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Upend the pyramid: Nida house in Navidad by Pezo von Ellrichshausen

An inverted ziggurat joins Pezo von Ellrichshausen’s family of domestic projects

Of the 70 projects designed by Mauricio Pezo and Sofía von Ellrichshausen since the practice was founded in 2002, 26 are houses, and half of these have been built, the 2003 Rivo House being the first. A series of iterations, the dwellings are defined by their relationship to their predecessors, coming together in ‘families’ of projects.

As architect Kersten Geers put it, ‘different families represent different types, groups of buildings that can only be organised a posteriori. It is as if in the slow process from one project to another, a succession of small transgressions eventually give rise to something completely different: a new family, another group of buildings, another type. Ultimately, their work is a typological exercise.’

Site plan - click to expand

Site plan - click to expand

Site plan - click to expand

Nida is the 13th house built by the small studio of Pezo von Ellrichshausen (PVE). Located in Navidad, a three-hour drive from Santiago on the Chilean central coast, Nida is their most northern built work so far in Chile (most of the houses can be found around Concepción, where the practice is based). Built on a hill just above Matanzas, a coastal village where surfers and residents have their beach houses, the project is deliberately autonomous, detached from this settlement and protected by a forest on the hill.

At 45 degrees to the Pacific Ocean, the house is defined by five square floors that incrementally expand in surface area as it rises, like an inverted pyramid. Starting with a small basement, the structure culminates in a generous roof terrace with views to the surrounding forest – where a few other private houses pierce the tree canopy in the distance – and to the sea.

Although this house seems to be part of PVE’s newest family of symmetrical, regular and non-directional buildings, it has its own nuances. Pezo says: ‘although we never refer to anything other than the building we are projecting at a certain moment, we cannot avoid extending our thoughts from previous projects. We believe in invention but always within our own personal memory.’ At Nida, the cross-shaped relations between levels and rooms that characterised Guna or Solo are absent. Instead, it is the horizon that captures the attention on each floor, from the bushes and the trees on the lower level to the ocean and the wind on the rooftop. Nida’s relationship to its surroundings is reinforced by the fact that the four corners of the enclosed and transparent living areas could be converted into open balconies – a principle already explored in Solo’s panoramic perimeter ring. 

Pve nida paint axo 01 copy

Pve nida paint axo 01 copy

Source: Courtesy of PVE

Axonometric painting by PVE

Plans - click to expand

Plans - click to expand

Plans - click to expand

The continuous view is only interrupted by a collection of white wooden furniture made in situ and strategically placed to disturb the rigidity of the framework. Von Ellrichshausen observes: ‘the lack of pillars at the crossing of the beams promotes a strong diagonal tension. There seems to be a charged void between every pair of pillars, like an abstract concrete sculpture on a wooden carpet.’ The furniture introduces complexity – new sequences and conditions – within this geometric composition.

The uniqueness of Nida relies on its structural order and clarity: an exposed upended ziggurat – which clearly recalls the structure of LAMP, an ongoing project for an art museum in Concepción by the architects – where the stepping-out of both concrete beams and columns strongly defines the format of the house, and aligns it with  its parentage. In von Ellrichshausen’s words: ‘it is indeed a self-centred structure, a fairly symmetrical object that refers to itself as an echoing podium of its hollow core.’ 

Nida House

Nida House

Source: Courtesy of PVE

Nida House

While almost all of their houses have tended towards opacity, concealing their own structure from both inside and out, Nida is the third transparent house after Arco and Solo – an aspect that distinguishes the symmetrical from the  asymmetrical families that coexist in the work.

The domestic realm has been the precise environment for the architects to test diverse spatial relations and to propose different ways of living – from Parr, with its nine courtyards, to Gago, with its 13 different levels. Rather than being restrictive – or even reductive – the spatial structures proposed always manage to provide delightful living environments. Each time, the designed frame fosters unique domestic conditions, encouraging activities both inside and around it.

‘We believe in invention but always within our own personal memory.’

The peculiarity of Nida is that it prioritises the surroundings while redefining the relationship between project and context on every level. From the top, the visual relationship with the lower floors is imperceptible, to the point of invalidating any contact with the natural ground. The very physicality of the built structure feels challenged, and the perception is one of artificial weightlessness.

A seismic context counteracted by the balance that the house offers, Nida is also a specific take on domesticity that seeks to maximise the collective spaces in the upper floors, while reducing the surface area of the private ones. Pezo explains that: ‘the format of a building is that precise proportion between two fundamentally spatial dimensions; size and direction. The total volume of air suggested by the programme is intentionally compressed or expanded to the degree in which its outline articulates a larger amount of contextual factors’.

Sections - Click to expand

Sections - Click to expand

Sections - Click to expand

PVE is trying to sustain a position towards a generic programme, taking advantage of the different contingencies in the design process. A process that critically looks at typologies, formats, freedom and beauty, all together. The architects’ method ‘is about inventing a perfect machine to do projects, which would be resistant to any case. It is something absolutely ambitious, but ideologically necessary’. 

Being partners both in life and at work, for Pezo and von Ellrichshausen personal life is completely integrated with the professional. While almost all of us are affected by everyday conflicts between living and working, the pair are facing the world from a very privileged position – or more precisely, their world: a shared project of life within art and architecture and without bureaucratic distinctions. Everything is personal. 

Nida House

Architect : Pezo von Ellrichshausen
Structural engineer : Luis Mendieta
Photographs : Courtesy of PVE

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