by Pallavi MehraAug 07, 2023
Organic architecture sometimes brings the visual of curvilinear forms to mind, however, the 20th century idea of organic architecture is referred to buildings and structures that were built in harmony with the existing landscape. An example of this particular style of building can be found in Frank Lloyd Wrights’ oeuvre, especially Fallingwater house. Wright is also largely credited for coining the term. The idea was to allow the site to dictate the elementary form and planning of the structure while creating a space that addresses the occupant’s needs. As a design methodology, organic architecture had lasting popularity. Mexican architect, Javier Senosiain, continues to work with the principles of philosophy and is considered to be one of the first architects to explore organic architecture in Mexico. He is also the author of Bioarquitectura (2002).
From Senosiain’s entire body of work, La Casa Organica continues to be one of the most iconic and well-received interventions. Completed in 1985, the structure was born from the idea of creating a space adapted to humans, according to their environmental, physical and psychological needs. One would be hard-pressed to look at Casa Organica today and not immediately reference the Hobbit-holes, or Smials, of the Shire popularised by the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The cinematic reference, however, is appropriate when one considers the base concept of Casa Organica and the Hobbit dwelling originates from the idea of creating a symbiotic relationship between the environment and humans through architecture.
Burrowed into an inclined plot of land, the residential space consists of two oblong spaces, connected through a narrow ramp that traverses the site's slope. Programmatically the two spaces are meant to symbolise daytime and night-time. The entire structure is almost completely invisible and is masked to appear as a green dune in a landscaped garden. To further reinforce the idea of entering the ground itself, the home can be accessed by a spiral staircase that leads down into the home. The original purpose was to create a space similar to the early caves or grottos that served as shelters for early humans and animals. In many ways, Casa Organica takes a step back from Laugier’s idea of The Primitive Hut, to emulate the atmosphere of the found shelter.
The found shelter saw minimal modification to the environment to transform it into a dwelling. According to Senosiain, the natural concave hollows mimic a welcoming space, like the arms of a mother huddling their child. The cavernous Casa Organica is continuous, wide, and changes its volume to follow the natural rhythm of movement across the landscape. The integrated furniture design further facilitates this circulation and movement in the house. The project is based on the requirements of the elementary functions to human beings, a space to socialise, a living room, dining room and kitchen, and another to sleep, with a dressing room and bathroom. This dichotomy also reflects the programmatic symbolism of day and night.
Walking in the garden also means walking on the roof of the house without realising it. The exterior of the house is essentially grass, shrubs, trees and flowers. The foliage in addition to producing an abundance of oxygen, also acts as a filter against pollution and dust, creating a microclimate. The subterranean design of the structure leads to the temperature of the house being naturally maintained between 18 degrees Celsius to 22 degrees Celsius throughout the year; hot in winter and cool in summer.
The floor of the house is covered in a sand-coloured carpet, with the walls and ceiling displaying the same tone. This chromatic continuity was created with the idea of making the interior resemble earth. The interior of the house is accessed by going down the spiral that leads to the tunnel; it was intended to give the sensation of entering the earth, from there you can go to the living space, the kitchen or the sleeping area. Originally designed with a single bedroom, the house had to be expanded over time as the family grew. New areas are connected to the middle portion of the original tunnel. During the construction, this new segment garnered the moniker the shark due to its form. Playing into it Senosiain decided to put a fin on it, it is also the most visible part of the residential project.
In the interior, the ventilation is facilitated by the aerodynamic form of the building that allows free air circulation. While the windows were oriented towards the best vistas, they also incorporated basic climatic cues and features south-facing facades to allow the winter sun in. The interior design was derived from an analysis of basic human needs. This is particularly visible in the living room where the long seat takes the shape of the person's body. A characteristic of organic architecture is the constant reminder that we are connected with the earth, the sinuous wall finished in Casa Organica do just that.
After being inhabited by the architect and his family for 25 years, since December 2020 Casa Organica has been opened to the public.