When I discovered light as a central theme in architecture, I realised that it would engage all my life. Light in my work is the most valuable material.
A prolific architect, author, and professor at the Superior Technical School of Architecture of Granada, Elisa Valero Ramos sees an architect’s work as a quintessential service intended to make people’s lives more agreeable—a noble calling that seeks to make the world more beautiful and more human, and to make society fairer. An architect who’s work acts in silence through unobtrusive design, with a strong focus on sustainability. We had the pleasure of speaking to Elisa Valero about the importance of energy efficiency, using light in architecture, and what it means to be timeless.
Your architecture can be considered quiet and serene, with many of your projects drawing on minimalist sensibilities, yet you don’t consider yourself to have a particular style of design. How would you define your architecture?
I would say I embrace the old-fashion idea of understanding architecture as a tool for solving human problems. My job as an architect is a service intended to create spaces to make people’s lives more comfortable.
You have a strong focus on sustainability and recycling for your housing projects. Given the global urgency of this issue, can you outline your approach?
My work is moved by the urgent need for a radical change in our relation with the Earth. The change, which I propose to build a better future is quite simple. I propose that we aim consume not more than what is necessary, not more resources, not more energy, to ensure that other people as well as next generations are not going to have less than what is necessary. Reducing the consumption of materials and energy is not just an economic advantage, but also an ethical need for every person on this small planet where we live.
What role does education play in the future of sustainable architecture?
Education in sustainable architecture is essential for the future because it leads us into unknown territory, stimulating us to peep out into the universe in order to explore new possibilities with the certainty that one can always go farther. New generations must be aware of the fragility of the planet. It is necessary to tirelessly seek to reduce the tragic effects of environmental degradation on the lives of billions of people and to look for new ways to palliate the environmental crisis. The main commitment of architecture today is not to replace the beauty of nature, but to save it.
From the many projects you have designed, what project has offered the most significant learning outcome?
Each project is important. Each project has changed me as an architect and made the next step possible. Every project and every work is research, a step to go ahead treading unexplored paths to achieve through architecture a radical cultural change. For more than twenty years, I have been committed to learning to be an architect and I feel I am still on my way.
Looking at your portfolio, a particularly striking project is 8 experimental apartments in Realejo, Granada. What was the inspiration?
The inspiration is linked in all my projects to a realistic approach. That means that I never face an empty page, because a project arises from a specific necessity to act. Realistic doesn’t mean to be conventional; neither dull nor boring. Structural optimisation, the coherence and the internal order are good allies in architecture. I design and calculate structures trying to reduce resources, but the final goal is to help people to be comfortable and as happy as possible in their environment.
You published the book, ‘Light in Architecture’, which explains why light is so fundamental to human perception. What role does light play in your designs?
My mother, the artist Elisa Ramos, opened my eyes to the vibrations of shadow, the emotions of colour and the power of light to nurture life. In short, she taught me from an early age to enjoy light. And so, when I later discovered light as a central theme in architecture, I realised that it would engage all my life. Light in my work is the most valuable material.
How does the environment in which you build affect the topological approach to your design process?
I accept the environmental conditions as the rules of the game of architecture: Climate conditions, site conditions, programme, and economic restrictions. To respond to all them is an opportunity to achieve an accurate result, but always keeping the freedom to act following principles of sustainability and coherence.
It could be argued that timeless architecture is not possible, but certain components of a design can be timeless. How do you perceive timelessness and modernity in architecture?
Timeless architecture is a rebellion against ugliness because beauty has no time. Timeless architecture is all the same time rooted in its own time. We are working in the 21st century with continual advancing technology and we have to solve problems that can last centuries we are not yet aware of.
How does simplicity as a concept relate to you personally, your work, and your philosophy?
To me, simplicity is linked to freedom, in my life and in my work. I don’t mean to be original; I don't mean to be an artist. I defend to look for architecture to be as simple as possible, solving the complexity of real world problems.
Where is the line between humanistic design and decoration?
Thinking in my projects on paediatrics hospitals, I cannot separate these two. If there is indeed a line between them, I don’t know where it is.
Is simplicity a tool or an attitude?
Because of the environmental concern, I defend the economy of means, if necessary to build in grey to keep the planet greener I will do so. I defend to work with free and rich materials as light and shadow. Is this an attitude or a tool? Perhaps it’s both.
How do you like to spend your time away from work? Are you able to disconnect from it? And where do you find your sense of escapism?
Architecture is for me more than a job. It is also a risky leisure. But I also love swimming in the sea. It helps me very much to rest. I also disconnect from everything playing tennis. In this moment of my life my favourite place to rest is a corner of the Alboran Sea in the coast of Granada.