Architect practice FAR - Frohn & Rojas - has developed a truly unusual two-storey residence-cum-studio on the outskirts of Santiago. The basic architectural concept is one of progressive outward extension - starting from a central core and building on in layers. This gives rise to spaces that contain and are defined by construction elements as the volume grows like an organic being from its ‘hard’ kernel. As it grows, the layers become increasing lightweight, transparent and slender. So from the outside the house looks more like a gigantic tent. The walls seem to fluctuate; when lit up, the interiors are fully visible from outside.
The architectural programme has also other important objectives: creating an open, welcoming interior and employing eco-efficient building and servicing technology; in a word, building an eminently inhabitable, cost-conscious home that sits comfortably in its setting on the outskirts of the Chilean capital with the Andean mountains visible in the distance.
The 4,600 sq m plot is surrounded by a tall hedge, a recurrent feature of this suburban landscape, planted along the nearby main pan-American highway to afford the quarter some privacy. The architects have taken this plant perimeter as the building’s outermost wall sheltering it from the outside world. As a result, the terrain between this outer screen and the house becomes a fluid intermediate space available to the inhabitants. The building itself becomes an “interior” of this wider space and so requires no secluding barriers or walls. By the same token, the layered technique, as the architects call it, to a certain extent overturns traditional building concepts.
The plan moves progressively outwards. A central block in fair-face concrete rises through the building. Clad on the inside with ceramic tiles, it contains and secretes the bathrooms. A spiral staircase leads to the upper floor. Here, arranged around the parallelepiped concrete structure is a rectangular studio area enclosed by plywood partition walls and lit by natural light filtering through the transparent polycarbonate roof supported by a metal frame.
On the ground floor, the master bedroom, living, kitchen and dining areas, and guest room are set in spoke-like fashion around the central core. Some of the environments are double height. The Spartan concrete flooring has an embedded radiant heating and cooling system connected to a heat pump.
The building’s “second layer”, an intermediate glulam structural frame hinged to perpendicular and oblique uprights, creates further spatial divisions. Horizontal stiffening slabs double as shelves while still allowing light to penetrate.
The outer walls are a combination of wide, full-height slide-sliding glazed panels on tracks and polycarbonate panels on metal frames that continue up to become the pitched roof. The natural light flooding into the interior from the transparent walls takes on a soft milky quality thanks to the polycarbonate sheets.
The cut-diamond shaped outermost membrane enveloping the house like a sail is made of the material typically used for greenhouses. It filters sunlight and provides passive protection from irradiation. The overall impression is of fluidity, an object that is both luminous and reflective. Like a huge tent with a veranda, it creates an intricate relationship with its natural surrounds.