by Jerry ElengicalSep 21, 2022
La Misión, a community in the state of Baja California in Mexico, was the context provided to architect Alfredo Navarro Tiznado of local firm Arquitetura Nativa, as part of a residential design project for a client who was a retired archaeologist. With a view of the ocean, the sloping site - which measured 15 m x 40 m - was situated between the tourist hotspots of Ensenada and Rosarito and featured uneven terrain littered with scrub vegetation and rocky outcrops. Having envisioned their intervention as a retirement home for the client and their partner, the architects developed a design “with the aim of unifying time, form, and context through its composition and materiality of ancestral origin.” Extruded in a series of terraces from the very earth it sits on, Casa Martha - the structure that emerged from this vision - was realised primarily through rammed earth construction, harnessing the material’s contextual relevance to make it truly feel like a product of its surroundings.
Besides its role as the couple’s retirement home, the project was also to act as a space for the plastic arts. In response, the architects proposed a scheme marked by simplicity and clarity, yet rife with layered meanings and references - both to the site as well as the clients themselves. The final structure seems to spring up from the terrain almost like a primordial shelter, excavated from the ground. Its earthy textures blend seamlessly with the context and are a true natural extension of it in many respects. Although the massing appears to lie low when viewed from a distance along the home’s front, the slope of the land it rests on deftly conceals the receding terraces that define the façade design.
Past the rammed earth compound wall along the plot’s perimeter, a ramp and stair lead to the garage/carpentry workshop and main entrance respectively. Situated along the first of the home’s terraces, they are bordered by fenestrations opening on the main road from the two auxiliary bedrooms on this level and preceded by an outdoor patio settled within a garden at the plan’s outset. The program here is bifurcated into a semi-public zone for the workshop and garage, along with the visitor area hosting the bedrooms. Both zones are screened by lattice windows woven from stalks of salt pine arranged in a frame. Producing a layered configuration that subtly screens light while permitting light to drizzle inwards and generate lively patterns across the interior walls and floors, these handcrafted elements are a fitting complement to the compacted earth, staying true to the overarching natural aesthetic that emphasises artisanal craftsmanship.
Rising along the gradient of the land, the terraced volumes engage in “a dialogue between themselves, embedded in the site and oriented towards the Pacific Ocean from a clear axis,” explain the designers. The earth compound wall enclosing them also recedes in steps at each level, giving way for more of the structure’s surfaces on the upper floors to bask in the sunshine. Behind the bedrooms is a kitchen with two courtyard spaces placed at the very end of this terrace to furnish all spaces with natural light and ventilation. The steps at the entrance extend deeper into the plan up to the second level, flanked by a pair of sit-outs, each leading to the living room further into the layout.
“On the second level, the core of the house is found: the entertainment room, dining room and kitchen make up the access threshold,” notes the design team. From the open lounge space centred on a console at its start, this area flows into a kitchen and dining space followed by a bathroom at the rear. The interior design here adopts the same subdued palette seen on the building’s façade, pairing upholstered seating with rustic wooden tables set against the backdrop of rammed earth walls and the salt pine lattice screens - which open to impressive views of the nearby landscape. However, the nature-themed palette is also contrasted by the industrial-style framing of the fenestrations and a more contemporary touch imparted by the furniture designs.
While the lower floors only recede from one another in profile, the uppermost level is a compact, private volume dedicated solely for use by the clients. Accessed via a staircase at the rear of the second floor which emerges into a vast landscaped terrace, this level effortlessly blends interior and exterior. All concealed from prying eyes by the wood lattice screens - shielding the interior from harsh winds - the master suite here is structured as a continuous series of spaces. Commencing with the bedroom and followed by a luxurious walk-in closet, the layout’s course is brought to a halt by the bathroom at every end of the plan, adjacent to another staircase that connects to the roof.
Concise and effective in its material use, reverence for the handcrafted, and subtle handling of spatial order, Casa Martha embodies the exceptional potential of rammed earth architecture to provide sustainable architectural solutions in adverse conditions. Acknowledging and adapting local ingenuity with a contemporary outlook, Arquitetura Nativa’s design “consolidates the site and topography themselves as raw materials for the project.”
Name: Casa Martha
Location: La Misión, Baja California, México
Area: 310 sqm
Year of Completion: 2021
Architect: Arquitectura Nativa
Lead Architect: Alfredo Navarro Tiznado
Design Team: Kenia Esmeralda García Rosas, Hanna Appel Hernández, Giancarlo Reyes Olguin
Construction: Pedro Luis Curiel Bojórquez, José Francisco Ramírez García, Alfredo Navarro Tiznado