The Hourglass Corral Creating Mutual Preservation of the Wild and the Rural

“The Hourglass Corral is a house located in the Cycladic island of Milos, Greece. Its significance is best understood within its larger context. It is the most recent addition of a project called ‘Voronoi’s Corrals’ which began ten years ago and presently encompasses a territory of 90,000 square meters.

As a whole, the project is an ongoing effort to integrate the ubiquitous ‘holiday home’ dotting the Southern European coasts within a larger social, cultural and economic context. Instead of ceding large areas of wilderness and agricultural land over to the pressures of the tourism industry, these corrals reinterpret the local heritage of creating territories for the cohabitation and mutual preservation of the wild, the rural and the domestic.

Preserving the diversity of use and the productivity of the land means a continuing commitment and exchange with the local community and its economy beyond the limited time frame of the holiday seasons. It is a model for the symbiotic existence of the traditional living and productive landscape and the needs and idiosyncratic characteristics of the contemporary ‘leisure culture’.” DECA Architecture

Hourglass corral is the latest addition to an evolving series of residences completed By DECA Architecture on the Greek island of Milos, all of them revealing a sensitive and sustained attention to the landscape and the local tradition. The project was nominated for the european union prize for contemporary architecture – mies van der rohe award.

DECA Architecture recently completed Hourglass Corral, a house in the Southern part of the Greek island of Milos that is intrinsically moulded by the natural conditions of its site. Sunk low and stoic in the sun-drenched Cycladic landscape cooled by breezes from the nearby sea, it accommodates 4 bedrooms that all face South, the roof planted with a variety of aromatic plants. Forming part of the Voronoi’s Corrals, a larger territory the architects have been designing for the last ten years, the house is intended to generate a reciprocity between architecture and nature, geometrical rules and wilderness.

The place
Voronoi’s Corrals is a landscape in Southern Milos with a total area of 90.000 square meters where DECA Architecture has inserted 5 corrals. The outlines of the corrals, that have existed on the Greek islands for centuries as informal and empirical ways of zoning, define clear boundaries between areas of wilderness and new residential and productive agricultural land for their mutual protection.

Alexandros Vaitsos and Carlos Loperena, the two founding partners at DECA Architecture, scouted and studied the landscape for months, carefully assessing the qualities of each corner of the expansive territory.

“We tried to decipher the feelings that we experienced at each location, the aura, the vibe, the genius loci of each place. We mapped the views, the movement of the wind in relation to the topography, the orientation of the sun and the shade in relation to the slopes, the distribution of the flora and the varying geological characteristics throughout the landscape.” Alexandros Vaitsos.

Through this investigation, that was both visceral and analytical, they identified five locations that were ideally suited to host their corrals. They were former agricultural pockets, where the impact of architecture would be controlled, that had an enticing variety of strong experiential qualities.

“We gained a very thorough understanding of the site and the island: we commissioned from a botanist a study of the biodiversity of the flora from the site, we researched the history, economy and population data of the island, we studied the behavior of the wind and geology of the area. Our goal was to approach the project so that it truly belonged to the place,” says Carlos Loperena.

The project, that was completed in two stages in the span of eight years, lies somewhere between the practice of architecture and landscape architecture. After the Immersion Corral (built in 2012), a small two-bedroom house located at the most dramatic location of the site, the Orchard Corral was completed in 2013, meant to preserve the agricultural nature of the 20.000 square meter property. DECA established the largest olive grove on the island here. The Preservation Corral, that contains a grove of fruit trees that are unique to the island and are nearly extinct, and the small Isolation Corral, entirely built by hand to preserve the surrounding nature, followed in the next years.
“Each corral is completely unique, taking cues from the location where it is integrated. What they share in common is an evolving experimentation with the geometrical grids that were defined by a Russian mathematician called Georgy Voronoi and a perverse obsession with materiality and details,” explains Carlos Loperena.

The Hourglass Corral is the latest corral to be designed and constructed, nestled within a plateau just above the Orchard Corral.

The Voronoi diagram
Georgy Voronoi was a Russian mathematician noted for defining the Voronoi diagram, a mathematical construct that partitions a plane into regions based on the distance to points in the specific subset (or cells) of that plane.

