Innovation at ON-A

Ricardo Devesa

Excerpt from InnovatiON-Architecture by Eduardo Gutierrez and Jordi Fernández (on-a), edited by Ricardo Devesa, published by Actar Publishers.

ON-A’s founding partners (Eduardo Gutiérrez and Jordi Fernández) have always oriented their professional practice toward the constant pursuit of innovative and ad hoc solutions for every project. They have relied on cutting-edge technologies and ongoing research into advanced design tools, in the service of the most avant-garde yet at the same time humanistic ideas. Since the very beginning, research has been their leitmotif. A recurring theme, part of their idiosyncrasy. That attitude extends to their team at large and their external collaborators.

The fundamental values of ON-A’s work can be described as innovation in terms of:

1_ experimentation using complex geometries with the ability to address multiple demands at the same time, by encoding parameters (Design),

2_ sustainability, seeking out advanced bioclimatic solutions (Sustainability),

3_ improving inhabitants’ quality of life, by offering more comfortable and also exciting environments (Emotion),

4_ and a continual improvement of construction techniques and materials that increase efficiency in all areas (Technology).

ON-A’s designs are recognized for seeking out bold and intelligent solutions that offer concrete measures to respond to the myriad requirements of any architectural design, including meeting environmental challenges, implementing technological innovations, offering integrative and surprising design solutions, and creating spaces for connection with nature and the surroundings.

Research is a constant for the firm in the construction of their designs, as well as in the commissioning process, and with regard to profitability and maintenance. Each ON-A project is an opportunity to experiment with new spatial and material models; to maximize efficiency and sustainability throughout the project’s life cycle; and to establish a respectful coexistence between society and the environment.

 

Another of ON-A’s noteworthy values is engaging with and responding to the challenges facing today’s cities and the cities of the near future. Challenges that include the climate crisis, the efficiency of natural resources and, currently, the dilemmas brought about by the public health crisis. Those responses include, for example, incorporating greenery as an active agent in the construction of architectural spaces, at all scales, improving today’s urban conditions by generating healthier ones; reconnecting people with the natural biological environment, and thus supporting more balanced ecosystems.

New Paradigms, New Responses

ON-A has aimed to be one of the forerunners in a new architectural and urban paradigm, providing new responses based, for instance, on bio-construction and energy self-sufficiency (Sustainability); based on formalization and creativity to resolve complex requirements comprehensively (Design); based on a commitment to creating pleasant environments and memorable experiences for inhabitants (Emotion); and based on originality in the use of the ensemble of material components and their effective installation during construction (Technology).

They understand urbanism and architecture from a perspective of social and environmental responsibility. Their designs and constructions advocate a commitment to mitigating the negative effects of traditional construction, which consumes already scarce natural resources and has a significant impact on the global economy. In response, they incorporate the management and optimization of the use of water, sun or wind in their urban proposals. Or they introduce the combination of technology and ecology to create sustainable, wholesome and healthy spaces.

For ON-A, a respect for nature is essential in architecture. They use non-polluting materials, optimized energy sources and renewable resources; they improve air purification, condition each environment in which they build climatologically; they establish an optimum visual relationship with the natural environment and thus generate a sensation of calm and environmental comfort. They contribute to improving the environment and creating healthier and more emotional spaces for people and other species, helping to incite emotion and an appreciation for what is alive in their buildings’ users (a concept known as “biophilia”, used for the first time by the psychologist and philosopher Erich Fromm, in 1973, to refer to the “love of life”).

In that sense, they understand each design as a catalyst for positive emotions. They offer the inhabitants physical-visual wellbeing. They generate an interior comfort that contributes to the occupants’ vitality. Incorporating emotion into technology helps them act responsibly towards the environment and, at the same time, towards the inhabitants – as they explained in their first book entitled ON-A: Emotion-Architecture (Artpower, 2014).

For ON-A, technology is a key tool for promoting design, creativity and responsibility. For this reason, they carry out complete models of their projects (functional, structural, building services, and maintenance), which gives them full control over every design phase. The management of ON-A’s buildings is formulated from the initial design all the way through to conservation. They manage all the information in the form of data through the building models. This method lets them visualize and interact with the continuum of information and workflows during all phases of the project.

