Architecture for the senses

A derelict ruin with two walls in bad condition. Beamed ceilings that collapsed over a space for hens. Old trees growing in the rubble.

Perfect ingredients to build an ultramodern house where light and sensation are most important.

 We drive around with the architect Jesus Castillo Olí among the small villages between Palencia and Santander in northern Spain.

All around , he has created his own architectural universe that echo around the world. He believes the future must involve the past. An architecture for the senses.


In the small villages in traditional stone-built Roman style , he has stepped in and created new, modern living spaces. Preserving the old stones and wooden details maybe several hundred years old.

When the intervention, involving creative integration and rehabilitation is completed these buildings become new highlights in the historical and natural landscapes.


We arrive in the small village of Pomar de Valdivia.

An old ruin, two old walls left and inside a modern bright glass building. A complex construction, both he and the owners wanted to keep the old trees that grew modestly over the rubble.

´The trees were there when we arrived, in fact they were the tenants of the house. The relation with the remains of the walls led to creating some “patios”(courtyards) around the trees allowing them to integrate visually inside´, Jesus Castillo says.


The owners, businesswoman Mar Cruz Cañadas and publisher Juan Luis from Madrid, wanted a quiet place in the area with good views. A magic place, a place to express something special.

 The house was in very poor condition. The cover had fallen , the walls badly damaged, for many years exposed to hostile weather without any protection.

´It’s like cooking good food . If you have the right ingredients from the beginning it´s easier to add new parts and create something new and exciting. The houses must live in the 2000th century, though keeping its history´, says Jesus Castillo Oli.

The excellent location of the plot, the vegetation on the ruins transformed the place into a magical place surrounded by mystery.

That metamorphosis of ruin was the main attraction why the owners bought the “house”.

´It was one of the hardest projects technically. Everyone agreed how the trees would grow between the rooms, surrounded by glass. But it needed many calculations to make it work´, he says.


To Castillo Olí, building an interesting house you need three people, architect, owner and builder. They must work together. You don´t have to think the same way, almost the opposite, but everybody must be open to each other’s ideas.

´It was exciting discussing with Jesús about our ideal house, he was figuring out and creating some drafts and came back to discuss and define the final design. We had a very good time ‘, says Mar Cruz Cañadas.

Key issue was keeping the essence of the place.


´We were  not to restore or rehabilitate the house, we needed a new intervention on the existing remains. The owners understood, respected, and valued the place´,  says Castillo Olí.

Born in 1966 Castillo Olí  received his architectural education at the University of Valladolid and added training in Madrid. He has been active as an architect since the beginning of the 1990s with an interest in the relations between old and new.

´First I look what is left of the old building. Next I use my senses to get a feeling of what can be done. Location is the key, how the sun set, where it goes down, what lighting is needed and should new light openings be added´, he said.


 Architecture is light and especially in centuries-old houses. Not just the light itself, but how it reflects inside and outside the house. That is why glass is so important´, he says.

 Despite Spanish economy being in deep trouble, largely caused by a giant construction crash, Jesus Castillo sees a future for architecture.

Spain don´t need to build a new house the next 30 years. Instead, there is scope for exciting and environmentally sustainable solutions. Building new in old is one solution that is both beautiful, delicate and inexpensive.

Words: Urban Nilmander                                  Photos: Carin Tegner

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