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Cien House by Pezo von Ellrichshausen, Concepción, Chile

The worlds of work and home slot together with the economy and exactitude of a chinese puzzle in the latest house by Pezo von Ellrichshausen. Photography by Cristobal Palma

This latest house designed by the young partnership of Mauricio Pezo and Sofia von Ellrichshausen consolidates a growing lineage of ascetically minimal dwellings. Characterised by reductive geometries, articulated with large square windows, the houses have the engaging visual directness and simplicity of a child’s drawing, yet there is also a sophistication in how the architects experiment with space, and how a limited palette of materials is used to striking effect. Usually located in architecturally anodyne suburbs, these dwellings present a challenging, modern vision of domestic life.

Up until now, Pezo and von Ellrichshausen have designed houses for other people, with projects such as the Casa Fosc (AR June 2009), a vertically extruded trapezoid of green stained concrete, and Casa Chiguayante (AR January 2009), a complex, labyrinthine assemblage that reinterpreted the traditional Hispanic patio. The Cien House in the city of Concepción is a more personal commission, combining living areas for the couple and workspaces for their small practice of four to six people.

Occupying a wooded, suburban hillside site, the house is a synthesis of archetypal forms, a podium and a tower. Its symmetrical composition is generated by repeating and stacking a basic spatial and structural module, measuring 6m². Partly sunk into the sloping site, the podium is three modules long and two deep, and the tower is five modules high. There were restrictions on the house’s footprint, but not its height, so the solid, stark tower is a conspicuous presence in the landscape, like a primordial henge or outlook post surveying its surroundings.

Windows of varying sizes stud and penetrate the concrete wall planes, offsetting this laconic regularity. The concrete has also been chipped away manually to create a gently rutted surface finish, so the building’s rigorous geometry is counterpointed by rustic texture and a haptic, rough-hewn materiality. Podium and tower are distinguished by subtly different types of concrete aggregate. This unvarnished, functional spirit also extends to the interior, with its raw concrete walls and floors. In places, the concrete is lined with thin strips of pine, stained white and grey, as if the shuttering were still in place. In the living spaces, floors of warm eucalyptus denote a more domestic ambience.

An explicit distinction between the couple’s work and home life underscores the arrangement of spaces, giving the building an internal complexity, belied by the monolithic quality of its exterior. The upper level of the podium is a modern piano nobile, containing cooking, dining and living functions within a single fluid space. The podium’s lower floor will be appropriated as a fabrication workshop for the practice.

Sleeping quarters are housed in the two lower floors of the tower, with three levels of workspaces and studios above. These upper floors are accessed by a separate entrance and staircase that bypasses the living accommodation. Another separate staircase ties together the living quarters and workshop. So while the realms of work and home coexist, they remain physically discrete and self-contained, slotting together with the elegant economy and exactitude of a Chinese puzzle. ‘Trapped between these two factual worlds domestic life rests protected: a large room for daily use and a couple of bedrooms piled on it for the night,’ says von Ellrichshausen.

Architect Pezo von Ellrichshausen, Concepcion
Project team Mauricio Pezo, Sofia von Ellrichshausen, Bernhard Maurer, Eleonora Bassi, Valeria Farfan, Michael Godden
Structural engineer Patricio Bonelli

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