by Jerry ElengicalJan 17, 2023
Mexico-based HW Studio has designed The Hill in Front of the Glen, an “absent architecture” that derives inspiration from listening to the murmurs and whispers of the forest it immerses itself in. Anatomically part of the earth, the stunning residence resides in Morelia, central Mexico, accentuating in its quietly passionate contextual design the client’s search for protection and shelter. The architects henceforth lifted a sheet of grass to insert the meditative dwelling underneath, to create a cosy, bunker-like retreat. This low-slung, blanketed cave evokes a deep emotional connection with its pine and oak tree-filled, hilly location. “It was important for us that you did not even notice the architecture,” shares HW Studio.
“How can one feel protected? What can be done when one feels vulnerable? This question was accompanied by a memory: a frightened child covering himself with a light bedsheet, peeking out to make sure he can see what is going on around him. Pulling a bedsheet over ourselves is an elemental act that alludes to the most basic part of the self; a bedsheet hides, protects, wraps, and creates a space beneath it that is so safe and intimate, keeping away any spirit, ghost, or demon that may be present in the room,” they add.
The Hill in Front of the Glen with its intended simplicity and timelessness is also able to generate lyrical continuity with its immediate Mexican forest, creating an imperceptible new hill in a place already home to many. “The architecture is like an accent on the words of a poem, like a comma or a question mark, but never the actual poem itself. The poem is already written by the pines, the oaks, the sweet acacia, the fireflies, the road, the fence, the neighbour's water well, the earth, the orchard, and the nightingales," the Mexican architects share.
With a green-topped roof, the 250 sqm Mexican architecture dwells beneath the ground, with four concrete walls as contributing accents to its poetic, stoic essence. Emerging subtly from the earth, two of the gently meandering walls bear the land of the new hill created by raising the bedsheet, while the others frame the escorting access to the residential design.
A long, cinematic concrete hallway signals the hidden access to the home, designed to put soulful emphasis on the journey that one takes to reach the house. The path is wide enough to walk alone comfortably but narrow enough to discourage accompaniment. One, therefore, is cast into a pilgrimage of solitude that leads to an old tree, whose significant existence led the architects to distort the linearity of one of the passage’s walls, gently curving them around it, almost grazing the tree when one passes by. “It was important that this hallway… was walked through in loneliness,” mentions HW Studio.
Once the tree threshold is crossed, the visitor descends a few solid pearled stone steps into the minimal, contemporary architecture, on through a heavy steel door and reaches a vertical concrete vault that supports the load of the green roof. Here, the visitor is entrenched in a feeling of being inside a cold, dark yet cosy cave, according to the architects. To further the monastic experience, the house also exists sans television or internet access.
The concrete architecture’s simple spatial organisation caters mostly to frame views to the surrounding glen, especially the concrete vaulted living room, and the public areas of the house placed on the left, exposed to the wooden ravine. The spaces hosted on the right, including the three master bedrooms, open up timidly to a courtyard with treetop views and stormy skies. Full height glass walls mark the sidewalls of the house, bringing in the exterior and streaks of sunlight into the moody and austere interior design.
To prevent references to a specific time, the appliances are kept mostly concealed, the lighting discreet, in a chorus of four material notes - stone, wood, concrete, and steel. Concrete essays the primary role of the material palette, chosen to display a “dream about this new rock melting while inevitably interacting with the forest, changing colours... greys that turned to greens, blacks, and yellows that were gradually incorporated into the environment,” the studio relays.
Dusky and warm timber take over the flooring to emphasise a woody aroma, reiterating the tree-filled surroundings, and providing warm balance to the coldness of the concrete. Elements and accents of silvery steel will acquire patina over time and multiple rain cycles, furthering the integration of the house into the landscape. “It was important for the client to preserve the rough and primitive atmosphere of being in the mountains,” they continue.
“We understand architecture as the act of placing limits within the void and that these limits achieve an elegant beauty of humble simplicity. Creation begins when the interior and exterior coincide: the interior we access with meditation and the exterior with an analytical approach that describes the physical and emotional reality on which we will place those limits. Meditation as part of our creative process became a natural response for the creation of spaces that managed to convey a feeling of serenity, tranquillity, and silence in an increasingly opposite world. We thereby seek to promote an appreciation of what is; eliminating from architecture everything that is not essential so that through self-conscious contemplation we understand ourselves as part of an interconnected whole,” concludes HW Studio.
Name: The Hill in Front of the Glen
Location: El vaquerito, Morelia, Michoacán, Mexico
Gross Built Area: 250 sqm
Year of completion: 2021
Architect: HW STUDIO
Lead Architects: Rogelio Vallejo Bores and Oscar Didier Ascencio Castro
Team: Sergio Antonio Garcia Padilla, Jesus Alejandro Lopez Hernandez, Alberto Gallegos Negrete
Construction company: ARGA Constructora