1]

 

Besides technical documentation about his housing project in Alcudia, Mallorca, Alejandro de la Sota left some photos of models and a series of freehand sketches. Ten of them, drawn in pencil on A5 paper, show us images of the houses as if they were already built and in use. 

 

 

 

This series of drawings is somehow an exception in his production. None of his other projects has the descriptive profusion that these drawings offer. In fact, Sota made clear his lack of interest for this type of documentation on several occasions "Architecture is thought of, but not drawn. Drawings are only for onlookers. Drawings made in order to build are something else."[2] 

 

If one is to define an onlooker, one could say that he is the one who looks too much into something that does not concern him, a mere spectator who does nothing. A curious person. Someone hardly welcome.

 

Apparently, these sketches were made at a very advanced stage of the project, prior to the construction of four prototypes of the houses as an example and model. At that time the customer, an American investor, asked him for some drawings to describe what the finished product would look like: the houses being lived in.

 

Sota agreed this time and made this series of pencil freehand sketches. Months later, after the uninspiring construction of a prototype that did not reflect at all what the houses would be like, the investment was dismissed and the project abandoned. 

 

 

Therefore, these drawings were, to some extent, the project construction. When a work of architecture has not been built, then drawing becomes its construction. Lightweight construction, but construction nevertheless. We have no choice but to adopt, with Don Alejandro’s permission, the role of onlookers. By looking at the drawings we can glimpse how life would have been in these houses in Alcudia. We can imagine living in them, adopt an active attitude, and have a look, an interpretation. We can extract what is essential from these drawings, learn, and thus cease to be mere onlookers.

 

In these drawings Sota speaks of two worlds, one above the other, separated by a horizontal plane: the world of the beach, of sun glasses and of the hot sun that makes using them compulsory, of the sunshade, of the static horizon of the sea, of the boat in the distance. A still, happy, full and completed time. The boat on the horizon, like a just blown out candle, hints at that completed time. And under it, half buried, lies the world of grass and plants, shelters and swinging bougainvillea stained by the Mediterranean light. A world of soft drinks and freshness in the legs submerged in water by the edge of the pool, of shadows, sports cars, and hammocks.

 

And what about the other realm, what has been constructed, the house? What has been done to make all that possible? Was it not a “houses by the sea" project? The other thing is, using Sota’s own expression, "the colour of a fly’s wing" [3]. It is there, yes, it is depicted, but in these drawings made almost exclusively using a fine line on white background, the houses, the setting, the support that enables the depicted images to be seen, becomes the background. The highest density of lines are due to not strictly architectural issues: funny holiday scenes.

 

In one of the drawings, Sota took this issue to the extreme, by virtually leaving lines aside. He made it by tracing a smaller semi-transparent piece of paper over another drawing (a garden scene of one of the houses). He used pen and pencil in various colours. The drawing was made relying on other sketch lines. Sota enhanced a series of colour spots that fill the paper and invade our retinas, in an exuberant, almost pointillist manner, and whose observation gives us interesting data.

 

The sky through the leaves of trees and the water in the pool have the same dark and deep blue that transports us to the sea, invisible from this level, but present through these two elements and this colour, and this person lying in a hammock looking in the direction of the water. The grass is green, with a vibrant, mobile, almost buzzing stroke, and some garnet flower appears splashing over the floor and the trellises. The shade of the porch and the undulating sunshades swollen with light are bright yellow. Choosing this colour to represent opposite elements, shadow and light, is a beautiful way to describe the light quality these areas would have: a continuity with nuances that makes us wonder whether, under a clear sunshade, one would be in the light or in the shade. We could say that no line is stepped upon when one goes outside from the interior; the shadow of the porch is merely a gradation of the shadow of the sunshade. Any change in the lower part of the house would be just a shade change. 

 

 

 

 

The house only appears in the drawing as the negative image of everything else. The grass, the flowers, the sky, the leaves of the trees, a table with chairs, shade, water, and sunshades seem to be the represented objects. If one wants to know what the houses, the solid part, the built area, all that would have been subjected to architectural discipline, would have looked like, then this drawing offers minimal information: just faint pencil lines were drawn, very briefly suggesting sliding shutters. The rest is described in the areas of blank paper. The same resource was used to draw the air. The house that anyone would try to see, at least partially, simply is not shown in the drawing, it is invisible.

 

What in technical drawings appears as a stunning realization due to its simplicity, accuracy and extremely well planned project, is absent here. Sota has not drawn a holiday house on this sketch. What he drew precisely was the actual holidays.

