On the occasion of the third Concéntrico, a festival of architecture and design held in Logroño, La Rioja in Spain, the Barcelona based architect and designer Guillermo Santomà was commissioned to restore the patio of the cloister at the church Santa Maria de Palacio. Represented by Side Gallery, Santomà proposed to fictionally complete the renovations carried out by Gerado Cuadra from 1988 to 1966. As a designer whose work is defined by material transformations, Guillermo was able to project his vision for the restoration of the cloister area by re-creating the demolished center piece of the patio; a fountain was erected from the planks of wood he was offered. In true Santomà style, he pulverized the wooden boards, and through the introduction of other substances generated a series of monolithic pieces, which when molded and mounted on top of each other gave form to a stone like fountain that seemed to grow from the surrounding architecture generating the illusion that it had always belonged to the courtyard of the Cloisters of Santa María de Palacio.
"Guillermo is aware of the importance of the past in order to create the future"
The cloister itself is a classicist piece, the first restoration of the fountain taking place in 1550. It was then demolished in 1701, when reinforcement work needed to be done on the pillars behind the transept and their transverse arch, which was threatening to destroy the steeple. Santomà modeled his construction on the sketches dating back to 1701 just before the disassembling of the fountain. As a designer, Guillermo is aware of the importance of the past in order to create the future, “we are part of this historic line, we have a past and we must continue it”, he states. Time for Santomà is not chronologic but intertwined, he uses the contemporary to connect the past and the future, and that is exactly what he did with the creation of the Fountain, he returned the central piece of the cloister after two centuries, respecting it’s past life through form, while honoring the present and challenging the future through material experimentation.
Guillermo Santomá (b.1984) is a designer living and working in Barcelona. Since graduating with an MA in design, Santomà has worked in different formats, moving between design, architecture, sculpture and scenography. Santomà uses simple and primitive methods to alter familiar objects in a constant process of deformation, creating complete environments. His work promotes the systematic transformation of the ways of objectifying, organizing, analysing and transmitting. As a multi-faceted architect and designer, Santomà could be described as being interested in how a space is affected by the production of elements vaguely similar to furniture.
Santomà first attracted attention to his work after his total transformation of Casa Horta – an architectonic, artistic intervention in a traditional Horta-house in Barcelona from the beginning of the 20th century. The three-story building is now a house that reflects the designer’s creative outlook: inspired by fiction, he transformed reality into fantasy while maintaining functionality. “To create is to destroy” is a motto he has made his own by giving a second skin to Casa Horta, a building charged with history. And it is this motto that has earned him the reputation as “the artist who destroys things in order to keep creating”.
A perfect example the designer’s object transformation process was Guillermo’s redesigning of the “Monobloc”, the world’s most common plastic chair. Santomà deconstructed the chairs through melting, so the backs were partly missing, he then froze the process mid-melt, afterwards thickly coating the chairs in powder pink paint and transforming them from a completely mundane object to something fantastical. Blurring the line between objects and space the conceptual creativity of the Barcelona based designer was illustrated earlier in his career through a series of objects, in particular seating elements that were created using a plethora of unconventional shapes and unexpected materials, such as pool tiles, broken glass, foam and rocks. Since the early days of his career Santomà has worked closely with Side Gallery, the inauguration of their relationship a solo show at the gallery’s first location in Barcelona. The exhibition was composed of a range of glass and mirror furniture that pursued a game of transparency and reflection. The unconventional seating elements were a reflection of Santomà’s artistic intention to deconstruct the still images of design.
As a continuation of Santomà’s design trajectory to construct from the deconstructed, the formation of a series of chandeliers in 2018 followed. The pieces were designed as part of a project whereby the designer deformed objects and materials turning them into sculptured design pieces. Made from raw and industrial materials, for example bulbs, cables, methacrylate, chunks of wood and such like, the resources for the series were materials found around Guillermo’s studio and then transformed into new works. Often taking ideas or materials from architectural constructions yet to be completed or used his work is perceived as fictional, certain constructions were only a possibility in a story rather than a reality itself. Santomà himself views his design work as never fully finished, describing his construction process as infinite. Materials pass from one project to another and through the projects they are transformed and developed until they may resemble something totally different to the designer’s original intention. The series of chandeliers was first shown at Guillermo’s show Adjust-A-Wings, which took place at Side Gallery’s summer exhibition space, Casavells. The ancient country house, with high arched ceilings and stone walls was the perfect setting for Santomà´s pieces. The work was born from words rather than sketches. The pieces on show were an example of Guillermo’s proactivity, his desire to take power over everything that crossing his path.
