In an area where most pristine rural land cannot be built upon, our clients stumbled upon an olive grove where they would be allowed to build a new house of 300 m2 if it had a sloping tiled roof. They asked us to build them a house for year-round enjoyment of the landscape (they work remotely) but otherwise gave us carte blanche (apart from the budget). This is an area where the climate is harsh, with hot Summers and very cold Winters. The landscape is beautiful, but apart from a few old stone villages, there is no city within 100 miles. So the brief was as much about what could be executed as about what we wanted to build.
We placed the house in the one location where we detected a summer breeze and oriented it perfectly to allow summer shading and winter passive heating, as well as enjoyment of the views and those famous breezes. We had to create a house with a strong relationship with the surrounding landscape, which is stunning. The house develops almost entirely over one floor with living and sleeping functions divided over two wings, which meet in the middle around a volume housing the entrance and the study.
Running through the house from one extreme to the other is a rammed earth wall, created using the earth excavated for the pool and foundations. It refers to an ancient technique used in Spain in the past, but which has entirely disappeared. The wall anchors the house to the landscape and allows the landscape to be fully experienced inside as well as outside. Not only is this experience a visual one, with the wall changing throughout the day, depending on the light, but it invites touching, creating a unique tactile architecture. This wall gives thermal mass to a house which otherwise is made from an entirely wooden construction, prefabricated off-site to allow quality control and high insulation and hermeticity. Large windows slide into the walls to allow uninterrupted views and are paired with wooden shutters that either fold or slide.
To meet the roof regulations, we stretched the understanding of “sloping” to its limit, designing a sculptural roof that has just the minimum slope. The roof of each wing meets around the entrance volume, which serves as a kind of hinge. Wide eaves wrapped in stainless steel provide protection from the sunlight, but also cover and protect the rammed earth wall. The eaves are paired with wooden decking running around the perimeter of the house, inspired by the Japanese “engawa”, a space that is neither inside nor outside and which invites us to contemplate the landscape.
The house is built to Passive House standards and has underfloor heating and cooling as well as ventilation with heat recovery. Being entirely off the grid, the house gets its power from a large solar array built on top of a separate garage building, some 100 meters away.