by Jincy IypeMay 22, 2023
A modernist, minimalist fortress. A severe, graceful, mute monolith. Award-winning Chilean architecture practice Pezo von Ellrichshausen's new home and work base, an elegant monument in exposed concrete, defies definitions and refuses to be boxed into a mono typology. Four years in the making, the Luna House features a sternly square footprint spanning 2,400 sqm, described by its authors as a ‘secular,’ ‘large and small building, at the foot of the Andes Mountains' in southern Chile. The self-commissioned geometric design is an aggregate of 12 different, low-lying buildings, 'separated from each other by visible seismic joints,' and arranged in a square grid around four light-filled courtyards. "Saying that this collection of concrete blocks is a house would be too simple. Saying that it is a museum would be too humble. Besides its secular kind, this group of buildings is rather a cloister,” the founders explain.
Geometric and poetic, the residential architecture’s severe outline, an elongated stroke of grey on the verdant landscape, is granted subtle relief with distinct interior spaces, ranging from intimate and grand, to muted and semi-open ones, as well as soulful, symmetrical apertures including skylights and windows, reminiscent of stereotomic architecture. Clinical clean lines articulated through the rawness of grey, reinforced concrete, along with glass and recycled wood help choreograph the 'architectonic experience' of the contextual design, which remains in perpetual conversation with the region’s forested foothills.
“The spatial quality of every room, both interior and exterior, is punctuated by singular openings in multiple directions, thus establishing a faint functional division line: there is almost no contrast between those rooms for living and those for working (from painting to gardening). In some corners there are accents of intimacy, in others the weight, emptiness, and opacity become somewhat monumental,” they remark on the project’s lyrical, austere, and light-filled interiors. Compellingly, the living spaces as well as those for work and exhibition encompass myriad rooms of varied programs, designating a deliberate, fluid spatiality between the private and professional workings of the duo.
The square footprint of the minimal architecture is separated by an ‘asymmetrical cross,’ with rooms placed at its perimeter as well as its core. “These rooms form a horizontal extension around four distinct courtyards—an elongated one following the natural terrain together with the sunrise and sunset; another long one facing north totally flat and with a water stream that connects a solitary Chilean chestnut with two triangular ends; a non-directional one filled with a circular flower garden and one more thrice its size and holding a pond and some old trees,” the architect duo explains. The size of the bigger courtyard is what lends the intricate structure its name, equivalent to the size of a bullring (called “medialuna” in Chilean rural tradition). “But names are rather irrelevant for us,” they add, posing more intrigue.
The pronounced horizontality and flatness of the Luna House is intentional, articulating an almost imperceptible transition between the two floors of the project. “A fortress-like presence, despite the exaggerated lack of thickness of its artisanal concrete walls, is divided by horizontal strata of regular cornices. In opposition to those rough surfaces, the patio walls are crowned by bold eaves, some of them rounded, some of them straight,” they continue.
STIR speaks to Chilean architects Sofía von Ellrichshausen and Mauricio Pezo, founders of Pezo von Ellrichshausen, to study the intricacies of designing Casa Luna, their home and workspace, and the interchange of extroversion and introversion in this ‘architectonic object.’
Jincy Iype: You are known for your signature architectural style and vocabulary of Brutalism-meets-minimalism. Could you elaborate on your concept and inspiration that led to the concrete-cloaked geometric project Casa Luna, and the thought behind naming it so?
Sofia von Ellrichshausen: We do not work with concepts or inspirations. We believe it is too reductive, too much of a simplification for the complexity of an architectonic object. Instead, we prefer to understand buildings as discreet devices, as self-referential systems of signs. Thus, their integrity, in our view, is potentially given by the various spatial relationships throughout its interior.
Mauricio Pezo: Of course, there are always motivations and intentions, for the spatial organisation of architecture. In the case of Luna, the spatial relationships are confined within a flat, horizontal format that extends on a gentle, natural slope, populated by old native trees. One of our intentions was to react to every single tree, as living custodians of the mountain. We do not interpret it as a figurative or metaphorical position but as the necessary acknowledgment of a prehistoric dimension, of a potential symbolism underlying the visible world.
Sofia: The project had an open functional scope. It was meant to be a place for our own life and work, thus intertwining domesticity with painting, sculpture or drawing workshops. It was relevant for us to articulate those functions with outdoor rooms, gardens, and the surrounding natural landscape. We understand buildings in their capacity to resonate, to become a mirror of their cultural background.
Mauricio: Luna, the name, comes from a beautiful device imported to America during colonisation: the bullring, called “medialuna” in Chilean vernacular language. Despite its specific use, popularised as a sport, we were always fascinated by its shape and size, big enough to cancel the sense of interiority but small enough to allow for an intimate human relationship from its perimeter. From that figure, we were just recalling its size, which gave the approximate dimension for the larger courtyard of the building.
Jincy: Resting at the foot of the Andes Mountains, how does the dynamism of the verdant site influence the architecture and interiors of the Luna House?
Sofia: The magnificent wild setting was indeed crucial in our endeavour to think about the potential of the building. From the specific topography to the position of every single tree, from the movement of water to the quality of the soil, everything had an influence on the architecture. Some of those influences are explicit, like the position of a large, ancient Chilean nuts tree at the very axis of one of the long courtyards, but most of them remain hidden, almost like tacit presences, like a form of reciprocity in which a natural ground is not that different from a rough concrete pavement.
