The Terreno House by Mexican architect Fernanda Canales stands as a unique building in the fabric of its surrounding context. Located on a mountain in Valle de Bravo, three hours away from Mexico City, it is impressive due to a series of vault-like structures that create its roof, its porous brick exterior, the brutal nature of its materials, the varied courtyards, and an accessible green roof. The design of the house predominantly poses two contradictory conditions - seclusion and aperture. This contradiction is expressed through two undertakings in the design of the building. On one hand, it is a shelter that protects against the radical weather which makes the house introverted, and on the other, it opens as much as possible to the surrounding landscape.
Interestingly, the series of vaults - when seen from the outside - might remind one of late American architect Louis Kahn’s Kimbell Art Museum in Texas, which has been built using this unique type of vault structure, but with a skylight along the spine of the vault which in the case of this house comes from the courtyard. The interesting use of skylights in the bathrooms - attached to each of the bedrooms - thus eliminate the requirement for windows, thereby implying a repetitive open and close rhythm to the façade.
Another peculiar resemblance can be seen to the Trenton Bath House project, also designed by Louis Kahn, with a triangular courtyard that has an oculus and thus creates a light well in the structure thereon.
The Terreno House has primarily been designed around four patios or the courtyards. The first patio, with a curved shape, acts as a transition space between the exterior and the entrance; the second is located at the centre of the project and acts as a transition space between public and private areas. The third courtyard leads to the terraces at the roof top, making the roof accessible, while the fourth provides privacy, ventilation and sunlight to the service area. These four patios create astonishingly varied experiences within a vast landscape and frame specific views of the exterior.
The unique element of the structure is its accessible roof, which is also being used as a garden. Each space is directly related to at least one patio on one side, and to the open landscape on the other, allowing cross-ventilation and sunlight throughout the day. Terreno House is a positively ventilated structure due to its multiple open-to-sky courtyards, openings in the roof, and porous exterior. In an area where the temperature can vary up to 30 degrees celsius in one day, and rain is predominant during half of the year, its walls act as membranes across two temperate zones (forest and praire), two seasons (dry and wet) and three spatial conditions (centre, inside and outside).
The house also portrays a dichotomy of visual expressions. This duality is reflected by the numerous materials with exposed brick on the outside, and concrete and wood on the inside. The red colour and the rough texture of broken brick on the outside accentuate a completely different condition than the smooth and neutral interiors. A series of vaults over the bedrooms and living rooms create a new topography and language in the exterior, co-existing with the vegetation of the flat roofs that house service areas.
The project allows for varied sequences and openings to create an unique visual façade. This has been achieved by sporadically placed lattices that create privacy, seldom through large windows that open out completely, hidden inside the walls that further transform interior spaces as open terraces.
Terreno House creates a porous architectural outline, creating an isolated urbanity by using materials in their true nature. The design succinctly brings green and sustainable elements to present an intriguing silhouette in the outskirts of Mexico City.
Name of the project: Terreno House
Location: Estado de México, Mexico
Architect: Fernanda Canales
Built-up area: 600 sqm
Site area: 8000 sqm