In Valle de Bravo, two hours by car southwest of Mexico City, a complex of five vacation homes has been carefully inserted in a pine grove. Like abstract inhabitable volumes, they nevertheless blend into the landscape to create an architectural promenade that responds to the topography of the site
Project Taller Héctor Barroso – Photos Rory Gardiner – Article Matteo Vercelloni
The goal was to build a complex of five vacation homes in a vast wooded area with a particular microclimate, in the mountains, amidst dense pine groves, not far from a lake and the desert.
The landscape of tall trees and the shape of the site, with a level shift of about 10 meters from the upper entrance on the street to the position of the first house placed at the opposite end of the lot, were the conditions with which Héctor Barroso – whose has spent time in this zone since childhood – had to come to grips to define the planimetric solution for the project.
The design traces a diagonal line through the trees, aligning the five constructions, each of which is like an urban micro-cluster; houses composed of a sum of basic geometric volumes deployed to generate a successful sequence of compact sculptural parts, organized on two levels around a central patio and open to a terrace with a swimming pool facing south, flanked by a landscaped garden that blends into the natural setting.
From the arrival area, raised above the overall settlement, the houses can be seen in their sequence like materic, earthy geometric solids, almost without openings and marked by the ‘hollow’ of the staircases contained by the high two-story masonry.
The staircases erode the corners of the constructions at various points, revealing the sequence of the steps in their lower projection, transforming what is usually a ‘leftover’ space under the stairs into an effective, precise abstract figure. The single-family houses have an area of 340 square meters and are identically repeated in the design solution.
Each one is composed of six monolithic room-blocks, almost as if to reproduce the clay working model, with one or two stories gathered around a central patio. The houses turn their backs – with solid walls – to the dirt access road to the north, to guarantee privacy and to reduce the loss of internal heat.
From this standpoint, the southern front of each construction has large windows that offer fine views of the landscape while bringing abundant light into the interiors, catching the local breeze to bring natural ventilation.
During the winter months, these openings take advantage of the sunlight for passive heating, as part of an overall approach of sustainability that includes the use of thermal mass for cooling, and direct heating supplied by two large wood-burning stoves.
Thermal mass (or thermal inertia) means the capacity of a material to prevent the passage of warmth, storing some of it, while keeping the temperature of internal spaces homogeneous, constant and comfortable, in spite of big variations in outdoor temperature.
This principle is a matter of application of materials, in this case bricks for the load-bearing walls, natural stone for the floors, wood for the ceiling beams and most of the custom furnishings (also salvaged from the few pines that had to be felled to make room for the houses), and local earth from the excavations.
The brick walls have been treated with a sort of veiled stucco created with this earth: “We experimented with more red, less red, trying different quantities of cement,” Barroso says, and the resulting mix has been applied to the walls by hand, obtaining a soft, irregular texture for both the interiors and the exterior surfaces.
The ground floor contains the communal living spaces, and a bedroom placed in an independent volume behind that of the living room. The upper level is for three bedrooms with bathrooms, conceived as autonomous bungalows, facing the branches of the pine trees.