by Zohra KhanApr 07, 2022
Santiago-based studio Izquierdo Lehmann has designed a set of eight houses located three blocks away from the city’s financial centre. Occupying a 2000 sqm site with an irregular topography, the masterplan of the Alcántara Housing compound has a central pedestrian walkway, which is flanked on either side by a row of eight two-storey houses. While three of them are along the passage’s northern edge, five are lined along the south. On the ground level, each of the houses features an L-shaped plan that consists of a common space in addition to a courtyard at the rear end, whereas private spaces such as bedrooms are distributed across the second floor.
As per the design team, the housing is born from the mélange of two typologies: “narrow row buildings facing a pedestrian street, typical of working-class accommodations from the early 20th century,” and patio houses capturing “a Spanish-inherited typology, deeply rooted in Chilean history.” The two systems are tied together by a continuous arrangement of wooden trusses.
What used to be a garden neighbourhood populated by large estates, has seen a rise in commercial development in the last 30 years, which has shadowed its character. A multitude of high-rise buildings propped up across Santiago's skyline contributing to the city's dense urbanism. The zoning regulations, however, retained a small portion of land which allowed only a restricted buildable area and a maximum height of three storeys. The site on which the Alcántara Housing sits is part of this land. Explaining how the purchase of the plot came through and what led to the collaboration of residents on the design scheme, Izquierdo Lehmann’s co-founder, Cristián Izquierdo Lehmann, explains, “Given the high price of the land, its low constructability and the profits expected by potential investors, a traditional real-estate business implied selling units at unaffordable prices for prospective users. Therefore, we developed the blueprint of the project, the constructor estimated its total costs, and we then gathered a group of eight families interested in living there. They bought the plot and developed the project without business margins. All the design decisions were discussed with the prospective residents and between them, till reaching standard agreements for the '8 Houses'.”
Perpendicular to the adjoining street, the central walkway of the housing compound is designed as a community space that is at the heart of the project. Laid out as a continuous enclosure, it facilitates access to each of the houses as well as a meeting point for the residents. The frontage of the houses, open onto this passage, which is designed as a striated blind wall clad in larch tiles. What adds another definition to this space is the placement of large, rammed earth planters, each positioned on a cantilevered ledge that hovers above the entrance of each house. Describing the idea behind creating this setting, Lehmann says, "We tried to create a green void for sharing a communal life where the kids could play under a continuous background, different from each house. Thus, we liberated the ground of the pedestrian alley and suspended huge planters of four feet diameter above each entrance.”
Inside the homes, the ground floor has an open plan layout comprising a lounge, a dining area, a kitchen and a living space overlooking a paved internal garden/courtyard. The façade along this side of the house is glazed; large floor to ceiling sliding panels appear on the ground level, and narrow vertical fenestrations featuring a combination of fixed and movable glasses on the second floor.
While Alcántara Housing was launched a few months before the coronavirus pandemic hit the globe, the project found new meaning when its occupants, “some of them friends from before, some barely acquaintances”, had to unexpectedly stay within the housing compound's enclosure. People sought refuge as the space transformed into an immunity bubble where “the walkway became a tennis/football/basketball court, the house’s main floor became common classrooms, the main bedrooms became offices and the private patios became beer gardens,” as per Lehmann.
The Chilean architect suggests that the separation between the public and private areas within the design scheme brings forth a redefinition of the project where instead of looking at it as a set of eight houses separated by a central nerve, it presents possibilities of three types of living spaces with a fitting degree of recreation and intimacy: “a large space for the whole community, a sequence of shared spaces for small groups, and a series of individual spaces on top."