by Jerry ElengicalJun 27, 2022
Unembellished and reserved in its composition, Fortunata House is a residence designed around a massive Araucaria angustifolia (Brazilian pine or candelabra) tree along a sloping plot. Screened by trees within a forested region of southern Brazil, the project was conceptualised and realised by architect Luciano Lerner Basso and commissioned by a young couple in a traditional, open neighbourhood. Grounded in a precise reading of its context, the residence’s design strips the essential tenets of architecture down to the bare minimum, embracing nature, openness, near-monolithic materiality. There is a sense of serenity in its understated appearance. Named for an Italian word describing 'one who has been blessed by luck', the abode has been depicted by the architects as "a house built around a tree, where reason is the main instrument in the search for the spirit of living".
Floating above the pitched terrain atop slender pilotis that hoists the structure’s front face above the incline of the land, Fortunata House’s impression upon its setting was deliberately configured to be as minimal as possible. “If it were possible for a huge crane to lift the house and land it somewhere else, the original terrain would remain practically intact, with no traces of the construction,” mentions Luciano Lerner Basso in a press statement. In fact, most of the material obtained in the initial excavations was reused in the final building. For instance, residual soil was used to make an embankment within the space allocated for vehicles, leftover stones were incorporated into retaining walls and the landscape design around the home, and finally, virtually all of the pre-existing vegetation was left untouched.
The resulting design, shaped by these constraints, is uncompromising in its clarity, employing the materiality of exposed concrete as the foundation of its visual identity. Shedding light on this choice, Luciano Lerner Basso describes it as “a material that ages with the same beauty as nature, resists well to bad weather, and requires little maintenance, even in the humidity of the forest.” Concrete shapes almost every facet of the exterior and interior, from the underlying structure to the stairs, and even some of the fixed furniture. The Brazilian architect views the result of this execution as “a structure that shows itself raw and reveals a construction process that is rigorous and precise, but, at the same time also shows the perfect-imperfections of a handmade work. A work where matter and technique are indivisible.” He adds, “It is a very common system in the region, with plenty of skilled labour and construction costs lower than other systems with the same virtues.”
In addition to its use of pilotis, the structure also incorporates other tenets of the Five Points of Modern Architecture postulated by revered Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier such as an open plan, free façade design, and horizontal ribbon windows. The residence’s architecture effectively implements these concepts in a more naturalistic sense based on contextual requirements, applicable construction processes, and the resolution of programmatic needs. The harmony of built forms, and crafting a monument to the inimitable beauty of architecture are moulded by a triumphant combination of simple pragmatism and natural forces. In spite of its austerity, the structure is far from a 'machine for living', and exhibits a spatial character that invokes an atmosphere of quiet contemplation.
Luciano Lerner Basso shares, “We designed a silent architecture that maintains a clear dialogue with nature, either through its opaque walls that in the harsh southern winter blend in with the fog, or by the way the forest is reflected in its glass on blue sky days.” He adds, “Its plastic quality lies in the relationships between planes, voids, lights, landscape, and textures. A project that expands the field of architecture itself and brings reflections on the relationships between house and city, between man and nature.” Four cuboidal volumes unite in a grid to define the home’s form. However, one mass from the grid has been subtracted to create a void that allows the foliage of the tree at its heart to erupt towards the sky from within the depths of the Earth. The fountain of green emerging from the concrete mass of the residence is a breathtaking sight to behold of its own accord.
Programmatically, Fortunata House retains the effortless minimalism that characterises its aesthetics, employing an open plan with few enclosing walls on the upper floor. The lower level hosts a carport, with an entry vestibule and a laundry room. Access to the main entrance is availed along a winding path of soil and gravel, cutting through the courtyard. As per the architects, “There is an intention for the floor of the house to be the same as the floor of the city; the desire to create urban spaces without barriers, to visually integrate the public and the private.” The upper floor contains spaces for living, working, dining, and sleeping along a continuous circulation route where spaces flow into one another in the absence of dead ends or closed spaces for socialising. Spatial flexibility generated as a consequence of the plan’s open configuration allows the functionality of zones to be altered in accordance with a user’s needs.
Double glazing, EPS in the floor and roof insulation, the use of solvent-free products in concrete treatment, rainwater harvesting for irrigation, and heating systems powered by ecological fuel form the sustainable design elements incorporated into the project. The underlying sense of openness also allows spaces to harness daylight through large openings and skylights that strategically pierce the structure’s envelope. Alternatively, at night, artificial lighting design in interior spaces makes use of low-consumption fixtures, alongside automated controls for external lights.
A trio of wooden verandahs expand the living area towards the landscape outside and connects the house to a patio at its rear, framed by projecting concrete members. The Béton brut forms that define the home’s appearance were moulded in-situ with the aid of reforested wood formwork, which was reused to make the home’s verandahs. An absence of strong enclosures combined with the uncluttered and functional feel of the interior design encourages residents to connect with nature, as per the project’s goals. Luciano Lerner Basso concludes, “Without curtains or visual barriers between the inside and outside, the dweller has permanent contact with nature. At the same time he lives in the house, he also lives in the forest.”
Name: Fortunata House
Location: Caxias do Sul, Brazil
Year of Completion: 2020
Architect: Luciano Lerner Basso
Terrain Area: 1000 sqm
Built Area: 240 sqm
Facility Projects: Roberto Basso
Structural Project: André Granzotto