On a clear day, the building’s crown almost disappears into the heavens. But in overcast weather, its cladding of sky-blue ceramic tile stands out gracefully against the Mediterranean clouds. This quietly striking addition to a modest three-storey apartment complex by architect Martín Lejárraga has enlivened the heart of the southern Spanish port town of Cartagena.
Dubbed the Tívoli, the existing, refurbished building reflects the tones and textures of its urban setting by retaining much of the elegantly weathered patina of its neighbours. The two-storey addition, however, melds with the sky above and with the nearby sea. It similarly feels of a piece with its surroundings and a stylistic departure from its historic base. In this manner, it’s both deferential and declarative.
“We were looking for a way to be subtle, to be respectful to the older building,” says Lejárraga, “but we also wanted to make a contemporary statement.” Set well back from the historic facade, the staggered upper levels introduce generous terraces to the building’s new and expanded apartments.
Although Tívoli’s facade was carefully preserved and rehabilitated, the extensively deteriorated – and long-vacant – interiors were all but gutted.
Lejárraga’s pared-down interior design highlights the building’s raw stone structure, while splashes of brightly coloured ceramics make the kitchens and communal hallways a smooth counterpoint to the rougher textures.
Upstairs, it’s all tile. Matching the striking ventilated facade, blue ceramics envelop interior hallways and communal spaces to create an almost hypnotic ambiance.
But the rigorous aesthetic unity also fosters a sense of calm, as well as a visual identity that ties together two radically different volumes – the old building and the new addition – into a legible whole. The cohesion is underlined by the proportions of Lejárraga’s addition, with floor heights and window placements matching the older structure.
A winner at the 2020 Tile of Spain Awards, Lejárraga’s design was praised by the jury for creating an elegant “sense of interplay between the existing building and the new one.” It’s a subtle presence – and a subtly radical approach to architectural heritage.
Martín Lejárraga’s striking residential project in the port city of Cartagena gestures to sea and sky.