This work is the result of a process which has begun with the construction of a house in the same seaside town in a zone full of coniferous. So it is necessary to know the records to understand the proposal of this house.
BUILDING IN THE FOREST
We propose choices which guarantee the survival of the natural environment.
Mar Azul is a place well-known for us from time ago, so when we built our first work in 2004, we knew that we have to intervene a land that, despite of its worthy landscape, had never count with a legal support that protect this patrimony of those which built with a unique aim: get the most out of the earth. This land neither count with a code that, understanding the logic of this privileged space, regulate resolving the difference between this inappropriate constructions and the possibility of building without losing the properties of the site. In addition to this situation, the habit of building “picturesque houses in a place of fantasy” is taming slowly the forest, which is nowadays owner of a strong wild presence.
Operating in this site signifies then to assume its misalignment as a challenge and see how far we, the architects, can make an alternative contribution.The answer was an architecture proposal of minimums resources in the materials and in form, not only as an aesthetic solution but as an ethical principle of recovery the rational use of the different resources available. This architecture must be incorporated to the landscape, seeking to be part of the environment that already exists. To make it possible, it is necessary to know “how to listen” what the sites tell us so the first’s approaches must be free of old prejudices to capture not only the tangible data, but the atmospheres that the place gives us, those which we can only perceive if our views are free of preconceptions. This meant we have to practice the exercise of “seeing for the first time”. To consider the information, letting the place invade us and to imagine how the project itself capitalizes them, all this is fundamental so that architecture and landscape can fuse.
We have already practice this exercise, going to Mar Azul in many opportunities, so we valued the strong presence of the landscape and we had experienced the microclimate the forest provides: the attenuation of the strong sea winds, the constant shadow of the trees protecting from the hot weather in the summer but, at the same time, producing a humid environment in the winter, and the fact that under the pines is smaller the amount of light during the whole year. We also knew that the forest does not require maintenance apart from removing the dry vegetation, unless other species were introduced and break the actual harmony.
Take advantage from what the environment offers
To recognize this particular microclimate was determinant to make choices in the aesthetic and constructive system of the house. It was necessary to gain light allows us to consider the entirely work as a “semi covered”, resolving it by using big glasses which provides, from the inside, great views to the sea and to the landscape; and, from the outside, reflects the nature allowing the work to blend gracefully with it. The necessity to build the work as fast as possible and to have no maintenance makes us choice the reinforced concrete as the constructive solution. The shadow allows us to use this material, because it provides thermal protection from the spring to the autumn and its conditioning in winter was not relevant (though of course it was planned) given its status of summer house. The waterproof insulation was resolved by a high compactness concrete (H21) and is finished with a minimum slope in order to produce a faster runoff of rainwater.
Judicious use of available resources
The expressiveness qualities of the exposed concrete and its properties of resistance and impermeability, make it unnecessary to use a surface finish, gaining a low budget in its execution without a future maintenance. On the other hand, the color and texture of the concrete, made by formwork of wood tables, provides a strong and mimetic presence at the same time, allowing the work to be in harmony with the landscape. In brief, an outer skin made by two materials: glass and concrete, resolve the integration with the landscape and gives us an answer to the Functional, Formal and Structural issues of the surface finish and maintenance.
With the same canon, the resolution of the outdoors activities was the result of making the minimum intervention in the environment. We avoid any kind of landscaping to avoid leaving unnecessary limits expressed in a landscape by now little built, or sectors contrasting with the landscape features of this privileged environment. We like this marked homogeneity of coniferous forest only interrupted now and then for some acacia and, on the other hand, the high grasslands which are the dominant vegetation in the dunes near the sea.
An aesthetic-constructive proposal as prototype
The proposal that our study has been doing in the forest of Mar Azul, so concerned in joining in this environment that originates it, and so far from the stereotypes of the site, has found wide acceptance. There are several commissions for houses with the special request to repeat the same aesthetic constructive solution and that appreciate our proposal of a more relaxed housing. This is certainly very gratifying for us but, in turn, raises the question of how to resolve the issue of repetition of that materiality proposal expressly required. The conclusion is that, if the solution resolves with solvency both integration with its surroundings and the aesthetical, uses and maintenance’s requirements of the clients, it seems logical and ethically correct to keep repeating this materiality proposal as a prototype focusing, with each new assignment, in suit specific applications required by the client and the singularities of the concerned area’s cutout. Thus, the purpose of each new project would be to install increasingly with more strength – assisted by the importance-the idea that what is built in the forest cannot break the landscape unit of that environment, with emphasis on finding ways to transform every house in a “nest or burrow”.
BUILDING ON THE BEACH
Our first work of concrete in Mar Azul was well received and, after several commissions of houses with the same materiality always located in the forest, comes to us this request of a new house also of concrete but just meters from the beach. We doubt, at first, of the validity of using the same constructive-aesthetic system that had arisen so connected to the environment that gave origin to it, but eventually we agreed that we could study the necessary adjustments to make possible its use in a quite different environment: the dunes at the end of the beach. It was essential to optimize the thermal insulation in a place exposed to the intensity of sunlight in summer and, in winter, to a cold wet and strong gust of wind and rain. The action to enable adaptation was to propose a house where the ceilings were expansions of different rooms, made with wooden decks supported on slabs so, while allowing the development of different outdoor activities, play the role of “umbrella” that protects from sunlight (as the forest does on the other houses). We also had to control from the proposal, the glare effect that these rays produce when reflected in the sand. We decided that it wasn’t appropriate to make openings from floor to ceiling and that they should be protected by eaves as well as having control over their size and position in relation to the sun and sweeping winds. With these fundamental premises, we started the project of House on the Beach.
