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Niqia Housing by Lorenzo Castro, Bogotá, Colombia

The simplicity of form and tactility of materials give Niqia a classic modern feel - Zurich circa 1960, perhaps. Photography by Lorenzo Castro

Some of Colombia’s best architects live in Bogotá and cherish the city’s universities and cultural institutions. But they and their work are less visible and interactive than in Medellín. The great size and traffic congestion of the capital encourage professionals to open an office conveniently close to where they live, typically in the centre or on the fashionable north side. And, as evidence that the momentum of urban interventions has slowed, many of the best recent buildings are private commissions located to the north, rather than public projects in the poorer neighbourhoods.

Lorenzo Castro exemplifies this shift. Earlier in the decade he headed a workshop within the city planning office, but now works as an independent consultant. He designed several major urban plazas, which have been poorly maintained by the present administration. His impressive, if rather chilly Memorial to the Fallen consists of a black granite block etched with figures rising out of the vast plaza that flanks the military headquarters and civic offices. Castro was inspired by the mountains and native American pictograms, but the block and its bleak setting seem more appropriate to parades than public use.

Far more humane and appealing is Niqia, the enclave of 13 terrace houses he built on a steep wooded site belonging to his family in a northern district of the city. The identical houses are grouped in four short rows beside the award-winning house of his architect father. Dicken Castro was influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright and the alternative modern tradition of Alvar Aalto; his son was inspired by Le Corbusier following an encounter with the Marseilles Unité.

The simplicity of form and tactility of materials give Niqia a classic modern feel - Zurich circa 1960, perhaps. The impeccably shuttered concrete and thin wall planes are more Swiss than late Corbusian, as are the fretted wood screens and the mono pitch roofs clad in pissara, a dark local stone. Bogotá is located high in the Andes and is notoriously wet; rain is channelled from a projecting spout into a reflecting pool beside each entry and then carried to a stream. Castro has made good use of the steep downhill site by separating the covered parking area at the top, from the houses further down the slope. In a city where too much time is spent breathing fumes in stalled traffic, it’s a relief to leave your car and walk home down a flight of steps and along well-planted pathways.

The houses follow the natural terrain and are oriented to the west to capture a view of the mountains. Side staircases separate each house and the entry facades are set back behind unfenced forecourts to enjoy openness and privacy. To the rear, the rooms open up to enclosed balconies and un-railed decks, engaging residents with nature and neighbours. The minimalist interiors combine a free flow of space through pivoting doors and expansive windows with precise detailing.

An attic story beneath the pitched roof gives the master bedroom the proportions of a loft. The concrete walls are subtly toned and the corners are chamfered. The board markings catch the light and add depth. A balustrade of rolled steel sheet and cantilevered steel stair treads complement the selva wood flooring and the boldly figured stone in the bathrooms. The Castros’ own house is enhanced by wall boxes for books and objects and the slatted chair he designed. The feeling of the space and its furnishings is sharp-edged yet serene.

Architect Lorenzo Castro Jaromillo, Bogotá
Project team Angelica Rojas, Jheny Nieto, Wilson Gamba, Juan Camilo Baquero, Catalina Parra, Diana Arias, Francisco Bohorquez

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