 

 “Architecture is thought of, but not drawn”, according to Sota. In this drawing, even more than in the rest of the series, this statement takes on a literal meaning. Simply he has not drawn it. He has left it to be intuited. This is understood by having a second, closer look at the drawing. As said earlier, this drawing was intended to present an image of the finished product. That was what Sota had been asked to do. But he did not draw the house. What the Alcudia project offers is not an object to be named with the word "house". What he offered us is a holiday atmosphere: he offered us the holidays. That is the end, the purpose of architecture, which, with all its "learned" disciplines, in the words of Sota, does not cease to be a means to an end.

 

"I think that not doing architecture is a way of doing it and all those of us who do not do it, will have done more for it than those who, having learned it, continue to do it. A problem is then solved and it will carry on working, and I think no one misses the architecture one does not have. "[4]

 

This cryptic observation Sota wrote in 1985 about the Maravillas Gymnasium, finished in 1962, seems tailor-made for the Alcudia houses of 1984.

 

When analysing the drawing of the houses in the light of the previous comment, one notes a surprising correspondence. There is a strong relationship between the "architecture that is not" and the house that does not appear. There is a common no. A sort of denial.

 

In both fragments, Sota proposes a denial of the architecture, finding it necessary to put aside all formal prominence. Ultimately, by holding everything which, in the conception process, takes a formal shortcut in order to prematurely get to a form with which to operate, a showy realization, even interesting, external to the problem. Form, no doubt the result of the architect’s work, should not appear to have been forced. It must spring freely, independently, after solving the tangle of issues that make up a work. Form should be allowed to be as its nature dictates it, as little driven as possible. It should be a natural result, the simplesolution. Architecture, form, provides an adequate, fair, radical, and efficient response to a properly posed problem. Everything else is deception.

 

One can argue that from this perspective, Sota’s houses do not propose anything new. The holidays they offer are but the typical holidays that consumer society demands. It is true. But this, in itself, is a declaration of principles. Just as to build them catalogue building systems were chosen, (a US patented sheet panels with embedded insulation) to be constructed by a standard builder, the holidays proposed are standard holidays. For Sota, it was not architecture’s remit to invent another holidays. Had it done so, it would have again fallen prey to inadequacy and its desire for self-affirmation. In this case, the role of the project was to propose an extraordinary environment for ordinary, commercial holidays. These houses do not impose a way of life alien to the owners. Or if they do, the user is unaware. They do not force those living there to an idea. They are a wonderful accompaniment to people’s everyday life.

 

Architecture then moves away unobtrusively, silent, making way for what is intended. We could say that the problem to be solved here is to create a holiday atmosphere. In this case, this is what architecture is for. If along the way, architecture were to attract attention on itself, if it were to alter this delicate environment with allusions to itself, if it were to turn self-referential, then the project would have failed. Colourful, interesting, innovative, perhaps. Yet, a failed project.

 

Architecture’s relinquishment of formal prominence does not constrain it, but rather expands it. The scenes of pure dwelling had form maintained its desire for prominence could be considered side issues in the strict margins of the discipline, its references, language, and dreams. Or as an inevitable evil that interferes with the work. Or as mere anecdotes. In this project, all the academic and cultural contents of architecture do not disappear but they do not appear either. Architecture is there, unobtrusively, to be seen by all. But life unfolds and invades the work and it is hard to imagine a better and more comprehensive way, a more appropriate setting for the holidays to occur than the one Sota proposed.

 

So, once again, as in so many things in life, relinquishment results in unexpected enrichment. "Architecture has denied itself by doing," said Sota. Architecture is made through denial, we conclude. It is a path of mutual enrichment. Life is enriched by the possibilities offered by architecture. Architecture is enriched by absorbing life, making life part of it. A beautiful exchange.

 

1.     Holidays: a clipping of pre-set time.

 

 

The holiday time in the version offered by these drawings of the Alcudia houses is a slow and lightweight, almost banal time, a time to hear grass grow, a time of trapped, almost unchanging light, filtered by sunshades and foliage. A time of distracted observation, drink in hand, full of minor events, of flying insects, water splashing, snoring, purring, inconsequential chatter, pending readings, music or motionless contemplation of the static ocean horizon from the upper belvedere. Just as Sota avoided big words that fill up architecture, these houses seem to want to shape an immediate, simple and undeniable time.

 

In addition, in contemporary minds, holiday time is a perfectly limited time. It aims to be a clipping of leisure in the frantic working months. A split, a healthy dismemberment, an island of tranquillity. The Alcudia houses make these clippings with their stone walls and vegetation, leaving agitation behind. Once the clipping is made, within the enclosure ground time is precisely what the house enables.