“Voronoi gave us the opportunity to design in a different way. We went on site and we scouted for special locations: ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to have a table here? What a nice place for a tree! I would really like to wake up at this spot!’ We determined the points that interested us. We input these points into Voronoi’s formula and a grid was formulated around them. The grid became our plan,” says Alexandros Vaitsos.

In Voronoi grids, as opposed to Cartesian ones, the points come first and the grid follows. The grid is organic, not orthogonal. It conforms to the points. It does not impose itself, it is imposed by circumstance.

“We used parametric design tools. Instead of drawing lines, we refined our plans by moving points in space. Voronoi’s formula ensured that each table, bed or tree enjoyed the most amount of space in relation to its neighboring areas.” Carlos Loperena.

The meeting of a mathematical approach to architecture and the idea of going ‘back to nature’ may seem contradictory, but was masterfully materialized in the project.

The concept for the Hourglass Corral
The Hourglass is the largest domestic environment within the broader landscape of Voronoi’s Corrals. Its organization is derived from a parametric manipulation of Voronoi cells to relate specific views to its domestic program. Each cell corresponds to a clearly defined use, be it an exterior courtyard, a shading canopy, a common space, a bedroom, or an auxiliary space.

From the interior the ceilings of each cell folds upwards towards its center point where the ceiling is pierced by a circular skylight. This creates an organic, flowing interior roof-scape.

“In the Hourglass Corral we took the challenge to work rigorously with the Voronoi diagram logic. We composed the architecture through parametric design creating each individual cell according to the views and the spatial needs.” Alexandros Vaitsos.

This spatial definition is emphasized through functional details such as operable skylights that allow for passive ventilation, custom fabricated pendant lights, the expansion joints of the concrete floors and mechanical diaphragms that control the amount of daylight in the bedrooms. More importantly, the organization of the Voronoi cells works to make an environment which creates encounters, making it the social nexus of the entire project.

The exteriors
The rough and weathered stone walls of the house, with their strong and comforting weight, fully encircle it on all sides. Facing South, however, any sense of enclosure disappears, exposing the residence to the full trajectory of the sun. Horizontality prevails, the exposed concrete beams with their shading canopies cantilevering beyond the stone facades and dissolving in front of theuninterrupted panorama of the Aegean Sea.

Each cell of the Corral is planted with a different type of aromatic plant, used for the extraction of essential oils, insulating the roofs and resulting in a pattern that gives a vivid representation of the underlying design strategy while at the same time making the residential volumes blend into its landscape. From above, the main indicator of inhabitation comes from the circular skylights that mark the point which generate each Voronoi cell.

When night falls, the absence of light pollution makes the sky look spectacular, the Milky Way stretching from horizon to horizon. The sound of the nearby sea and fresh smell of its water reaches the house, making its presence felt. Dwellers can appreciate the natural haven they are living in, with its minimal disruption to the native landscape.

The interiors
Just as the Hourglass Corral’s footprint appears constructed according to a geometrical precision, its plan articulation feels as though it has been hollowed out rather than simply constructed, the building embedded into the landscape. This carved-out quality is emphasized by the thickness of the stone walls and the interior partitions that suggest the atmosphere of an archaeological phenomenon.

Moving inside the carapace of the house, the smooth candid white vertical surfaces, washed by the zenithal light, contrast with the ponderous expression of the exterior enclosure. The rooms witness the passing of time, the moving of shadows and the changing colors of light bouncing off walls and floors.

The progression to the house evokes a sense of ritual: a generous outdoor space, reached through a narrow stone passageway that funnels into a staircase, informs an enticing geometry of levelchanges and oblique views into the common areas of the kitchen, living and dining areas. It’s a courtyard in the traditional sense, referencing the early Roman impluvium and Greek patio: a communal space at the center of the home, sheltered by enclosing walls.

The three bedrooms in the main house, each with its own private bathroom, are more intimate. A fourth bedroom is located to the north-eastern part of the site.

The ceiling flows and, with its light undulations and punctures, gently accompanies the inhabitants through the rooms. The skylights at the apex of each cell open up creating an effective passive ventilation system, warm air traveling up towards the cones and the circular skylights and bursting out in the summer months. In the bedrooms, a black out device, controlled by a switch near the bed, is placed under each skylight. It is a mechanism that works like the shutter of a camera lens. For ambient illumination, a circular metal disc suspended under the apex conceals a linear light.

