Modern Dacha

In the forest north of Moscow, a house for an art collector that reinterprets that variegated tradition of the Russian dacha in a contemporary way: a project that extends from architectural design to furnishings in a stringent overall orchestration


Project by William Sawaya – Sawaya&Moroni Architects Milano – Photos Santi Caleca – Article Matteo Vercelloni


Age-old trees surround the new construction like a natural protective curtain; a modern dacha, a large house in the woods with a contemporary tone that assertively enters a clearing with its figure. In the history of Russian architecture, the dacha (from the Russian verb meaning “to give”) represents a way of life, more than just an archetype.

Consolidated during the reign of Peter the Great (1672-1725), over time the dacha became known as a place in which to escape the rigid protocol of life at the court, a refuge in nature. In this sense, in Russian culture the dacha is an ‘otherplace,’ which even after the October Revolution and the fall of the Czar has continued to play a role as a ‘parallel’ domestic space in which to live in total freedom.

This cultural and behavioral dimension is explored in the project by William Sawaya for the residence of an art collector; a dacha of the new millennium, set down in a landscape of pines and birches, with which it establishes a direct relationship, between inside and outside, while introducing new figures and layout innovations.

The construction is a balanced sum of volumes featuring geometric forms of strong impact, connecting the facades and the roof in a single seamless synthesis. Compact figures, enhanced by the raising of the platform with respect to its surroundings and the precise use of facing materials (Siberian larch, oxidized copper and olive stone with high resistance to frost), organized with alternating fields.

The architectural composition rejects any sense of the vernacular revival much in vogue in 21st-century Russia, especially when it comes to the dacha, projecting on all sides towards the surround forest to open up perspectives that frame the colors of the landscape, like paintings that change colors across the seasons and the various lighting conditions of the day.

Terraces and loggias face the woods, featuring the invention of an outdoor living area, a sheltered space open on three sides that contains a cone of solid bronze that bursts through the copper roof to act as a large fireplace, capable of warming the entire adjacent zone.

An element associated with indoor space, like the fireplace of the living area, is transformed here into an architectural figure that generates a convivial space outside, a way of breaking out of the canonic confines of the rooms. A ‘space-paradox’ with the domestic hearth brought into the open, suggesting the enigmatic grassy living area Le Corbusier created in 1929 on the roof of an apartment in Paris on Avenue des Champs Elysées, for the Mexican art collector Charles de Beistegui.

The same tension and compositional intensity of the overall architectural figure and the complexity of the facades are translated in the interiors on two levels organized with paths of connection, the design of the furnishings and the refined surfaces of the enclosures.

Various types of stone and marble, and wooden planks, cover the floors and add character to the monumental staircase with dark walls, which on the first floor encounters a vortex of light from a large spiral chandelier, an effective setting from which to observe the geometric matrix of the suspended ceiling above.

The dizzying interlock of tetrahedra of different sizes links back to a reinvented deconstructivism, a direct suggestion of architectural geometry translated into interior figures, repeated in wood, with luminous portions to generate a suspended sculptural surface in the circulation routes of the first level, emphasized by the daylight captured by the openings in the facades.

The design of the interiors establishes a rapport with that of the custom furnishings and lights, like the ‘pick-up-sticks’ chandelier at the entrance, where the sticks in glass and steel are masterfully ‘activated’ by LED tubes with colored sides, clustered together in an apparently random way. Solid acrylic, in a formal embodiment of its material properties, is used in the egg-shaped supports for the monumental circular table, gauged to establish a relationship with its host space.

In the round overhanging corner space towards the right side of the house with respect to the entrance, underlined by an internal red partition that frames the nearby birch forest, the three large solid acrylic supports of the wooden table top reflect, overturn and capture, as in a magical bubble, the nature outside, transforming it into an indispensable ‘material’ for a dacha of the new millennium.