by Jincy IypeSep 20, 2022
Two rotated concrete wings of La Casa del Sapo or the House of the Toad are configured in shape and orientation to welcome the rising and setting sun, the formed brick hallway between the two looking towards sparkling waters of the coast of Zapotengo, Oaxaca in México. Conceived by Espacio 18 Arquitectura, the beachfront residential architecture is informed by a muted aesthetic, and material palette consisting of concrete, terracotta tiles, bricks, as well as locally sourced timber and stones, streaks of cement grey, sparkling blue, brown-red, and light beiges dressing pocket patios, doorways and rooms of the home.
"La Casa del Sapo is everyone’s house - it is a gathering, Sapo is union, a family home, a shelter, an inclusive space, a safe space, a rest home, a school, a place where children can learn to swim, where they can send turtles into the ocean, an orchard, a place to eat and drink mezcal, a place for friends, a place to grow,” shares the Mexican design and architectural practice.
The congenial residential design began as a project that focused purely on necessity and function, its architectural posture growing to integrate into its context with humility, as well as cater to the community and future generations of the waterfront site. Espacio 18 Arquitectura is also able to create a personal sense of place that is in close contact with all of the elements it is surrounded by.
The studio relays that the seaside home was inspired by writer and philosopher, Henry David Thoreau’s self-built cabin in Walden Pond, Massachusetts – this 3x4.5 sqm space by a lakeside was built to isolate the writer from society, to draw inspiration from the raw magnificence of nature and ruminate – inhibiting this cabin made him realise what truly matters and what is necessary to live, renovating himself as a human and stand up for social causes by the end of his life. “Which means, it is funny how the toad evolves and becomes different when it enters than when it leaves the pond,” observes the studio that starts off each project with reading and understanding a site and its context, and intersperses that knowledge with the people they design for.
The contextual design began as an Airbnb house but as the clients interacted with the local community and forged friendships, everything changed and evolved into a warmer, more genuine format.
Driven by the site itself as "two stones looking at the sea, craving for its timelessness", the dual volumes are arranged in a butterfly format that makes way for triangular patios. One of the flexible wings embraces sunrise, while the other imbibes the setting sun. The void created between the two shows a splendid sliver of the waters that amble ahead, and the raw beauty of the site, or in the words of the design team, “Casa del Sapo is the heart of a community in the Oaxacan Coast".
The materials employed in the austere and warm interior design as well as the Mexican architecture mirror and blend into the rugged and calm nature of the site, such as rough and unfinished cement, accordion wooden doors, herringbone terracotta tiles and a steel and branch canopy that blesses the large central patio. “We chose these materials simply because they belong to the site, such as the bricks of the exterior floors, the rocks picked from the river flowing close to the house… Concrete is a good material that does not need too much maintenance,” they add. The home has also been designed to be adapted for future use, for changing inhabitants and their needs.
The volume facing the sun up contains a master bedroom with an attached shower, along with a monastic kitchen and dining area that faces an angular patio on the south, leading to a rectangular lap pool. The other sunset embracing wing contains another en-suite bedroom, while a rail-less, suspended staircase running along the length of the dwelling leads to terraces open to the elements, and vistas of the sea blooming into focus in an instant.
Some aspects of the building and construction process were left entirely to the workers because of the restrictions and lockdowns imposed due to the coronavirus pandemic, and so tidbits of experience and wisdom from this skilled personnel are sewn into the design, making it viably more homely and human. “La Casa del Sapo is a project that gives and transforms, it makes you look around and gives you the will to provide and be part of its community. Zapotengo is a paradise that sticks with you, it locates itself in your memory and never leaves, it’s just another rock in the pond. Like Zumthor says, “If you are lucky, and a building succeeds, the real product has many more dimensions than you can ever imagine. You have the sun, the light, the rain, the birds, the feel,” the Mexican architects note.
Name: La Casa del Sapo
Location: Zapotengo, Oaxaca, México
Area: 130 sqm
Year of completion: 2021
Architect: Espacio 18 Arquitectura
Interior Design: Espacio 18 Arquitectura, Mario Fernandez y Paulina Chagoya
Builders: Victor Chagoya, Mario Fernandez, Paulina Chagoya, Freddy, Mariela, Candido, Jorge, Cruz Hernández, Jesús Hernández, Coco y Espacio 18 Arquitectura
Landscape: Mario Fernandez, Paulina Chagoya
Architects in charge: Carla Osorio Jimenez, Mario Alberto Ávila López, Sonia Morales, Andrea Rodriguez and Arantza Toledo
Carpentry: Mario Fernandez y Paulina chagoya, Espacio 18 Arquitectura
Engineer: José Luis Contreras Pisson