Pezo von Ellrichshausen break the repetition of an ‘American Beauty-style’ suburb with a simple, green, corridorless home. Photography by Cristobal Palma
There is something unmistakably playful - thrilling, even - in the residential architecture of Mauricio Pezo and Sofia von Ellrichshausen. Whether through their experimental relationship with circulation, attention to rustic detailing or the imaginative addition of hidden closets and balconies, they produce work that constantly invites exploration and curiosity - an impressive achievement given that, ultimately, their architecture is both beautiful and functional.
Their recently completed Casa Fosc, near the city of Concepción, Chile, continues this tradition, building on and evolving some of their formal play from earlier works. The house, an irregular hexagon in plan and punctured by the various-sized square windows that have become the practice’s trademark, is situated on a gently sloping site in a new expansion of San Pedro de la Paz, a small town next to Concepción, where their firm, Pezo von Ellrichshausen, is based.
According to practice principal Pezo, the area is being converted into an ‘American Beauty-style’ suburb of generic detached houses with gardens and garages. Casa Fosc occupies the threshold between this development and the countryside beyond. As the 5-bedroom house was designed for a large family, the architects needed to maximise the amount of space allowed for by planning, so they began with the largest possible footprint. They then determined the shape by minimising proximity to neighbours, optimising views and accounting for sun, temperature and topography.
Visitors enter into the main living area on the first floor, which surrounds a central core of stairs leading to upper and lower levels. Because of the large number of rooms required, the architects wanted to make a house without corridors, so on each level rooms are designed around the core, expanding out to fit the polygonal and angled exterior walls.
It’s a curious spatial arrangement in the context of their work. Several of their best-known projects - Casa Poli (AR December 2005), Rivo House and Wolf House - feature the opposite arrangement, with circulation contained within a double-walled perimeter. Here, with all the bedrooms facing the core (which Pezo refers to as the ‘void space’), the massing appears clustered around a kind of hearth, a central object around which activity is organised - and with so many rooms, the core makes sense.
The materials work beautifully too, with black-stained pine steps surrounding a white-stained pine wall. Contrasting dark and light woods appear throughout the house. Pezo and von Ellrichshausen have impeccable taste when it comes to materials - here, the wood reminds me of Casa Poli’s white painted wood and cast concrete. The natural, almost messy way of treating materials ends up making them feel both timeless and aged as well as remarkably new.
One of the bolder architectural choices is the exterior treatment. The concrete walls are dyed green with a water-repellent coat of copper oxide. This quirky design arose from conversations with the clients, where they showed the architects pictures of rusted pedestals situated under monuments in local public squares. ‘The oxide drippings give the surfaces a quality halfway between mineral and natural,’ the architects explain.
‘The rooms themselves reveal more of the architects’ playfulness. Children’s rooms feature lofted beds, beds in a cubbyhole and plenty of ladders strewn about for climbing up and looking out of some of the higher windows’
Fenestration was determined by views, and stands out starkly from the exterior as the only thing that comes close to ornamentation. The windows also reveal some of the minor changes in level - another Pezo von Ellrichshausen characteristic. As well as the mid-level entrance, the parents’ bedroom is also slightly set off in section by several steps, a simple yet effective way of separating it from the rest of the house.
Here again there appears a connection to the firm’s other work. Where the architects succeed best is both through their conceptual play with the forms of their spaces and the relatively simple choices they make to add depth to their architecture. By using something as simple as a few stairs to vary the section, they transform the potential monotony of a space, shifting programme and adding a new dimension that can have a surprisingly significant impact. The duo’s work demonstrates, through decisions that vary in scale from building form to detailing, that there is still the opportunity for formal play and experimentation in a quotidian building type.
Architect Pezo von Ellrichshausen, Concepción, Chile
Project team Mauricio Pezo, Sofia von Ellrichshausen, Pia Hoffman, Oscar Otarola
Structural engineer German Aguilera
Services engineer Marcelo Valenzuela
Electrical engineer Carlos Martinez
Contractor Ricardo Ballesta
Casa Fosc by Pezo von Ellrichshausen, San Pedro de la Paz, Concepción Province, Chile