by Jerry ElengicalJun 16, 2021
On the outskirts of Morelia, the capital of the Mexican state of Michoacán, a textured wall conceals the elusive point of ingress to Casa UC - a single-storey residence built for a historian couple engaged in research and academia. Neatly tucked towards the end of the wall, which runs along the majority of the property's front, the entrance is shaded by a pavilion-like grid of sleek columns supporting a trellised canopy. "The character of surprise has always been something I have been implementing in my designs," says lead architect, Daniela Bucio Sistos. In the house, this notion of surprise is manifested through 'a shy facade that allows the user to gradually discover the interior, not revealing too much to the outside to perhaps astonish anyone who enters through its narrow accesses'.
From the clandestine entryway, a ramp ushers one to a foyer that forms the heart of Casa UC, from which all other zones branch out along the home's radial layout. Curved brick walls surround the space, structured as a circular court with a tabachin tree as its focal point. An elevated roof resembling a halo around the tree, surmounts the foyer's walls and provides shade.
Bucio Sistos reflects on the project's initial phases stating, "The biggest challenge was to have a site that did not have many qualities, no vegetation, and trying to imitate what nature sometimes gives us in other places". While confronting this issue, Casa UC's layout was conceived to create interesting walkable routes that allow the inhabitants to immerse themselves in reading and contemplation alongside nature.
Further, as per Bucio Sistos, the residential design parameters “arose from a concern to create a project with certain spatial ambiguity between the interior and exterior, that could sometimes be imperceptible". In this vein, most indoor spaces are directly in contact with the micro-environments produced by the house's semi-outdoor circulation spaces, utilising trellised canopies, louvered partitions, and large glazed openings to maintain visual and atmospheric links.
"The first brief for the project was to house 8,000 books, which is why the library is one of the guiding axes of the project," shares the architect. A large circular opening flanked by shelves puncture the street-facing end of the expansive library. This space overlooks a vast glazed wall with a view of the foyer, together forming an interconnected visual axis to the outside world. At the opposite end, another circular opening occupies the bounding wall of a patio linked to the auxiliary bedrooms.
Ocular centric themes are prevalent throughout the surfaces and spatial order of the home, particularly in the form of fenestrations, recesses, and lighting fixtures. Additionally, a nearly monochromatic material palette - featuring a play between innovative brick masonry, exposed concrete, and wood tones - tempered by an abundance of textures gives an impression of the structure's masses having been moulded from the earth itself. The distribution of its slender volumes forms voids and courtyards that ebb and flow in tandem with masonry walls along the sloped site.
"I always seek to collaborate with the producers of the region in my projects. Implementing stone and traditional materials placed to give texture to the plans has always been of interest to me. I believe that dialoguing with my region and the materials provided by each site results in a timeless character,” explains Bucio Sistos.
Besides the expansive library at its core, the residence's programme includes four bedrooms, a kitchen, and an orchard, along with dining and living spaces. Provisions for the infusion of diffused light were incorporated through small clerestory ribbon windows running along the walls of the bedrooms and the living and dining areas, all populated with elegant, predominantly wood finished furnishings.
The dining area features a live edge finished wooden table beneath a suspended lighting fixture, bordered by the white upholstered lounge seating of the living space and its adjoining covered terrace. Framed by massive cylindrical columns and floor-to-ceiling glazing, the section opens up to a row of cypress trees at the site's rear end. Enveloping masses are slightly cantilevered, along with the rest of the structure, 'to preserve a certain slenderness in the volumetry'.
A curved ramp provides a direct link between the living area and garden, with a uniquely designed water collection channel built into the groove of its parapet wall. "I think the sound of running water is an element that every living space should have, it gives you tranquility and serenity," remarks Bucio Sistos. Describing the process behind this element's design and implementation, she elaborates: “Experiments were made on site and it turned out that with small steps along the wall, the sound of the water flowing would be more significant, accompanying you on the journey and ending with a fall into a tank at the end".
In more ways than one, Casa UC proves that there is more than meets the eye, through every elaborately planned facet and detail that ornaments its silently meditative environments. Beyond the understated and introverted street-facing visage of its earth-toned exterior, an eloquent play of tones, geometries, and textures allow the spaces sheltered within to earnestly speak for themselves.
Name: Casa UC
Location: Morelia, Michoacán, Mexico
Architect: Daniela Bucio Sistos // Taller de Arquitectura y Diseño
Architect in charge: Daniela Bucio Sistos
Construction: Daniela Bucio Sistos, Edel Hernández
Year of Completion: 2021
Built area: 550 sqm
Collaborators: Isabel Molina Plaza, Gonzalo Nares Vázquez, Jimena Eslava Ramírez