El Borinquen Residence is a varicoloured artistic ode to modernist social housing
by Jerry ElengicalFeb 28, 2023
•make your fridays matter with a well-read weekend
by Jincy IypePublished on : May 09, 2022
Nestled comfortably at the cusp of a dense, tropical jungle on one side and a pristine, white sand beach on the other, Casa Las Olas designed by Young Projects is a 1,858,06 sqm vacation home that embraces the slow life. Situated on a previously undeveloped, lush site in Playa Grande on the Dominican Republic coast, the project forms the dynamic hub of a deep, ocean-facing compound, replete with four structures - Retreat House, Guest House, Yoga Pavilion and Glitch House - supporting various programs from meditation and yoga, living and entertainment, to spa and treatments. All structures, distinct in their own might, aesthetically, structurally, and materially diverse, come together as one cohesive holiday retreat. “Yet, each addresses specific issues of program and use, and strangely cohabits the property along with the guests to the wellness retreat, designed to take advantage of both faces of the property, drawing inspiration from the rich natural landscape and the owners’ interest in hosting large groups of family and friends for retreats focused on wellness and creative exchange,” shares the New York-based architecture and design firm.
The American architects oriented the residential architecture to maximise the flow of natural light and ventilation inside all its spaces, in tandem with providing sweeping, panoramic views of the site’s natural beauty. The undulating roof, the project’s most dynamic and defining element, is crafted out of a fluttering assemblage of 160 exposed scissor trusses which change shape and rotate, resulting in “a highly complex and fluid structural condition that shifts along corridors, curves through primary double-height spaces, and rotates to navigate the geometry at each corner,” shares Bryan Young, principal, Young Projects.
“The scale of our work stretches to include buildings, interiors, furniture, material prototypes and objects of curiosity. There is an emphasis on making, material sensation and ambiguity, figuration, and spatial complexity. The unifying thread across all our projects is our desire to create oscillations and ambiguities, within and between hierarchical readings and definable characteristics, be they material, spatial or typological. Spatial oscillations are less immediate, relying on changing narratives or even contradictions of legibility: voids shifting to solids, planar hierarchies becoming volumetric. Typological shifts similarly present a known architectural reference only to consciously meander into different or hybrid typologies. Oscillation and ambiguity coexist constructively, but their natures differ. Ambiguity embraces fluidity, while oscillation celebrates rigour, with intention. Embracing these terms nurtures radical, open-ended work - architecture that resists convention while asking users to look deeper and question expectations,” he explains.
The Retreat House, known colloquially as Casa Las Olas, features two guest homes, a yoga pavilion, and a structure for relaxation right next to the sparkling beach. All the elements of the built as well as their interiors are connected by means of softly meandering pathways, giving the holiday home its fluid, relaxing character. “These carefully choreographed promenades preserve the natural environment of the site, subtly restructuring the landscape at key moments to transform the wild jungle into habitable space. Spatial bleeding is prevalent as buildings intersect exterior gardens, and throughout the house as loosely defined “rooms” overlap to promote connections and create unexpected view corridors,” says Young.
Essentially designed as a private home, the Retreat House is now a public vacation rental and marks the second collaboration between Young and his clients, a couple based primarily in New York. Their brief envisioned a “refuge from city life where serene, private spaces for contemplation coexist seamlessly alongside communal areas for creative exchange and entertainment,” the firm relays. The husband is a tech investor and a film producer, while the wife is a documentary film producer, meditation author, and yogi, and is currently developing a VR application for meditation, explaining the spatiality and varied program of the retreat. “Both are passionate philanthropists and art patrons with a large, like-minded community who they will entertain at the Retreat,” says Young. The vacation dwelling's architecture thus aspires to strike a balance with the landscape and the diverse set of activities from yoga retreats to family reunions.
A narrow road winding through the lush gardens approaches the set of buildings on a travertine and gravel footpath, upon an open-air entrance. This is lined in weathered ipe spills under the home and ascends travertine steps into a breezy central courtyard, the heart of Casa Las Olas. Here, framed views of the ocean and the far-off horizon reveal themselves in glory, “eliciting a sense of arrival”. Young describes this ascent as “a moment of compression releasing into the courtyard, and dramatic reveal of the postcard view of the ocean and horizon.”
