When we first met the client he asked us to build a house “in shadow colour”. It sounded like an interesting challenge so we agreed to design this private house for a wealthy customer, a choice that doesn’t often come our way.
We were to produce plans for a summer and winter holiday home at an isolated spot in the deep south of Chile. The client wanted not so much a finished design as our thoughts on all possible variants so that we could arrive at an equation together with them. The project would then be the solution to that equation.
A volcanic area, 4000 mm of rainfall a year, powerful solar radiation, strong winds from north and east, a view onto the lake and the forest, difficulties to solve in bringing materials to this remote spot, all a priori architectural romanticism ruled out, ancient or modern: these were the ingredients of an “unknown dish” in the concocting, which ought to have a familiar feel about it once it existed.
Given the extreme weather conditions, we began by hedging our bets and having a conventional gable roof to shed precipitation. Gradually we went on to lengthen one of the two pitches till it touched the windows on the outer perimeter, trying to prioritise the views but also avoid the main winds. The rule for the windows was the same as a surfer’s on taking to the water and negotiating the waves: you cut across them obliquely or you squat down. If the windows framed something vertical like a tree or a forest path, we would make them tall and narrow. If they captured a spread-out view like the lake or volcano, we squashed them outwards and kept them low.
The same principle of “seeing and avoiding” also explains the layout of the first floor plan. The ground floor contrasts with this, being a sturdy regular box, earthquake-proof and suited to a volcanic terrain. And we should not forget the norms of security needed for a house which spends part of the year shut up.
The stone comes from nearby quarries, the wood from clearing the site to build the house. The darkness of the object, its shadow colour as the client wanted, was the solution we found to keep at least something of the original dense, virginal site.