MAIO, Spain: Wallpaper* Architects’ Directory 2021

With House in a House, a clever timber structure inserted in a rural Spanish home in Mallorca, Barcelona-based architecture studio MAIO joins the Wallpaper* Architects’ Directory 2021 

house in a house by MAIO seen at dusk light
(Image credit: José Hevia)

Four architects, Maria Charneco, Alfredo Lérida, Guillermo López and Anna Puigjaner, set up an architecture practice in Barcelona in 2011; and MAIO was born, standing out for its bold, colourful and geometric work that feels at once solid and experimental. Now, the Spanish studio is joining the ranks for the Wallpaper* Architects' Directory 2021 with its House in a House project, the unexpected refurbishment of a Mallorcan farmhouse. 


Splitting their time between Barcelona and New York, this studio’s architects are versatile and dynamic; an attitude that translates consistently into their designs. Headed by four partners, Maria Charneco, Alfredo Lérida, Guillermo López and Anna Puigjaner, the practice was founded in 2011. 

MAIO’s portfolio is diverse, spanning different scales, typologies and approaches. A key residential project, House in a House (seen below, and created in collaboration with architect Joan-Baptista Pont) is a bold experimentation in space, inserting a clever timber structure within an existing rural house. Larger housing commissions, art projects, retail and exhibition design all feature in the studio’s growing portfolio of strong, graphic and viually arresting design that stands out for its clarity and often colourful architectural style. 

‘We work on spatial systems, which allow variation and change through time,' say the practice partners. ‘MAIO’s projects embrace the ever-changing complexity of everyday life, while providing a resilient and clear architectural response. We like to work in very different scales, from furniture to urban design. We think of design as an open way of enhancing reality that is full of potential.'

traditional Spanish forms blend with contemporary wood in this residential project by MAIO

(Image credit: José Hevia)

What: House in a House

Situated in the centre of the island of Mallorca in Spain, this 19th-century farmhouse lay abandonded for years, slowly becoming delapidated, despite its beautiful stone structure and pristine natural setting. MAIO was called upon to refurbish and reimagine the space into a contemporary home. Keeping its structural walls (the only building element worth saving after years of neglect), the architects approached the design as a careful reintepretation of a ruin. 

Instead of creating dramatic, ‘agressive’ alterations to its overall fabric and exterior, MAIO, in collaboration with local architect Joan-Baptista Pont, decided to insert a large yet lightweight timber ‘piece of furniture' into the old shell. Working with simple wood panels, the new structure defines areas and functions, smoothly slotting into the thick stone walls – transforming the spatial experience, while respecting the historic existing building. 

Several openings illuminate the interior, aided by a large skylight at the heart of the design. Views out and through to various areas, sculptural internal arrangements and a clean, almost minimalist approach, typical of MAIO’s work, help define this matryoshka doll-style architectural renovation.

dramatic architectural wood and soaring ceilings feature in this residential project in Spain

(Image credit: José Hevia)

Why: Wallpaper* Architects’ Directory 2021

Conceived in 2000 as our index of emerging architectural talent, the Wallpaper* Architects’ Directory is our magazine’s annual listing of promising practices from across the globe. The project has, over the years, spanned styles and continents, while always championing the best and most exciting young studios and showcasing inspiring work with an emphasis on the residential realm. Now including more than 500 alumni and counting, the Architects’ Directory is back for its 21st edition. Join us as we launch this year’s survey – 20 young studios, from Australia, Canada, China, Colombia, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, the Netherlands, Nigeria, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, the USA, and the UK, with plenty of promise, ideas and exciting architecture.

timber framed large openings define this Spanish countryside house

(Image credit: José Hevia)

The bathroom is made out wood in House in a House by MAIO

(Image credit: José Hevia)


Ellie Stathaki is the Architecture & Environment Director at Wallpaper*. She trained as an architect at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece and studied architectural history at the Bartlett in London. Now an established journalist, she has been a member of the Wallpaper* team since 2006, visiting buildings across the globe and interviewing leading architects such as Tadao Ando and Rem Koolhaas. Ellie has also taken part in judging panels, moderated events, curated shows and contributed in books, such as The Contemporary House (Thames & Hudson, 2018), Glenn Sestig Architecture Diary (2020) and House London (2022).

With contributions from