ELEMENTAL designs a refined concrete stronghold with Elemental House in Mexico

Commissioned as the first prize for the 75th Sorteos Tec raffle organised by the Instituto Tecnológico de Monterrey, the project addresses an irregular site through contradiction.

by Jerry ElengicalPublished on : Dec 17, 2022

A sculptural exposed concrete residence, subdued yet pristine in its detailing, 'Elemental House' is the latest built work completed by ELEMENTAL, led by Pritzker Prize-winning Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena. The project in San Pedro Garza García, Nuevo León, near Monterrey, Mexico, was built as part of a charitable initiative organised by the Instituto Tecnológico de Monterrey. Sorteos Tec, the university’s flagship lottery, has provided students with scholarships and financial aid, supporting a number of allied initiatives in this realm since its inaugural edition back in 1947. For its 75th anniversary celebrations, the raffle's organisers partnered with the Santiago-based firm to produce this private residence as an enticing first prize for the auspicious occasion.

  • The home is located on an irregular tapering plot bordered by built forms on two sides | Elemental House | ELEMENTAL | STIRworld
    The home is located on an irregular tapering plot bordered by built forms on two sides Image: The Raws - Paco Álvarez
  • Conceptual sketches of the home | Elemental House | ELEMENTAL | STIRworld
    Conceptual sketches of the home Image: Courtesy of ELEMENTAL
  • Overview of the form development process | Elemental House | ELEMENTAL | STIRworld
    Overview of the form development process Image: Courtesy of ELEMENTAL

Generated by an additive process that placed an upright cylindrical volume atop a projecting trapezoidal base, the illusion of simplicity radiated by the building’s morphology, bears comparison to one of ELEMENTAL’s earlier private residential design endeavours—Casa OchoQuebradas. However, beyond the surface-level similarities in form development and design vocabulary, the two projects are distinct in virtually every other respect. While Elemental House is located in a densely developed urban locale, its spiritual ancestor occupies a cliffside site, and conforms to its secluded coastal context, with an interior that could not be described as nothing less than a celebration of the primitive.

The building’s concrete surfaces feature striations alongside arched subtractions that provide breaks in the cylindrical massing | Elemental House | ELEMENTAL | STIRworld
The building's concrete surfaces feature striations alongside arched subtractions that provide breaks in the cylindrical massing Image: The Raws - Paco Álvarez

On the other hand, Elemental House is far more refined and contemporary in its identity. Its naturalistic palette, mediated by more modern touches, was fashioned in the style of a castle—inward looking and closed off in nature. As the design team mentions in an official statement, “We faced multiple fronts for the design, one of which was typological. We have always been struck by the double condition of castles: they are fortresses turned inwards, protecting something inside that we cannot see, and simultaneously they are a strong, monumental, abstract presence in the world. Castles are introverted, but not shy." They add, “We wanted to capture some of that in this house: a place that almost silently takes care of private life and at the same time a place that is inevitably a declaration of principles in public life.”

  • Gardens have been placed throughout the layout, as incisions cut into the plan | Elemental House | ELEMENTAL | STIRworld
    Gardens have been placed throughout the layout, as incisions cut into the plan Image: The Raws - Paco Álvarez
  • These spaces furnish views of the surrounding landscape | Elemental House | ELEMENTAL | STIRworld
    These spaces furnish views of the surrounding landscape Image: The Raws - Paco Álvarez

Responding to the site, a tapering plot boxed in by built forms on two sides, the architects opted for a shape that would acknowledge its surroundings in all directions, settling on a cylinder to compose the structure’s main volume. The podium beneath it adheres to the geometry of the plot, supporting a straightforward yet innovative solution to a sensitive situation. ELEMENTAL shares, “A concentric structure appeared to be the most synthetic way of responding to this double condition through a single operation. But it was also the most straightforward way to respond to an irregular plot with contradictory geometry and orientations.”