In the most diagrammatic sense, the Retreat House is a transformation of a courtyard parti, where indoor rooms create a drifting ring encircling the central courtyard, trickling theatrically into the beach that fronts the property. This loop moulds and veers around the site’s most dazzling natural elements, comprising a vine-wrapped, age-old tree, bromeliads, and other symbiotic species growing at the lively courtyard’s centre. A sunken seating area was scooped out at the tree's base, creating space for intimate gatherings, and enjoying the dappled morning light. "The house itself is a promenade in the round, with shifting pockets of enclosure alternating between the centre (courtyard) and perimeter (jungle and sea)," the architects relay.
The courtyard’s outside face reveals itself in white concrete poured into a formwork of palm stems assembled from the site, cut into various lengths to create an abstract, organic and textural quality, where the “scalloped” surface becomes a stage for a subtle play of light and shadows. “In one manner, it is a living room set in the jungle,” says Noah Marciniak, Project Manager and Partner at Young Projects.
This designed jungle canopy essays another architectural guideline for the residential design - its roof barely kisses the canopy’s lower leaves but does not disrupt them. The roof then undulates across the top of the home, accentuating the residence’s semi-circular form. "The wife has compared the animated roof geometry to yoga positions," reveals Marciniak.
The residence’s generous interior spaces provide privacy, while simultaneously insisting upon the spellbinding landscape design that unfurls outside. "Dramatic spatial moments and views of breathtaking natural vistas punctuate each room and drive circulation through the home. A sense of discovery keeps moving you from one space into the next,” Young elaborates. Each of the home’s seven bedrooms features an abundance of natural light and a private balcony for the uninterrupted jungle - and ocean-gazing - specifically spectacular, the master bedroom slips out from the rest of the second floor to provide views in all directions, while the balcony hosts a private meditation nook and yoga platform designed specifically for the wife.
Common spaces inside also take advantage of the compound’s "overarching indoor-outdoor lifestyle", oriented towards massive windows and doors that reveal sprawling terraces and expansive views when thrown open. Conceptualised as a grab-and-go “24-hour Deli,” the kitchen makes possible outdoor picnicking on the terrace or the beach. The lofty dining room was conceived for a more formal setting, with two substantial Paola Lenti tables in lava-stone tile and black-and-green crystalline enamel glaze that seat 28, in tandem with ceiling-height glass doors that open on three sides for al fresco dining.
The open-air living room enjoys a dramatic double-height space, extending up to nine metres, with exposed overhead roof trusses from which Young Projects-designed rattan Bover pendants suspensions, while The Elephant Table, also designed by the firm, anchors the room. This arrangement of six polished Mesa Quartzite stones can be taken apart, acting as stools, podiums, or side tables, or aggregated into a single table around which larger groups gather. "The table is personally significant to the owners, as each element represents a different member of the family (two parents and four children)," Young explains.
Multiple seating areas and tables for freeform gathering face either inside elsewhere here, towards a bespoke concrete bar, or the pool or ocean that stretches just outside. The pool features an infinity edge towards the ocean, while its shallow end integrates a wide wading section in which lounge chairs can be submerged.
The family room is able to draw attention to both its interior and exterior activities - a built-in entertainment centre and suspended mahogany-and-steel shelving unit becomes one of the focal points, while floor-to-ceiling glass doors on three sides open to the home’s natural surroundings. Just adjacent, a terraced Plein-air zone with a weathered ipe ceiling (the result of a second-floor overhang) serves as a cigar lounge, game room, and screening area. Concrete benches and terraced steps accommodate sitting or lounging, while the ceiling hosts a hidden projector that drops down, transforming the entire area into an outdoor movie theatre with three levels of seating encompassing 30-50 viewers.
Curated and selected by Young Projects in collaboration with the wife, the furniture complements the property’s natural landscape and the overall "sensation of relaxation and ease that the owners hope the home embodies. The owner’s goal is to give the house a distinctive feel: what is the smell and what are the touches that make it feel special, a precise place and memory for the family and their guests,” says Young.