Mauricio: There is also a temporal dimension to the picturesque setting. The verdant character is, in fact, a partial fraction of an ever-changing landscape, with clearly defined seasonal cycles, turning from bright oranges in autumn to pale snow in winter, and so on. Thus, the building remains as a kind of mute monolith, as a kind of framing device for that pass of time.
Jincy: I am interested in knowing how Casa Luna is “a large and small building” at the same time.
Sofia: The large dimension is given by its footprint, which is equivalent to a city block. Within this large scale, clearly demarcated by a continuous outline, there are many smaller rooms that subdivide a complex system of relationships. These interior articulations have a more intimate scale, with rooms that resonate with the size of our bodies.
Jincy: And what makes it "secular"?
Mauricio: It is a secular building, like any other building that does not attribute a religious purpose to itself. We like to read its horizontally expanded format with a system of courtyards as belonging to the monastic tradition of cloisters, and yet, we also prefer to step aside any religious connotation.
Jincy: "But names are rather irrelevant for us.” What was your intent behind this statement, in the context of your design?
Mauricio: This is a problem we have been fascinated with for a long time, which touches both epistemology and metaphysics. We believe that architecture is a form of knowledge, which means that buildings are devices to know, and also, to believe. After this assumption, we are interested in questioning the capacity of buildings to be both means and ends. On the one hand side, buildings can be read, can be decodified, can be legible (I see a door on a wall, and I know I could cross that wall). On the other side, buildings also allow us to read beyond themselves, through their walls or openings, we are able to see, and eventually to understand, something about the world.
In this sense, we actually do not need words to describe an architectonic experience. Of course, concepts and metaphors are widely employed for communication or competition purposes, but they are rather irrelevant to the actual experience of a building. We like to insist on this rather tacit opacity of architecture. We believe buildings are material, spatial, and temporal structures, as much as any bridge, tree, or stone.
Jincy: What lends articulation and meaning to the project’s distinct geometric openings, carefully placed motifs and details, and its pronounced monolith form?
Sofia: LUNA is filled with anecdotal elements. The bold spatial structure is somehow diluted by irregularities. And yet, despite this overall complexity, the individual parts are rather discreet, with simple shapes and ratios. As you can see from photographs and drawings, the openings vary from 1:1 to 1:2, and the skylights are either square or circular, with various transformations that increase the degree of individuality and identity for every room. Anyhow, we are not at all interested in playing with shapes but in establishing a coherent, singular system of relationships with basic forms. In other words, it is not the shape of the window but what you see through it.
Jincy: Brutalist and minimal architecture combine within Casa Luna—why bequeath the cloister concrete materiality?
Mauricio: We believe that roughness and irregularity are characteristic of a ruin, of a building that belongs to another time. We not only like that it feels like an ancient construction but also that it has become an explicit crystallisation of a human effort. In a smooth and perfect concrete surface, there is almost no human scale. It feels machine-made. In the case of LUNA, every concrete wall, as much as the recycled wood cladding, becomes a documentation of the human condition, of the imperfect nature of everything we do with our own hands.
Sofia: There is an anthropological dimension, as much as a psychological one. LUNA is a large building built with basic means. Everything was handmade, from the cutting and bending of the steel rebar to the formwork carpentry or in situ mixing of the concrete. This small-scale process brings a small grain, a human texture, with thousands of tiny misalignments, uneven surfaces, broken corners, stains, and cracks, in other words, irregularities that are closer to nature than to an idealised artifact.
Jincy: What are some noteworthy distinctions of Casa Luna?
Mauricio: The distinction of twelve buildings, is no more than a technical detail. The building is and was always intended to be, a single building. Its sheer size allows for a diverse range of spatial situations. In fact, it is rather useless to try to reduce the experience of it to a few photographs, since there is no main angle, hierarchy, or main access. The spatial complexity of the interior is given by a precise arrangement of proportions, with four larger courtyards and a series of smaller and more intimate outdoor rooms. Every spatial unit is articulating a specific situation, in relation to light, existing trees, topography, and more.
The functions go from a domestic scale, with five separate dwellings, to workshops for painting, sculpture, wood, and metal works. There are also galleries and exhibition spaces and even a library (on a cylindrical, elevated volume). The distances and orientations of every room are what characterise the spatial sequences—and yet, there lies a strong sense of totality, of being a single place.
Name: Casa Luna (Luna house)
Location: Santa Lucia Alto, Yungay, Chile
Area: 2,400 sqm (Surface); 120 hectares (Site)
Year of completion: 2022
Client: Fundacion Artificial
Architect: Pezo von Ellrichshausen (Mauricio Pezo and Sofia von Ellrichshausen)
Collaborators: Emilie Kjaer, Maria Arnold, Isabella Hubsch, Thomas Harlander, Fabian Puller, Olga Herrenbrücks, Torun Stjern, Simon Bohnet, Amelie Bès, Elina Zempetakis, Jeffrey Wu, Jasper Lorenz, Hannah Frossard, Pablo Valsangiacomo
Structure: Sergio Contreras
Construction: Constructora Natural
- Brutalist Architecture
- Chilean Architect
- Concrete Architecture
- Contemporary Architecture
- Contextual Architecture
- Contextual Design
- Courtyard Design
- Exposed Concrete
- Geometric Design
- Interior Design
- Minimal Architecture
- Modern Architecture
- Modernist Architecture
- Natural Landscape
- Pezo von Ellrichshausen
- Residential Architecture
- Residential Design