With just 2 of the 15 houses launched to the global property market, it’s the sort of exposure that most developers only dream of. We talk to French entrepreneur Christian Bourdais about channelling a background in art production in Paris into redefining the role of architecture in property development.
What inspired you to create Solo Houses?
My wife and I run an art production company in France called Agence Eva Albarran, which means we have a very close relationship with major French and International artists. 7 years ago we decided to place more focus on supporting architects and guiding them to go that bit further in their creations. We imagined a collection of architecture where I am the curator, a place where the approach to creating properties would be different.
How did you approach it?
We began inviting 1, 2, 3, 4 inspirational architects to create, giving them carte blanche to imagine what a contemporary house can be today. We now have 13 projects on the go, and two that have been completed – one of which, from Chilean studio Pezo von Ellrichshausen Architects, has been sold and the other, Solo House from Belgium studio Office KQVDS is on the market. Each property is an entirely different typology of architecture. They are not just extravagant sculptures, but amazing places to actually live in. They question and redefine how humans live.
Solo House is set on a beautiful piece of land 2 hours into the mountains from Barcelona in the Matarraña region, 30 km from the beach. North-east of the Els Port Nature Park, its set between Barcelona, Valencia and Zaragoza and surrounded by a hundred hectares of untouched nature, where you feel totally “solo” – solitary and isolated as if by magic, disconnected from the daily turbulence. There’s nothing to do there, so it was really important for us to create a destination. With 15 houses, you are part of something.
And how do you choose which architects to work with?
It’s a similar process to choosing which artists to work with. Perhaps you have 50 leading architects in the world that you would love to work, but I chose the ones who will go down in the history of architecture. There could be an architect or artist that is very popular at the time and who I know will sell well, but I don’t appreciate their work, so I wouldn’t choose to work with them. Our focus is to build the best collection of architecture of all time, working with the world’s leading emerging talent.
What does giving them carte blanche mean in practice?
I choose the plot of land for each architect and then they have no restrictions, aside from a set budget and then they take the time they need to work on their project. It’s a long process, a little bit longer than a normal development, around 16 months from conception to completion.
How do property developments like this influence the industry?
When the collection is complete, it will be the definition of modern architecture in the world. It’s actually already the case. We recently had a school from Oslo bring their students to visit the project as they are working on designing their own Solo House. This is now part of their curriculum, which shows how the project is influencing the wider industry.
In what way is Solo House’s approach unique?
The way we are approaching it is the opposite of the majority of property development, where the architect’s vision and creativity is often killed by the developer’s specifications. If you look around at property development these days, it isn’t going in the right direction. With Solo House, I put the architect in the centre of the process.
Why is this important?
The aim of Solo House is to illustrate a contemporary version of how to live today. We gave the architects total freedom and support and the result? We have a masterpiece. It shows how differently things can be done.
What has been the biggest challenge of the project?
Now we have made our mark on the international architecture scene and it is seen as important. The challenge now is to sell all the houses and to live up the expectations. Now we just have two houses done, the first was sold in 2 hours and the second we have only recently put on the market. The next 5 already have their building licence and this is what we will focus on selling.
Who do you see as Solo House owners?
Solo House draws people who want to be part of something important in architecture. The properties already rent very well and are fully booked from April through October. But aside from the very high rentability, it’s also a way of being part of this adventure in contemporary architecture. Imagine all these architects… in 10 to 15 years some of them will be Pulitzer prize winners, so it's part of the game to choose who to back and which of the properties’ value will sky-rocket.
What kind of experience can owners expect?
It’s a total experience based on a hotel designed by the Chilean architect Smiljan Radic. The last piece of the project stands out as the catalyst for all the activity of the site. It will be both an exceptional place to stay, belonging to the collection of Solo Houses, but also a central space for services and activities for the houses, turning the fifteen project houses into the most spectacular hotel suites in the world. The landscape architect Bas Smets and the international curator Hans-Ulrich Obrist (the curator of the Serpentine Gallery) are designing the landscape navigation, so that strolling from one house to another will be a unique experience.
What has been the biggest surprise of the project?
The recent one is that we just had an article published that spoke about the project as pivotal to putting this relatively unknown region of Spain on the map. When you build houses, it’s not common to have such visibility
Where do we sign?
Solo Office has already completed and is currently on sale for 1.8 million Euros. We have other 4 houses in development on sale: SOLO MOS, SOLO JOHNSTONMARKLEE, SOLO BAROZZI VEIGA, SOLO FUJUMOTO that range from 1.6 million to 2 million.
Pezo Von Elrichshausen
Christ & Gantenbein
Kersten Geers and David Van Severen (Office KGDVS)
Bijoy Jain (Studio Mumbai)
Michael Meredith and Hilary Sample (MOS)
Makoto Takei and Chie Nabeshima (TNA)