Like the rest of the house, interior design’s palette and materiality is underscored as contemporary and tropical, with a focus on colours, textures, and natural woods. The ground floor witnesses domination of saturated hues - the living room features deep emerald green fabrics, the dining room is punctuated by a teal venetian plaster wall behind a custom black lacquer built-in, and the library by a deep navy wall behind mahogany shelving. In contrast, the second-floor bedrooms are kept airy and earthy, with a focus on neutral tones and textiles, where rattan surfaces intersect with white alabaster terrazzo floors and occasional, different accents of colour and material.
The master bedroom features a custom textile screen by Hiroko Takeda and KWH, while the guest suites have a light-blush venetian plaster accent wall. Furniture and decorative objects were sourced from both local Dominican designers (Casa Alfarera, Ysabela Molini) and boutique New York-based designers (Kai Wei Hsu, Hiroko Takeda, Hollis & Morris, MVG MTNS, Egg Collective, and Chen & Kai), including several commissions organised by Colony Design.
Beyond the Retreat House, the other structures across the compound encourage private reflection and wellness, each with a unique function and aesthetic. The otherworldly, artsy Glitch House, for instance, is the first volume visitors encounter upon arrival from the jungle side, setting the tone for the structures that follow. “Rather than marking this moment with a defined boundary or gatehouse, Glitch House strangely smears itself into the jungle landscape,” says Marciniak. This two-story residence houses staff and boasts 30.65 sqm of accessible roof gardens, and is composed of concrete masonry block and flat CMU walls, oriented in an oscillating grid, with exterior surfaces clad in over 10,000 hand-painted encaustic cement tiles in mesmerising peacock blues, bright turquoises, leafy greens, and sunny yellows that alludes to a camouflage patern.
Closer to the Retreat House, the Guest House is a subdued, sun-drenched volume comprising four identical suites with attached bathrooms for additional guests. Two towering, age-old ficus trees in the nearby clearing determined the orientations of these rooms that rotate under a single roof, where the shaded areas between each bedroom form shared outdoor spaces. Each suite provides a view of one of the two trees through full-wall picture windows located at the foot of each bed. "Located in the only area on the lush property that is a natural clearing, the home is slightly removed from the shade of the jungle canopy and receives a significant amount of direct sunlight. It also has the capacity to serve as lodging and studio space for visiting artists, acting as something of a creative residency," Young elaborates.
The Rock House and Yoga Pavilion enjoy proximity to the shore and become zones that focus on thoughtful exercise, meditation, and relaxation. The former nestles at the beach’s edge as an assemblage of six stone-like masses "—a geometry broadly suggestive of naturally eroded rock formations or strange ruins," the firm says. Six cavities inside accommodate an open-air massage space, an underground sauna, a cold plunge pool, a treatment room, and steam and outdoor showers. The Yoga Pavilion features a large cantilevered roof that provides shade and rain cover for group yoga sessions, music performances, and al fresco dinners overlooking the ocean. The roof itself is an expansive ipe yoga deck, bordered by an infinity-edge water feature on all sides, with sprawling, uninterrupted views of the Dominican coast.
"The Retreat House is designed to take full advantage of the pristine beach-scape at the front of the property, balancing expansive views of the Caribbean with the experience of the lush, dense jungle that dominates the majority of the site," summarises Young.
Name: Casa Las Olas
Location: Playa Grande, Dominican Republic
Area: Retreat House: Conditioned – 675 sqm, Under Roof – 1,915 sqm); Guest House: (Conditioned – 136 sqm, Under Roof – 237 sqm); Glitch House: 182 sqm
Architect: Young Projects
Design team: Bryan Young (Principal), Noah Marciniak (Partner and Project Manager)
Interior Design:Young Projects with Sukey Novogratz
Interior Design Consultant: Jean Lin of Colony
Construction: Gentry Construction and Vanderhorst
Landscape: Green Paisajismo and Juan Diego Vasque
Local Consulting Architect: Estudio Sarah Garcia
Contributing Dominican Designer: Desiree Casoni
Styling and Floral Arrangements: Casa Alfarera (Ysabela Molini) and Bosque Urbanos (Natalia Franch) and Marina Vidal-Young
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