by Meghna MehtaApr 01, 2020
The recent project by Mexican architect Ludwig Godefroy, Casa Mérida, is a single-family house located in the historic centre of Mérida, the capital of Yucatán in Mexico. The project is unlike any other residential dwelling one may have come across, especially in terms of its planning, scale and proportions besides the references and details derived from the Mayan culture.
The only way to understand this project and its design would be through a plan that illustrates the fact that the plot is 80-metre-long but only 8 metre wide. The elongated site has been used to all its possible advantages, bringing culture, resourcefulness, traditional design references and beton brut concepts to life. The style of the project bore some resemblance to the architect’s earlier project, Zicatela House, but the approach is entirely unique.
Taking about the narrow stretch, French-born, Mexico City-based Godefroy said he embraced immediately the site’s defining feature. “When I entered the site for the first time, the most memorable was the unique proportion of the plot, which is a lengthened broken rectangle that looked like a big lane. That is when came the one and only idea of the project: to preserve this 80-meters perspective, as a straight line, crossing the entire plot from the entrance door until the end point.”
The stretched space also refers to a Sacbé, which translates to a ‘white path’ from ethnic Mayan culture and architecture used to connect different communities. These were stoneways covered with white limestone stucco or plaster. These straight lines have much significance to the heritage of the region that was used to connect temples, plazas, pyramids and cenotes (a natural sinkhole, full of clear water, used for sacrifices and offering to the gods) of an ancient Mayan city and would stretch over a hundred kilometres.
How is it possible to build architecture that reflects and considers the Yucatán identity, to make this house belong to its territory? – Ludwig Godefroy
By taking cues from the perspectives that the Sacbe created, this very simple element from classic architecture became the central idea of the project. “All functions were structured along this line, converted then into a long concrete guide wall, a sort of axis visually organising the house, as well as all its movements. Further, in the second stage of the project development, this main circulation hallway naturally and literally appeared as a vertebral column, also making it the core structural component that carried all the rooftop slabs," adds Godefroy.
The house has been divided into a multitude of interesting experiences that transition along a series of open and semi-open spaces along the primary wall. Sporadically but strategically placed, three large courtyards give the required breathers while the swimming pool marks the end of the journey.
Traditionally, in the heritage centre of the city of Merida, houses used to be connected with the street with a gradual progression of public to private functions. The social areas were located between the sidewalk and the inner patio, behind which were the private spaces, with a backyard at the rear. However, in this case, to typologically disconnect Casa Mérida from the city for the sake of privacy, the layout has been modified by switching these functions to the other side. The living room, kitchen and swimming pool have been placed toward the rear of the plot. And to create a quaint silence and seclusion for these areas, the functional backyard has been bought to the front, to use it as a shield from the city.
These permutations and combinations of open, closed and courtyard spaces create a rhythm of positive built area and negative voids, generating empty spaces on both sides of the built spaces. “The gardens participate instead of only being juxtaposed ornamental pieces. The outdoor is integrated as a part of the inner spaces, vanishing the classical border between inside and outside, increasing the visual depth in order to create a more generous amplitude sensation of the volumes,” explains Godefroy.
The façade of the house is highly unpredictable. It breaks the basic concept of the same and disconnects us from our impressions of other houses in the Mexico City, of large glass window apartments. The design foments an outdoor life; smaller contemporary ideas such as no-walls shower enclosure in the bedroom brings a fresh thought towards our ways of living.
The Casa Mérida house does not enclose people, it stays open and breathes permanently, while providing the essential feeling of protection and privacy. – Ludwig Godefroy
A similar aesthetic as seen in Godefroy’s Zicatela House is the concept of beton brut materiality and form of construction being applied in Casa Mérida. Unfinished concrete and wooden elements have been used throughout the house, without any finishes or decoration, providing it an industrial look. Mayan cream coloured stone walls have been built in a traditional way by covering the joints with stone splinters, typical stone from Yucatán used in antic Mayan pyramids and temples sites. The 90 per cent of the construction took place on the site, with local materials and built exclusively by Yucatec masons and carpenters.
Godefroy said the material was chosen knowing that they will age over a period of time, “These massive materials which do not require special treatments or maintenance, will accept timely ageing as part of the process of architecture. The house has been abstracted to end up one day covered by a new coat of materiality: a layer of patina.”
With Godefroy thinking “How can we step back from this intense use of air conditioner Mérida is doing today? And what could be the possibilities architecture is offering us?,” the architect gave vernacular architecture a modern spin and based the house typology on natural crossed ventilation. As a traditional technique, from its history colonisation and the tropical weather of Yucatán, high ceiling volumes connected by a series of patios were used to let the air flow through the entire house, providing a natural cooling system. After effectively adapting this, water was the second element used in two locations - the swimming pool and a through water body to cool the surroundings. Absorption wells were designed to fulfil the use of bore wells and rainwater seepage, placed under sculptural water collectors, which became an important part of the aesthetic of the house.
The house disconnects from the city in two ways - creating privacy by realigning its dynamics along an odd shaped site and redefining Mayan cultural roots. The odd stretch of this house might be unusual for many of us but it is fairly common in Mérida. And Ludwig Godefroy tries his best to build architecture that reflects and considers the Yucatán identity, to make this house belong to its territory.
Name: Casa Mérida
Location: Mérida, Yucatán, México
Area: 250 sqm
Year of Completion: 2018
Architects: Ludwig Godefroy Architecture
Lead architect: Ludwig Godefroy