As one of the most prominent architects in the Marbella area for the past 30 years, Argentinean-born Miguel Tobal has contributed to a great many of the region’s iconic homes and buildings. Working with his son Diego he is set to create many more.
To say that Miguel Tobal has helped to shape Marbella is certainly no overstatement, though the architect is quick to point out that he has always focused on quality rather than quantity. “Over the years we have had the good fortune of being involved in a wide range of projects, from small to larger scale, yet our main focus has always been designing individual homes for private owners,” says Miguel.
It is a specialisation that continues to this day, though currently they work on both new-built villas and refurbishments. “What we’re seeing at the moment is that increasingly people seek out the best locations, and since this often leads them to the more exclusive established areas it means buying an existing property. In such a case their focus is more on the quality of the plot, in terms of location and orientation, than the property itself.”
In a lot of cases the homes in question are antiquated and the value, certainly the desirability, of the land has outgrown that of the structure it houses. “The buyer will then have to decide whether he or she wants to refurbish or rebuild from scratch,” adds Diego Tobal. “Normally it is easier and cheaper to demolish and start from a blank canvas, and unless there is great character or another form of intrinsic value to the old property that is exactly what happens.”
Another reason why homes are rebuilt or updated is because those constructed before the mid/late 90s watershed, struggle to provide the amenities demanded by modern lifestyles. “The homes built up to the 1990s were charming but bear little resemblance to the way they are constructed today,” says Diego. “To start with they were conceived very much as summer homes, with little in the way of heat and sound insulation, technical infrastructure and modern refinement.”
“Properties, maintenance and energy were relatively cheap, and lifestyles very different from now. These days, homeowners demand much higher technical standards, a long list of facilities such as climate control, under floor heating, telecommunications, home entertainment systems and advanced automated management systems that can control anything from the sprinklers to security and remote video access.”
Along with higher levels of comfort comes an increased focus on design. “Design has become more accessible and important as people travel more and are exposed to more diverse cultural and visual references,” says Diego. “What people expect from an architect now is not the same as it was years ago, and indeed, many want us to create signature design elements that reflect their personality and lifestyle, yet within a specified budget and without making the property so idiosyncratic that it becomes unsaleable.”
A turning point in design and development
Asked if they believe the crazy years of the boom will ever return, both father and son instinctively say: ‘hopefully not’. Diego explains, “We’re at a turning point in Marbella. Years ago everything was white, homes were built on a moderate scale, albeit with the limitations described above, and Marbella had a true identity. Then came the boom and the town lost its way a little, with short-term thinking leading to increasingly mass-produced construction and often highly forgettable design. Now things are gradually getting back to normal and I see the next phase of development in Marbella coming in the form of a revitalisation of existing spaces such as its beachfront and town centre.”
“It is the mark of an increasingly mature market and we’re seeing the early signs of it in the rebuilding and refurbishment of villas on prime plots. I believe the emphasis will be more on this kind of redevelopment and less on expansion on virgin soil. Not only will it revitalise Marbella but it should also mean that new developments will become less volume-based and more focused on providing niche value.”
Asked what this newly-evolving Marbella will look like they laugh and say, “Fortunately there are as many architects as there are projects to design, so as always there will be a mix of styles and treatments, but I think modern lines, glass and lots of white will feature prominently.” We’re all agreed that white is by and large the ideal colour for Marbella. “Yes, it’s clean, fresh, modern, practical in this climate and also maintains a link with the cultural heritage of this region.” Speaking of which, should all structures yield before this new wave? “No, a community naturally selects what it wants to retain and nurture, and what needs renewing, with market forces providing the mechanics, but all the same, Marbella has a great opportunity to create a really exciting visual identity in the coming years.”