  • View into the home’s balcony | Elemental House | ELEMENTAL | STIRworld
    View into the home’s balcony Image: The Raws - Paco Álvarez
  • Marble, stone, and cuéramo wood define much of the interior palette | Elemental House | ELEMENTAL | STIRworld
    Marble, stone, and cuéramo wood define much of the interior palette Image: The Raws - Paco Álvarez

Known for their acclaimed social and affordable housing endeavours, alongside works in cultural architecture and institutional architecture across their native Chile, ELEMENTAL devised the residence’s architectural scheme in accordance with a brief that had been refined to a tee over previous iterations of the lottery. Given a well-defined program and an area restriction of 600 sqm for the area in which to accommodate it, the designers sought to expand each of the home’s functional components to the maximum. In this regard, the act of lifting the cylinder above the ground level served to maximise the area of public spaces under it, permitting the to take up virtually all of the plot.

  • First Floor Level | Elemental House | ELEMENTAL | STIRworld
    First Floor Level Image: Courtesy of ELEMENTAL
  • Second Floor Level | Elemental House | ELEMENTAL | STIRworld
    Second Floor Level Image: Courtesy of ELEMENTAL
  • Third Floor Level | Elemental House | ELEMENTAL | STIRworld
    Third Floor Level Image: Courtesy of ELEMENTAL

Subtractions are a prominent feature of the building’s façade design, both inverted and upright, creating breaks in the solidity of the concrete architecture. A void in the lower volume for a covered four-car garage reduces the building’s visual weight, which is essentially concentrated on the curved form topping it. The cylindrical structure’s surface is riddled with vertical striations, evoking corrugated sheets from certain angles. On its front face, the upper volume features a large inverted arch cut out from its mass. Alternatively, the other side of the building features a gradual transition from transparency to opacity as breaks in the envelope grow more infrequent along its rise. This configuration aids in maintaining privacy and limiting heat gain. Furthermore, placing the thermal mass of the building along its periphery, in the form of a thick concrete wall, was another contextual design measure for climatic adaptation—a move influenced by paradigms in Mexican architecture. The home’s central void remains constant throughout its ascent, as wall placements and all other facets of the layout morph over different levels, offering a view that basically cuts through the entire structure.

Section | Elemental House | ELEMENTAL | STIRworld
Section Image: Courtesy of ELEMENTAL

Living and dining areas have been arranged on the ground level, in accordance with the hierarchical zoning of public and private spaces in the residence’s program. Overlooking gardens and other open areas that host landscape design, these outdoor spaces provide views of the context, while skilfully breaking the concrete massing. Two bedrooms and a family room occupy the second floor, while the third is dedicated almost entirely to the master bedroom and another common area. “Although the master bedroom's size is exactly the one defined in the brief and consequently stops at the equator of the circumference, from the point of view of the spatial experience, it extends further towards the entire perimeter of the structure,” notes the design team. Mexican designer Ana Landa and her practice Línea Vertical took charge of the interior design, which channels an aesthetic that is modern yet decidedly Mexican in its character. Employing marble, stone, cuéramo wood, as well as red and green coloured furniture designs to contrast the dark grey tones of the interior, the home also makes use of lithographs and sculptures by Mexican artists, which further ground the minimalist-leaning design in its cultural context.

Model | Elemental House | ELEMENTAL | STIRworld
Model Image: Courtesy of ELEMENTAL

Aravena, Executive Director of ELEMENTAL, notes about the project’s objectives, in an official release: "This house made for Sorteos Tec transforms architectural value into lottery tickets to finance the education of hundreds of young people and improve their quality of life expectations. This ends up supporting the common good; something similar to what is done through social housing. That is what one as an architect seeks to achieve all the time—to contribute to the common good through their work.”

Project Details

Name: ELEMENTAL HOUSE, House n°213 Traditional Sorteo TEC
Location: Monterrey, México
Area: 614 sqm
Year of Completion: 2022
Architect: ELEMENTAL (Alejandro Aravena, Gonzalo Arteaga, Víctor Oddó, Diego Torres, Juan Cerda)
Lead Architect: Juan Cerda
Team: André Barros, Carla Donato, Diego Teran, Mara Cruz, Federica Tebaldi (Illumination)
Structural Engineering: SODICO ingeniería y Diseño – Raúl y Jorge Santos
Constructor: EDAGA - Homero Galindo
Interior Architecture: Línea Vertical – Ana Landa

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