Author : Déborah López Lobato

University : Universidad Europea de Madrid

Status : BArch, 2014

Advisors : Cristina Díaz Moreno, Efrén García Grinda

Title : Transerai | Transhumant Transit Caravanserai

Transerai, is based on an open proposal to design a public, medium-scale, congregational building of a non-routine nature.

This space is located on the Tagus riverbanks in Toledo (Fig.1), in a former drinking area for cattle at the confluence of the natural path along the Tagus River, cattle tracks and the Camino de Santiago (Way of St James) (Fig.2). There is an important aspect about this context which helped me find a strategy to start this project : the fact that Toledo is a well-known city where three religions (Christianity, Islam and Judaism) were coexisting for a long time in peace. The approach used, an amalgam of diverse elements, is related with the mixture of architecture, urbanism and art, from different periods and cultures.

The proposal encompasses the possibility of providing a building that promotes the transmission to new generations of traditional crafts, agricultural techniques and cattle raising knowledge. It also operates as a resting point along pilgrim and shepherd routes, allowing for the development of Transhumance (continuous grazing, which adapts to the changing areas of productivity).

The typology that the project raises – a place where shepherds, cattle, pilgrims, tourists and locals coexist – already existed in the past in the form of Hospitals for Pilgrims, Coaching Inns or Caravanserai (a building that sprung up along the Silk Road that functioned as a large shared space).

The starting point for the project is the study of the geometry, function, space and light of a Caravanserai (Fig.3), which will provide the keys to the design, in terms of shapes, sizes, and the relationships between spaces; all the while bearing in mind the importance of ventilation and lighting systems as the created space is one where people and animals coexist.

In Islamic architecture, the domes have long been used as an element which resolves both natural lighting and ventilation. Since essentially animals and humans would inhabit the building simultaneously, it was vital to insure a proper aeration of the spaces. Some aerodynamic analyses such as the “Bernoulli principle” and “Venturi Principle” demonstrate that the dome is an ideal shape for ventilating spaces (Fig.4). This “passive ventilation” was the origin of the project, a way to start thinking of which kind of architecture would be created in response, which directly influenced the position and scale of the building.

The way to create a dome is different in each culture and in each period. Analyzing different construction techniques, I found myself working with two hypotheses which were related with the local materials in Toledo and at the same time which were working with the geometry of the project; (1) the ceramic domes developed by Guarino Guarini, and (2) the Eastern Dome of Islam made by elements called Muqarnas. The optimization of the structure made me choose the latter. The Muqarnas were made by a kind of plaster, providing a continual surface (Fig,3). The idea was to create this kind of geometry by folding thin plates of steel, an old industry in Toledo dating back to the fabrication of swords circa 500 BC. The analysis of the geometry helped me understand how to realize the material change.

Due to the fact that the project had complex geometries and involved intersecting them, it was necessary to use computational design which permitted me to create a pattern with precision, my own modified version of the Muqarnas. It created the geometry and at the same time altered the position of the domes and their relationships to one another, as it related back to the topography of the site and with the function of the project (Fig.4).

The final shape of the project was based on the previous geometric analysis, establishing different kinds of domes, different sizes and functions some of them specialized as chimneys and others to introduce light. The intersection between domes generates a hole to connect the domes. In this way, all the domes are contingent on one another, and repositioning one would cause each other dome’s position to adapt—similar to a magnet that attracts metallic particles when moved (Fig.5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10).

Transerai was installed on the banks of the river as a volume pierced by fifteen domes of three different sizes which, through aggregation, symmetry, section and intersection, provided the spaces mentioned above (Fig.1).

The spaces generated change depending on the season; during winter the domes open to the river flood, while in summer these spaces are used as shaded areas with stairs allowing recreational access to the river, thus Transerai would engage the river and the public.  The rest of the domes allow paths to enter the interior of the building and others allow light into the interior spaces, all of which serve to create different shades inside and outside and different forms of relationship between the spaces (Fig.5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10).

The project is carried out by means of two basic elements; (1) domes and enclosure, which via a double-folding metal sheet system function as structural elements of the first order, (2) the floors, located in the intersections between domes, irregular spaces converting from star-shaped polygons into a horizontal surface that serves as a continuation of the vertical structure (Fig.11).

Finally, we can understand this project, Transerai, as a boundary between the river and the city, an intermediary space between cattle trails and the urban environment, increasing the visibility and awareness of an activity: transhumance (Fig.10).


S//A : What’s the most important aspect of this project that we should be aware of?
Déborah López_ Transerai uses sensitive techniques from vernacular architecture, to recover and re-contextualize them in a contemporary environment. The project redefines the relationship between human and animals in the same space, promoting transhumance, the herded migration of animals from one region to another, through the typology of the Caravanserai a public and semi-public building used on the Silk Road, with and the constructive technique of the Muqarnas, which are plaster elements with flat shapes, used to build domes in the Islamic Architecture, through contemporary tools, achieving a single public space which promotes new and unforeseen connections. All of these things are important for me because I think that the mixture between analogical and computational language can produce unexpected results.

S//A : What other fields outside of architecture interest you?
DL_ I like to translate all the things that surround me into architectural vocabulary; I think it is my way to analyze the environment. In that way, I would like to refer to Wolf Volstell in “Fantastic Architecture”.
“Action is Architecture!
Everything is Architecture!”

S//A : Most important thing you learned in architecture school?
DL_ I would say two main things, learning from failures and working with intensity. In a way, both are extremely related. The former I believe is an inevitable part of the process, and though it doesn’t always feel this way in the moment, I could say I learned more from failures than from successes. Consequently, failures make me doubt but at the same time make me work much harder and with much more intensity, which in my case makes me be obsessed with the projects, producing better results.

S//A : Describe your dream project
DL_ My next steps will be focused on exploring strange connections; joining traditional architecture with new technologies to produce unexpected (perhaps architectural) results.