Dressed in a tight sports coat, green and purple printed scarf, matching pants and a smile that radiates a warmth, Joaquín Torres greets us at A-cero, his study in the business park La Finca in Madrid. From his Madrid headquarters, Torres has become the “architect of stars and celebrities”. Cristiano Ronaldo, Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem, Alejandro Sanz and former Spanish President, Felipe González have succumbed to his charm and style. And the list continues well beyond the Spanish borders. Paradoxically, his famous clients are the best ambassadors for his brand. The architect has finally won the hearts of Spanish jet setters.
Childhood and Adolescence
Torres, currently 42 years old, remembers how by age 12 he had discovered his passion for architecture. He studied at the French Lyceum in Madrid, where art was a mandatory subject. However, it was not his teachers, but his father, Juan Torres Piñón, who is responsible for instilling in the child a predilection for the arts in all its forms: classical music, painting, sculpture and architecture.
Joaquín‘s father was the co-founder of the construction giant ACS, along with the current president of the Real Madrid Football Club, Florentino Perez. Torres Sr. had a great influence in his son’s future.”It took me years to get my father’s acceptance of my work in architecture,” says Joaquín.
A visit to the United States confirmed his predilection for the aesthetics of construction. This trip overseas at age 16 allowed him to break free, disassociate himself from the paternal pressure, and discover firsthand that this was the course he wanted to take for the rest of his life. The family that hosted him in Washington, DC, while he studied English, helped him make one of the most important decisions of his career. “I asked them to take me to see Frank Lloyd Wright´s Fallingwater House in Philadelphia, and the work of Mies Van der Rohe in Chicago. “I was captivated by both, and I realized I wanted to become an architect”.
After discarding Fine Arts and Civil Engineering as career choices, he studied architecture at the Superior Technical School of Architecture in La Coruña (Galicia). Seduced by contemporary painting and sculpture, over the years Torres created his own style. Wright and Van der Rohe were his first “teachers”, and he found himself drawn to the minimalist aesthetics of John Pawson, as well as the work of Zaha Hadid, who he describes as “awesome”. His design vocabulary is informed by several styles: orthogonal, cubic and rationalist, and most recently: futuristic, modern and versatile (curves, inclined planes, etc.)
The Architect of Celebrities and La Finca
The luxury residential complex La Finca is, without a doubt, the consecration of his career. In the late 1980s, developer Luis García Cereceda had the idea to build a complex of 180 mansions in a lot on the outskirts of Madrid, between Somosaguas and Pozuelo de Alarcón.
The posh gated community has become an “obsession” for the rich and famous. It is a luxurious, discreet and extremely safe complex (infrared surveillance, alarms, cameras and numerous checkpoints with doormen at the entrance), with all public services (waste collection, lighting, sewerage, roads) under private management. Only residents and their guests can access the enclosure, where home prices range between 2 and 12 million euros. Here, says Torres, the owners can sleep with their doors unlocked if they so wish.
The recipe for success had finally taken shape: luxury, utmost safety and the futuristic designs of Joaquín Torres are the ingredients that allowed La Finca to surpass in prestige other traditional areas for the affluent class in Madrid, such as La Moraleja or Puerta de Hierro. Its price per square meter has tripled from the time of its initial construction, 13 years ago.
From the onset, Torres was part of this ambitious plan. “Cereceda was my first 21st century patron. He truly allowed me to develop my talent as I wished, and I took full advantage of that opportunity”. In 2000, Torres moved to La Finca, at the request of the developer, and started to design the first houses, which attracted the attention of Spanish celebrities from the worlds of sports, art and business. The first buildings of 10,000 square feet, valued at 2,700,000 euros, sold within two weeks. Torres could not believe it. Ten years later there are few plots left and the VIP list continues to grow.
Alfonso de Borbon and his wife, Margarita Vargas, and bullfighter Enrique Ponce and his wife Paloma Cuevas, have been the latest to share the neighborhood with football players from the Real Madrid club: Ronaldo, Guti, Kaká, Fernando Hierro, and other well-known Spanish celebrities, such as actress Paz Vega, rally driver Carlos Sainz and professional soccer coach José Mourinho – who rents a house for 20,000 euros a month. Within the walls of this community, the most exclusive area is the sub complex “Los Lagos”, 160 acres, where the houses, built by studio A-Cero, have over 20,000 square feet.
In spite of that, Torres insists that the nickname, “architect of celebrities”, does not really reflect reality: “Of the 200 projects that we have in A-Cero, only 15 per cent come from celebrities. The rest are upper class clients: bankers and entrepreneurs who wish to remain completely anonymous. “In the end”, he says with pride and conformity, “people only pay attention to names such as Amancio Ortega, Felipe González and Penélope Cruz, but not to the work. And what really transcends are the houses, not their owners, whoever they might be”.
Of course, very few have had the opportunity to build a manor house in Galicia for the Chairman of Inditex, or mansions for the former President of Spain Felipe Gonzalez, or the one he designed for Madonna in Dubai.
“You get used to the abundance of space “, says Torres without hesitation. The largest house he built was 97,000 square feet, a 21st century palace in Saudi Arabia. His mother´s house on La Scorzonera Estates—next to another luxury development in Madrid called La Florida— has no less than 32,000 square feet. “At first she was horrified with so much space, but now she is happy; she finally got used to the house”.
I ask about his most expensive design. “Probably”, he says, “the one for Luis García Cereceda in La Finca. It is the residence of the complex’s owner, a kind of business card for potential buyers. “It is made with very high-quality materials and has beautiful spaces.” The mansion is valued at 20 million euros.
Joaquín Torres with business partner Rafael Llamazares.
He argues that the key to the success of his buildings is that they are “visually very strong, emphatic, almost sculptures within the environment, quite unique”. In addition, they are functional and tremendously practical houses.”
His style prevails, although he always listens to the client and yields to some of their demands. He mentions some of the most common: indoor and outdoor pools, wine cellars, waterfalls, gyms, or game rooms larger than traditional living rooms. And also about some unusual requests such as hair salons, studios for Bikram Yoga, garages with space for more than 10 cars; and despite the extreme safety of the enclosure: panic rooms – shielded and hidden spaces with a phone line, where the integrity of the individual would be protected in case of assault. Torres also remembers a curious request from soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo: “He wanted his bedroom to be connected with the child´s room, when at that time he did not have any children”.
In a new chapter of his life, Torres is making inroads in the American market, with several residential projects on exclusive Key Biscayne, a sunny enclave close to downtown Miami. It will not be surprising if his style will soon become distinctive of the residential architecture of that city.
While he talks about his intense daily routine and his latest projects, Joaquin receives a call from Mercedes, which he promptly answers and adds an affectionate “I love you” at the end of the conversation, after talking about how and where to place a picture. Mercedes is the mother of his two sons Manuel and Alvaro, as well as his associate and travel companion.
Mercedes Rodríguez Parrizas is also a painter and the main interior decorator of Joaquin’s homes. “To the only decorator I readily recommend is Mercedes. To me, it seems simple: I like how she paints, and know perfectly well that I can get her paintings at a reasonable price”. The long hours Torres devotes to A-Cero, the gym and to organize dinners for friends and family on a daily basis, would not make any sense without his wife by his side. ■