The height of relaxation
Sheila Kim -- Interior Design, 3/1/2003 12:00:00 AM
When the director of a Mexico City radio station commissioned Grupo Arquitectura to build a weekend getaway for his family, he requested an oasis that would truly be one with nature. His property, 65 miles outside the city, overlooked the mountains of Cerro del Tepozteco, known for its pre-Columbian pyramids. The land's 45-degree slope was not, however, a pretty sight for an architect.
Grupo Arquitectura responded by carving right into the hillside, clearing a 5,400-square-foot level platform. To hold back the exposed earth on the rear side and protect the level area from runoff, the architects borrowed the idea of stone retaining walls from local road construction. Here, the exposed earth is lined with iron fencing and steel I beams that hold back loosely piled stones excavated from the site. "It's a very practical system," explains Grupo Arquitectura director Daniel Alvarez. "When it rains, the water filters through to a drainage system below. A concrete wall would have created too much pressure."
In the center of this protected zone, Grupo Arquitectura built the two-story, three-bedroom Casa el Sereno. The structure's steel and pine components were prefabricated in Mexico City, then assembled on-site. "It was much easier and faster to construct it that way. The only non-prefabricated materials are the natural rocks," says Alvarez.
By siting the house just 61/2 feet from the rear retaining wall, the architects created an exterior corridor that essentially becomes part of the interior when the glass panels of the house's rear wall slide open. A similar front wall opens onto a patio. Opening both walls at the same time during warm weather transforms the ground level into a large sheltered terrace overlooking the mountains.
The sparsely furnished living-dining area takes up most of the ground level, with the kitchen and ancillary spaces tucked to the sides. The floor is tiled in black volcanic stone, softened in the seating area by a jute rug. The main entrance is not here but on the upper level—another Grupo Arquitectura response to the steep grade of the site.
The flip side of designing a house so open to the elements is providing adequate shelter from the strong sun. A cantilevered roof shades the patio in front. In the double-height master bedroom and its bathroom lined in travertine, window screens fashioned from bamboo filter the sun's rays while still offering glimpses of the view.
Sun worshippers get their due as well. The cantilevered roof above the front patio also supports the master bedroom's balcony, furnished with a hammock. Off the master bath, a smaller, more private deck is enclosed by pine slats.