The project’s impact
Through the development of the Voronoi’s Corrals, DECA Architecture gained significant understanding of sustainable design strategies at a large scale, since they were involved in every aspect and at every stage, not only in its design but also in the planning and implementation of its construction.

It was also an opportunity for them to further investigate and in some way inform, starting in Milos, the dynamics of development in island communities, often overwhelmingly influenced and threatened by mass tourism. Alexandros and Carlos explored architectural propositions that are deeply integrated in the environment which they occupy, engaging in projects that, starting with the Immersion Corral in 2012 and culminating in the Hourglass Corral, encompassed larger areas on the island.

“Maintaining the productive character of the land has fostered very profound relationships with the local community as well as being a source of pride and delight.” Carlos Loperena.

Their passionate engagement in the project aims to ward off the deleterious consequences of tourism-driven overdevelopment, similar to the one suffered in the 1990s by the Spanish coastline that quickly reached a point of exhaustion. The Voronoi’s Corrals, developed in the course of the last 10 years and covering larger areas while always at one with their natural setting, make them influential precedents that should trigger a change in the laws that govern construction on the islands. Places to be preserved, where nature asserts itself around and above architecture.

“The next step will be creating the Solar Corral. The idea of maintaining the productivity of the land as a sensible and mindful development in the islands is that we can harvest not only agricultural products but we are also in an ideal environment to also harvest solar energy for both the domestic use as well as contributing energy to the local grid.” Carlos Loperena.

Other images can be seen in the gallery down below:


Project name: Hourglass Corral
Project location: Milos, Cyclades, Greece
Architect: DECA Architecture
Project design team: Dionysis Dikefalos, Alison Katri, Carlos Loperena, Maria Pappa, Aliki Samara-
Chrisostomidou, Alexandros Vaitsos
Construction documents: Dionysis Dikefalos, Carlos Loperena, Maria Pappa, Alexandros Vaitsos
Construction management: Carlos Loperena, Maria Pappa, Alexandros Vaitsos
Project consultants:
Structural engineer: ERISMA G.P
Mechanical engineer: TEKEM S.A
Site manager: Petros Papageorgiou
Botanologist: Kalliopi Grammatikopoulou
Lighting design: Aslight
Topographer: Giorgos Filippou
Pool study: Stathis Palaiodimopoulos
Oculus design: Manos Vordonarakis
Project data:
Parcel size: 11.000 square meters
Corral size: 2.800 square meters
Total conditioned area: 280 square meters

Materials and systems
Exterior walls: mixed masonry / thermal, insulation / stone-rubble walls, Exposed concrete beams
Interior walls: masonry
Interior ceilings: plastered reinforced concrete, slabs with insulation and planted roof system above
Floors: smooth-troweled concrete and kalderimi (stone path)
Oculus: custom-built skylight with mechanical iris and custom pendant luminaire
Glazed doors: sliding aluminum systems
Window: tilting aluminum system, Still canopies with slanted wooden beam, Inserts, Stretched fabric canopies
Cabinetry: handpicked walnut veneer
Kitchen countertop: assoluto nero granite
Marble in bathrooms: custom solid marble sink and shower walls (marble: Kozani Urania Sandstone: Pietra Etrusca)
Pool and veranda marble: Aliveri marble

Schematic design start: January 2016
Construction start: May 2017
Construction completion: March 2020
Photography: Yiorgis Yerolymbos

About DECA Architecture  
This house on the island of Milos represents yet another opus in DECA Architecture’s coherent portfolio of works. Described as a research-based practice but with a sophisticated hands-on approach, the studio’s founders draw on literature, cinematography, philosophy, history and engineering when approaching a diverse range of projects.

Rigorous and concept-driven, DECA Architecture engages in designing, building, researching and
teaching. Since its founding in 2001, it has designed and completed projects in Greece, Italy and the United Kingdom. Current projects include: The Lemon House in Antiparos, a residence that learns from a vernacular agricultural typology; the Floating Gardens in Athens, a concept for a family home in the suburb of Psychico; the Liquid Soul, a 7-storey Art Hotel in the port of Piraeus.