“This idea saved my life thirty-odd years ago, when my friend Francisco Nieva read my tarot, and saw me in three years buried underground with a cypress above me. Four times in a row the death appeared in the cards. I insisted that this did not necessarily mean that I would die, I planted a cypress, 18 meters high today and I'm still here...alive."
- Fernando Higueras
Fernando Hiqueras was an architect with a distinctly strong character. Over his lifetime he generated an extensive body of work with a radical personality – one that kept him on the fringe of trends.
During a meeting with his friend Francisco Nieva he had his tarot cards read. Greeted by the card of death repeatedly Nieva told him that he could see him buried underground with a cypress tree above him in only three years. Cheating this fate, Higueras instead was inspired to create his next home, buying a small house with a garden where he would later build his house below ground. Preliminary plans for the underground house were made in around 3 minutes!
In 1972 plans for ‘Rascainfierno’ were underway. A hidden underground refuge that existed without windows and was lit by means of a large skylight that channelled light down through the home. Penetrating the depths of the earth he named it ‘El Rascainfiernos’ or the ‘Hellscraper’, a play on the word ‘skyscraper’.
“This idea saved my life thirty odd years ago,” he said, “I insisted that this did not necessarily mean I would die. Rascainfierno then occurred to me. I planted a cypress, which is now 18-metres high, and I’m still here – alive.”
Building it was quite a complex operation due to the difficulties of excavating in a garden surrounded by houses. Excavated carefully in small sections, first with smaller machinery, then also by hand with shovels and pickaxes, as a result the project took longer than was expected.
With the installation of the huge double height skylight, it enjoys natural ventilation and splendid overhead sunlight that permeates the house. The skylight is also the only trace that it exists from the outside. Despite being underground the house offers perfect conditions, you can enjoy the absolute silence and due to the thermal inertia of the terrain, the energy efficiency of the habitat is a feat – the environmental temperature is very stable throughout the year, between 16 and 26 degrees, staying cool in summer and warm in winter.
Higueras had an admiration of Japanese interiors and decided to have custom build furniture that was lower to the ground, creating a series of lower tables and chairs. Filling the house with books and films, as he loved reading and cinema, his greatest love was art – in a way the house became a small autobiographical museum that were accumulations of his travels, gifts from friends and art pieces he had obtained.
While on the surface the design of the house might seem like it was built for a recluse, or someone who wanted to withdraw in some way - Higeuras was adamant that the house was always open to receiving guests, frequently holding lunches in the garden above and asking his guests to come and stay/live a while.
Taking two years till its completion in 1974, Higueras called ‘Rascainfierno’ home till his passing in 2008.
Photography — Fernando Higuera Foundation
Design — Fernando Higuera 'Rascainfierno' (Hellscraper)
Location — Madrid, Spain
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