by Vladimir BelogolovskyJul 08, 2021
The idea of a remote yet temporary lodging space, especially during the year 2020, perhaps grew out of the urban claustrophobia that overwhelmed people. One of the terms associated with these remote getaway locations is ‘isolationist’. This is a misnomer. A more appropriate term would be 'introspective', especially if one were to catalogue some of these locations. While far-flung and distant, these tend to be connected to nature and the environment, thus inspiring peaceful and creative living.
This is especially true for the Casa Etérea. About 20 minutes from the UNESCO World Heritage Site of San Miguel de Allende in Mexico, nestled in the middle of mesquite trees, this off-the-grid retreat was conceived by Mexico-based Singaporean writer and designer Prashant Ashoka. Housed on an extinct volcano, the 75-square-metre dwelling is eco-powered. Visually and functionally, the project situates itself as an extension of the environment in which it is located.
Functionally, the cabin utilises solar energy and harvested rainwater to run. Ashoka approached this project intending it to be as non-intrusive as possible. The foundation of the house was built with rocks from the mountain itself. The V-shaped plan was oriented on location to naturally regulate the temperature.
One surface of the cabin is glazed with mirrors and uses a patterned ultraviolet coating. This coating makes the surface visible to birds while remaining reflective to the human eye. the other three sides including the two shorter ends are covered in glass. Speaking on the importance of integrating the location natural habitat, Ashoka explains, “The vision was to create a theatre to nature, so sustainability was crucial in achieving a truly complete integration with the environment”.
The glazed mirror façade gives the structure an ethereal appearance, which is also where it gets its name from. It also allows the structure to disappear within its surrounding. The V-shaped plan is angled at 120 degrees and replicates the staggering ravine. The open plan of the cabin is enveloped in floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors that offer framed vistas of the surrounding cliffs. They also open up to a decked patio and pool area shaded by a grove of olive and pomegranate trees. Remote-controlled outdoor PVC shutters were added to provide security and privacy
One of the ideas that inspired Ashoka was the concept of emotional architecture. The term was coined by modernist architect Luis Barragán and sculptor-painter Mathias Goéritz in 1953 in a manifesto presented at the Museo Experimental: El Eco in Mexico City. The manuscript suggested the need for symbolic content in design that is capable of inspiring emotions, and more importantly, moved away from the sterile modernist aesthetic of the time. The more digital our lives become, the more poetic designers and architects become. There has been a shift in design as more attempts are made to create memorable spaces that instigate a reaction.
The interior furnishing is especially welcoming - featuring jute, leather, wood and stone, there is a visual and aesthetic connection between the inside and outside. The natural materials are contrasted by a copper bathtub that anchors the interior layout as a statement piece. Addressing not only what one needs but also the desire of living comfortably, the furnishings, the outer deck, the rooftop access are all part of Ashoka’s idea of creating memorable spaces, not just comfortable or functional spaces.
The cabin tries to capture a poetic parable of reflection on one side and transparency on the other. Ashoka says, “Light becomes a structural element of this design, distorting the perspective of where the observer begins and the landscape ends. I wanted this interplay of light and scale to evoke a deep sense of awe for the wild, and to beg questions about our role as stewards in the preservation of our ecosystems”.
Name of the project: Casa Etérea.
Location: San Miguel de Allende in Mexico
Year of completion: 2020
Architect: Prashant Ashoka
Design team: Project Manager: Mario Gonzalez
Landscape Architect: Octavio Cambron Munguia