Wiel Arets is a hermetic and hedonistic architect. Relying on concrete, glass, and not much else to create drama in his severely abstract buildings, he seduces us with the way light strikes concrete’s bare skin or the way space shoots up or down into barren vistas. In Marbella, Spain’s oasis for wealthy sun-worshipers, his firm, Wiel Arets Architects (based in Switzerland and the Netherlands) has taken that approach beyond the logical with the Jellyfish House, cantilevering a glass-bottomed pool beyond the canted walls and convoluting the entire structure into movement as sinuous as swimming.
Arets was forced into this strategy because of the house’s site. Near, but not on, the beach, the lot did not have any ground-floor views of the Mediterranean Sea, let alone access to it. So the architect created a paean to the water: From the rooftop pool, the ocean is visible while you swim or sunbathe. The roof structure, which protrudes to form a glazed (and water-filled) canopy over the house’s entry, also bares what such houses are all about, much in contrast to the neo-classical, neo-Moorish, and neo-modernist boxes that surround it.
Underneath this aqueous heart, the nearly 7,000-square-foot house develops as a set of fairly conventional living areas that Arets designed with his usual attention to hiding all details and focusing your attention on form and space. There is a “slow” circulation pattern connecting the structure’s four levels through stairs that emphasize the continuity of both the exposed concrete structure and the rooms that it frames. There is also a “fast” route that takes you up glass stairs directly to the pool, bypassing the daily-used rooms to get you right to the point.
The house is as accepting of the elements as Arets could make it within its relatively narrow lot. A dining room opens up completely to the outdoors, while a sheltered patio hides under the cantilevered pool. Where the structure’s core gathers to make all this openness possible, translucent glass closets and narrow passages remove density.
The Jellyfish House gets you out there while remaining framed, private, and secure. It might not be as blobby as its name implies, but it instead translates that sea creature’s complexity into human-made forms that make you aware of both how close and how far water, and nature in general, are from this artificial vessel. —Aaron Betsky