 

Since a holiday is mostly a period, a parenthesis in time, an island of calm weather in a stormy sea, these houses, in an unexpected and direct way, above all else intend to foster and build time, describing and shaping it, ultimately creating it. That is actually their remit. That was the problem to be solved: to shape a particular time.

 

As we know, the denial posed by Sota has nothing to do with neglect or mediocrity. All this is possible thanks to a relentless and pristine geometric system; an algorithm. We know there is an overwhelming technical realization, accurate decisions, measures, and the right choice of systems. The algorithm on which all this is based is, as any algorithm, oblivious to time, belonging to the realm of numbers. It consists, in the extreme, in some dimension lines that dictate how this environment will be built. And, like any algorithm, it goes unnoticed.

 

Perhaps it is possible to describe this project as a simple, accurate, efficient network of almost invisible lines. Right from the beginning of the drawing we noticed that it had been done over the network of lines of an earlier drawing. Lines are the cables supporting the sun shelters, lines are the joints between sheets, line is the horizon of the sea. Lines, as an intangible and abstract concept, call upon themselves the rest of things, a kind of sly, effective and invisible spider web or fishing net inside which everything else gets caught: the construction, the landscape and human life. Weather. An extremely accurate net to fish time and life. Those are Sota’s houses.

 

It is precisely here that architecture, with an almost servile character, assumes the role of the best technique; one that enables things without being perceived, without taking anything away, without standing between. The best technique and the best architecture would be those that succeed in not being there.

 

 

 [1]  Transcript of a piece of the lecture given by Alejandro de la Sota at the Higher School of Architecture of Barcelona on 24 February 1988. http://hdl.handle.net/2099.2/470 , minute 3.

 

[2]  BAYÓN, Mariano - Conversaciones con A. de la Sota desde su propio arresto domiciliario. Barcelona: Arquitecturas Bis, May 1974.

 

[3]  “León’s Cathedral is famous for its stained glass, but this stained class, when people speak of it, is naturally from within, during sunny days, or grey days. But to me, a stained glass window excites me from the outside as much as from the inside because it has that colour of a fly’s wing... an indefinite colour, which is gorgeous. Beautiful."

 

Transcript of a piece of the lecture given by Alejandro de la Sota at the Higher School of Architecture of Barcelona on 24 February 1988http://hdl.handle.net/2099.2/470  minute 48.

 

[4] Letter Maravillas. Untitled manuscript dated 1985. Published in:

DE LA SOTA, Alejandro - Alejandro de la Sota. Madrid: ediciones Pronaos, 1997, ISBN 9788485941056, p. 74.

 

Bibliographic references:

 

BAYÓN, Mariano - Conversaciones con A. de la Sota desde su propio arresto domiciliario. Arquitecturas Bis. ISSN 0213-1692, nº 1 (1974) Barcelona: Arquitecturas Bis, mayo de 1974. ISSN 0213-1692.

 

DE LA SOTA, Alejandro - Alejandro de la Sota. Madrid: ediciones Pronaos, 1997, ISBN 9788485941056.

 

ÁBALOS, Iñaki, LLINÁS, Josep, PUENTE, Moisés,- Alejandro de la Sota. Barcelona: Edición Fundación Caja de Arquitectos, 2009, ISBN 9788493669393

 

GALLEGO, Manuel, - Viviendas en Alcudia, Mallorca, 1984, Alejandro De La Sota, Madrid, Ediciones Rueda, 2004, ISBN 8472071650.

 

PUENTE, Moisés – Alejandro de la Sota. Escritos, conversaciones, conferencias. Barcelona, Gustavo Gili, 2012, ISBN: 9788425225826

 

Image credits.

 

All images belong to archive of the Alejandro de la Sota Foundation. 

 

 

José Ángel Nieto Garcia. Architect

www.joseangelnieto.com      ja@joseangelnieto.com

 

Holder of a Degree in Architecture from the Higher Technical School of Architecture of Barcelona - 2001.

Holder of a Master Degree in Advanced Architectural Projects from the Higher Technical School of Architecture of Madrid.

PhD student at the Polytechnic University of Madrid as part of the Advanced Architectural Projects programme.

He is currently preparing his PhD thesis at the Architecture School in Madrid on time configuration techniques in architectural works.

He is an assistant lecturer at the same school, in the Ignacio Vicens unit, as part of the Advanced Architectural Projects Doctoral Programme.

He has worked for more than five years in the studio of Ignacio Vicens and Jose Antonio Ramos in Madrid, has done private and public works and won several competitions.