Written by Saha Tahir, CNN
The building at the center of this open discussion is simply called “Room 14.”
“But in terms of meaning, I think of it as part of this ‘traditional untraditional’ Union,” says co-director Xaume Belo, a landscape architect with two decades’ experience working with the builders, architecture and clients.
The design is a collaboration between Belo and Pedro Javier Seiler, a Spanish architect and long-time pal of Belo’s. Seiler helped Belo define his concept for the project in a series of sketches he began in the early 2000s.
Room 14 is the biggest piece of creative output in Belo’s long career. He’d like to think the building influences and reinvents what he has built before, but he insists that the duo’s approach was more collaborative.
The white brick structure houses 12 employee boxes, in which clients, clients’ families and friends can meet or socialize. In keeping with Belo’s “traditional untraditional” style, the interiors of the rooms each present a familiar image. Most of the rooms have roomsie-cocooning beds.
Belo first came across the concept from Architect Magazine, and was intrigued. The idea of what exactly it was he “immediately understood,” he says.
This wasn’t an instance of him adapting his conception to a real building, though: “What happened here is that we built on our conversations, and it actually grew, or matured a little bit as we worked on it.”
Ten years later, the Open Union (ISU) Foundation commissioned the project. Belo considered what would follow and came up with a building model. The ISU Foundation is a network of community and educational projects for and by adults living with learning disabilities and from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Part of the design’s stunning combination of nature and technology, and the pieces of furniture in the building were sourced from workshops.
“The spatial specificity of the project is key to what we believe and care about,” says Belo. “The truth is, you have a place for people where they belong, where they are not grouped and given a certain function or social space.”
The space will be made available to visiting clients through time-based vouchers or day passes, to prevent the concept becoming “an institutional type event” that has a domineering effect on the space, Belo explains.
Open Union hopes to create a sort of physical space (and social network) for the people living with learning disabilities.
For Belo, the process of creating Room 14 was a long one.
“It’s something we worked on for years. And in a way it’s the subject of a book at the end of this process,” he says.
“There’s also a foundation and a project, and I had to find a way of working on the ground.”