The land of 20mx47m where we have to intervene is placed a few meters away of the dune where the beach ends. In spite of it, the land is near a house of big size which clogs in some parts the views to the sea. The rest of the views, free of near buildings, allows the enjoyment of small vegetation, acacias and tamarinds, that overlooks the sea on one side and the forest insinuates on the other. The land has the particularity to present, in the center and along its length, a 3 meters crest elevation in relation to their sides. This singularity and the need to elevate the building over the natural line of the lot to gain sea views were fundamental issues in the proposal.
The clients, a young couple with 3 little children, arrived to our study asking for a house of concrete -as it seems to has a low maintenance and we love the design of the others houses you have already made – they said – we need a big house with five or six bedrooms and large spaces of meeting but to be realized in two stages – they add. We suggest that, as the existing regulations allows it they can consider building two different housing units, one of them the principal house in a size that allows us to built it in one stage and then another for guests. Satisfied with this proposal and with the aesthetic and constructive solution that the studio had already done in the forest, the clients only conditioned the project requiring us that we should take advantage out of this location so close to the beach to enjoy the sea views from the main rooms of the house, as well as from its expansions.
The commission for the first stage was a house with a main bedroom with bathroom en suite, two bedrooms to the sons with a shared bathroom and a service bedroom for guests, with its own bathroom. It was also required a dining room with integrated kitchen, grill and expansion terrace, a semi-covered garage and an enclosed place to be used as a general deposit and for saving the quadricycle.
We focus our search for solutions trying to accommodate this program to this topography and particular environment, looking for gaining views to the sea without making significant changes to the dune. In relation with the path of the sun and the dominant winds, the house must be open to the NE and control its openings to the SO. The lateral facade to the SE, despite of been exposed to strong rains and winds, should have big openings to provide views to the sea. With this premises and working in the transversal section of the land, we note that if we put the principal floor plan of the house like a prism perpendicularly over the crest of the dune, we reach, in one end, views to the sea, while in the other end and under it, we can create an access plan at the same level of the street; and in the same place but over the principal prism we could create another floor which can be the main bedroom and its bathroom with a big terrace providing generous views to the whole land. Decided that the stairway, which logically organizes the three levels, was transformed into a leading place, hence its strategic location and its studied spatial treatment with an emphasis on light entrance and the views generated in its path.
The proposed afforestation, following the principle of minimum intervention in the landscape consisted of projecting retaining walls of quebracho sleepers to help contain the dune to allow the regrowth of the zone’s pastures.
The functional organization
After saving the difference of height between the street and the access level with the help of wood planks, it is accessed to the house by a semi-covered (which can be used as a garage) where a quebracho tables’ wall is highlighted formed by the gateway that closes the storage and also the entrance door. In this level it is placed a small hall, the guestroom with its bathroom and the internal entry to the storage and the laundry. Going up the stairs between concrete walls you get to the main floor of the house. It has a living room with integrated kitchen, with expansions to the front and the back of the lot, and two bedrooms for the children with a bathroom for this level. In parallel to the first staircase develops the stairs leading to the top floor of the house. By this one, you reach a small hall from which you can access a large terrace to the front and one to the back, and also the main bedroom with bathroom en suite. This room has outstanding views towards the beach and through a generous opening can go out to the main terrace from which one can enjoy views of the whole landscape.
The structural solution
The entire house is solved by reinforced concrete partitions and slabs. The versatility of this constructive system allows us to solve the important overhang of the semi-covered access as it doesn’t have any support in one of its extremes, as we consider relevant for the project that the three levels of the house were not expressed in the front. We also use a significant cantilever on the opposite end, where the dune falls abruptly, so that the house lean without altering its natural profile.
It was used the same concrete of the other works in Mar Azul (H21 with fluidizer) a mixture with low amount of water that when forge create a concrete with a lot of compactness. As a result of this process, it is not necessary to employ any kind of facing, achieving a low budget in its terminations and a minimum or non posterior maintenance. The adaptation of the constructive system used in the forest for this place, consist in the use of “decks as umbrellas”. They are made by braces of wood seated to the slab on which the tables rely so that between them and the concrete ceiling is a space through which air flows. On the other hand , to improve the thermal insulation of the exterior walls it was build, in the interior part, a wall of air bricks revoked and painted, and also it was thought, in the whole locals, cross ventilation to make the maritime winds cool in the days of high temperature and to avoid using air conditioning system. The openings are made by aluminum; it was used open windows instead of sliding windows in order to avoid the accumulation of sand in the guides, and it was used double glass with air chamber to optimize the thermal insulation. The heating system, because of the fact that there is not natural gas in the zone, was resolved with a system that agreed salamander, bottle gas stove and electrical resistances.
The whole interior septums are made by air-bricks revoked and painted with white latex. The bathrooms have ceramic facings in the walls which are not made by reinforced concrete. The floor is made by smooth cement divided by aluminum’s planks. The encounter between walls and floor was resolved with an aluminum profile as a socle.
It was design by the study; it is an agreed between immobile furniture made of concrete and mobile furniture made of recovered Canadian wood pine which comes from boxes of package’s engines. The table (resolved like a slab united to the septum which divides the kitchen and the living room), the closets, and the woodshed are made of concrete.
Project: House on the beach.
Award: First Prize – Biennale of Architecture, Urbanism, Investigation and Theory 2009
Location: Mar Azul, Villa Gesell, Buenos Aires Province, Argentina
Architecture Studio: BAK arquitectos
Design and Project Management: Arch. María Victoria Besonias, Luciano Kruk
Collaborators: Arch. Alejandro Pomies
Land area: 950sqm
Built area: 181sqm
Fotos: Guillerme Morelli