Perhaps the designers most prestigious show to date was his solo exhibition at the Museo Cerrablo in Madrid. The show encompassed Guillermo’s talent as a designer and architect, his radical contemporary design colonized the classical museum provoking an original and interactive narrative. Santomà conceived the exhibition not from the traditional perspective but as a performance that went beyond the usual understating, resulting in something scenographic. Each piece was closer to a story than a static object. Alongside chandeliers transformed and developed from his 2018 collection, Santomà hurled the traditional museum into a fictious setting by presenting a purple resin, dripping rubber sofa and built-in table and rug to the 19th ballroom. Each piece designed for the show was site specific, typical Santomà materials such as plastic, aluminum and foam were reinterpreted from previous projects used to create something new, contrasting with the museum´s rich opulence, turning itself into the negative of existence.
In the autumn of 2020 Santomà executed one of his most important site-specific interventions to date at the Espacio Intermediae Matadero in Madrid. The vast space was filled a large mesh containg a concrete mantle in the form of a roof and a large powerful ball of light, playing with the idea of the human’s race’s cheap and constructed destruction of the planet. The curator Chus Martinez wrote, “All Santomà's work denotes an interest in the systematic transformation of the ways of objectifying, organizing, analyzing and, therefore, of transmitting. For this, he uses relatively simple mechanisms, altering familiar objects, or, as here, creating a redundancy between the pre-existing industrial warehouse and his particular industrial cave. Altering a space or an object while preserving defining features that still allow us to recognize it, can have a much greater ergonomic effect on our habits than engaging in the totally new. The abstract industrial cave, so to speak, is oriented to originate new ritual processes between the individuals who gather in it.”
A further project in 2020 involving the transformation of an industrial warehouse, was Santomà’s construction of Side Gallery’s new exhibition space in Barcelona. The architect converted the entire third floor of a 19th century warehouse in the neighbourhood of Poble Nou into the contemporary setting of a design gallery and living space. The vast creation preserves and exposes the structural features of the building: two rows of symmetrical columns line the exhibition space leading you from an inbuilt conservatory filled with towering tropical plants down to the pavilion, a raised concreate structure that separates the western facade of the gallery. Three of the four walls feature original floor to ceiling windows marked by iron sashes, running wall to wall at one-meter intervals, streaming natural light into the space at all hours of the day. The fourth or southern facade is covered top to bottom by a rippled curtain reflecting the curved beams and trusses of the original ceiling components. The design is minimal yet impactful, defining the raw features of the former factory whilst transforming the space into a pearl grey palazzo, where one can eat, sleep, exhibit and observe.
Alongside his design work, Santomà has composed a series of prestigious installation projects and collaborations. One of such was his collaborations with Rimowa at Milan Design Week 2019 in the Spazio Maiocchi. Santomà translated Rimowa’s aluminum casing into a gas station inspired installation. He immersed himself in a fictional inspired design process. At the center of the installation titled “GAS”, the artist created an aluminum paneled car blending functional design and surrealism. In 2018 Santomà collaborated with Simon the Spanish electrical equipment company whereby he created an installation that projected the environment that gave life to Simon’s revolutionary collection based on the “Internet of things” Together with fixed installations, the multi-faceted artist has also led a design performance in his workshop. On the occasion of the 2017 Festival Understanding Design in Barcelona Santomá invited the public to his studio, in order to demonstrate his design process. The designer demonstrated the creation of a table, a lamp and a chair by setting light to the materials with a blowtorch exemplifying his idea of material transformations. The performance was accompanied by a series of zines, created by Guillermo’s partner Raquel Quevedo.