Investment in R&D has allowed ON-A to develop their own technical know-how, which guarantees high performance in real time when it comes to the evolution and transformation of designs, taking into account the entire life cycle of the project; this is a key factor in achieving a positive, optimized impact on the energy consumption of their buildings.

 

ON-A addresses the emerging paradigms by using innovation in new forms of planning, building, and relating with the natural environment; by investigating other possible scenarios in the organization of society and the environment; and by experimenting with technologies applied to sustainable proposals to introduce new approaches, strategies, and relationships between the city, architecture and its inhabitants.

A Multidisciplinary Team

Since its foundation in 2005, ON-A has operated as a creative and multidisciplinary team capable of approaching each project in a unique and personalized way. After 15 plus years, they continue to develop and build innovative and compelling works and designs in their laboratory, rooted in experimentation, sustainability and efficiency, as well as excellence in architectural and urban design.

ON-A is associated with a lineage of practices that are disruptive within the discipline of architecture, but without falling into the formalism or iconicity of some of the figures of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. The collaborations and synergies between the different specialties of each of their collaborators and professionals help them to achieve excellence while implementing R&D, BIM management tools, bio-construction and the application of new materials and construction systems in all their projects.

The team takes part in continuing professional development to ensure they remain at the forefront of the latest knowledge and practices in all areas of architecture and urban planning. All this makes them a dynamic and congruent group of people, qualified to create and generate designs in which all the components and requirements are successfully integrated thanks to the sum of their shared knowledge, talents and ideas, ensuring the accomplishment of their objectives with success and professionalism.

The Book’s Structure

InnovatiON-Architecture compiles and showcases ON-A’s work, focusing on their constant search for innovation in various domains and areas of application of their designs. Thus, the book has been organized as a compendium of ideas, concepts, projects, buildings and details which, based on their continuing improvement and invention, outline the criteria and foundations that are shared by all the firm’s work.

In my first meetings with Eduardo Gutiérrez and Jordi Fernández in 2019, we grouped together a series of their built work and designs according to the range and the space of innovation that characterized them. In 2020, we prepared and recorded the interviews that are transcribed and included in this volume, which delve into the four main values that orient their practice (sustainability, design, emotion and technology), with the goal of understanding the different degrees of experimentation they deal with and pursue in their projects.

Each part of the book begins with a conversation, which introduces those concepts and their applications to specific projects, according to our initial groupings. Following each conversation are the detailed explanations of the architectural and urban planning projects that best illustrate the innovation parameters discussed in the transcription.

Because ON-A defines itself as a laboratory rather than a professional architecture firm, the first conversation explores their practice of architecture based on the bioclimatic and sustainable experiments and tests they have carried out from the group’s inception up until the present. In that same chapter, they talk about how to incorporate the benefits of “green” by using bioarchitecture – a layer of vegetation managed through technology and ecology that incorporates the values of sustainability by way of material qualities, maintenance aspects, and benefits for users – to renaturalize cities and reconnect people with the natural environment in pursuit of a more balanced ecosystem.

The second chapter focuses on design as a jumping off point for addressing geometric control (inspired by the forms of minerals, trees and other organisms) and the encoding of information (using parametric design, BIM, and other management techniques). This methodology lets them visualize and interact with the data continuum and workflows at all stages of the development of a design, with an eye to the entire life cycle of the project.

The third conversation looks at how ON-A’s designs serve as a catalyst for the creation of positive emotions on the part of the inhabitants: physical-visual wellbeing and comfort that contribute to their health and the flexibility of uses for the designed spaces.

Finally, technology, which rounds out the book’s fourth part, explains how it is used as a key tool to enhance their designs, based on a comprehensive material and structural modeling, of structures and building services, allowing them to control any formal and material configuration (regardless of the elements being used: curved glass, precast GRC, wood, or other components) in the construction of their projects.

The four parts of the book reflect the values of ON-A’s practice: creating innovative, bold and emblematic buildings while committing to the paradigm shift in cities and architecture through bio-construction and the renaturalization of the environments we inhabit.

Through these four conversations, the book shows a method for innovating in architecture in different layers and in response to a powerful precept: helping to reduce the environmental impact of human intervention, improving citizens’ quality of life, and promoting emotional interactions between inhabitants and their built environment.


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