The austere geometry of the house is complemented by the modesty of its materials
An enfilade of rooms, strictly aligned in plan and section, was proposed by architects Pezo von Ellrichshausen as part of Living, their exhibition in Santiago, Chile in 2012. But their interest in rigorous geometric layouts goes back even further, to the 120 Doors installation in 2003, where walls comprised entirely of doors were arranged in a plan of concentric squares, forming narrow passageways leading progressively to a central void.
Their latest project, Guna House in Llacolen, Concepción in Chile, follows this line of enquiry. The upper floor of the house is based on a grid of 16 squares, with four modules per side arranged around a central courtyard. This void is the exact same size as the entirety of the lower floor, making it in effect a hybrid between a roof terrace and patio. Situated directly below the courtyard is the plinth, also divided into four equal quadrants.
Each room is punctuated by a repetitive, Aristotelian rhythm of openings that bring nature into the spatial narrative of the home. A similar grid of 16 modules on a two-by-two module pedestal is used at Solo House, completed in 2013 by Pezo von Ellrichshausen in Cretas, Spain.
In the words of filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky, ‘The cinema image then, is basically the observation of life’s facts within time, organised according to the pattern of life itself, and observing its time laws. Observations are selective.’ At Guna, the choreography of the spaces matches the daily living patterns of its inhabitants. The function of each module is based on its orientation and the sequence in which light enters the rooms throughout the day from the rooflights and the interior courtyard.
Guna House reflects on the experience of the body in space, its movement through space, and how daily tasks unfold in space, themes which can be seen in Pezo von Ellrichshausen’s earlier homes such as Rivo House (2003) and Poli House (2005).
The house also negotiates between its inhabitants and their context; the constructed artifice and its natural surroundings; the object and the landscape. This monolithic prism of concrete measures and scales the surrounding countryside, a remote strip of land on a sloping lakeside site at the edge of a eucalyptus forest. The weight of the building is in conflict with the smaller stem that roots it to the ground; a horizontal mass perched on a pedestal.
Guna House is also a new point of reference and orientation in this remote place. The surrounding landscape can be read as conceptually unfolding from this artificial insertion, because the work creates a new stratum and incorporates the sloping terrain and topography into its design. Its equilibrium, proportion and structure also serve to unify it with its natural surroundings.
The austere geometry of the house is complemented by the modesty of its materials. The rough texture of the concrete reflects the materiality of the local vernacular in rural Concepción. The concrete is streaked from wooden shuttering treated with a diluted black stain. The patina of the stone-like surface is in a state of constant chromatic change from the climate and weathering, giving the project a narrative dimension.
‘The preoccupation with the passage of time is a unifying theme. In the progressive weathering of the building’s skin and the permanence of its structure, the narrative and the house come together’
In Guna House, Pezo von Ellrichshausen plays with the notion of volume as mass and volume as space, as in the spatial investigations of Eduardo Chillida, for whom, ‘the mass exists because of the void and the void exists because of the mass’. This can be observed in Guna House where the delineation of the void gives shape to a patio as a fully enclosed space, open only to the sky. The void also makes possible the solid plinth, which supports and grounds the house, and the void acts as the nucleus of the home, to which all spaces connect.
Bruno Zevi defines architecture as a ‘large, excavated sculpture in which man penetrates the interior’ highlighting this relationship between mass and void, and understanding architecture as an operation of subtraction, material, and a succession of delimited spaces.
Guna House creates a cultural imaginary for the inhabitants of Concepción where memory, materiality and culture come together to create a new place. This type of architecture manages to bring something to its context even as it melds into its surroundings. The project’s preoccupation with the passage of time is a unifying theme. In the progressive weathering of the building’s skin and the permanence of its structure, the narrative and the house come together as one.
Architect: Pezo von Ellrichshausen
Collaborators: Diogo Porto, Joao Quintela, Lena Johansen and Cecilia Madero
Structure: Luis Mendieta
Photographs: Pezo von Ellrichshausen