by Jerry ElengicalMay 03, 2022
Over the years, by adapting the principles of modern design for the country's lush, tropical context and climate, Brazilian architects have constantly pioneered new approaches to build in harmony with local ecosystems and have minimal impact upon them. In fact, contemporary architecture in Brazil has numerous such examples of structures that adhere to the flow of their surroundings, and there is perhaps none more famous among them than Casa de Vidro - a now iconic piece of residential architecture that was the personal home of the late architect Lina Bo Bardi, and an important point of convergence for creatives and thinkers from her era. With its extensive use of glass and unique structure that appears to float above the rainforest near São Paulo atop stilts, the project has gone on to become a pivotal moment in the Brazilian architectural canon. Displaying a number of similarities to this modernist marvel, Belo Horizonte-based firm TETRO Arquitetura has crafted a home in the Nova Lima region of Minas Gerais, named Casa Açucena, whose elevated structure provokes comparisons to the precedents set by Bo Bardi, in order to reduce its impingement on the terrain.
Speaking to STIR, the design team elaborates on the brief given to them: "The clients were a couple who loved art and nature and hoped to escape the city and live in a place that coexisted with the forest. That was the main concern, apart from guidelines regarding how many rooms and different spaces they would need in the house." On a steeply sloping site inundated with tree trunks that rise to provide shade by means of a thick overhead canopy, the challenge was always to astutely read the context and the impediments it posed.
Through this exercise, the design team noted how the eyes of observers are naturally drawn upwards along the path of the tree trunks to the slivers of open sky visible through gaps in the canopy above. Considering this an essential experience of visiting the site, they formulated a series of questions that would form the basis of their inquiry and subsequent response. "How can you build in a place with such a steep topography, while maintaining the original order of nature? How can residents be given the daily experience of looking up and seeing the sky through the treetops? These were the questions that guided all our design decisions," shares the firm.
While addressing these queries, the architects resolved that their intervention "should mould itself to the terrain, and not the other way around". This principle became the foundational basis of their design process and, in this vein, Casa Açucena in its fully realised form, is perched on black pillars - much like Bo Bardi’s own home. The pillars blend into an array of tree trunks scattered across the landscape, lifting the structure above the incline of the ground. Great care was taken in employing these elements so as to ensure that the topography and vegetation would not be disturbed by the intervention, and hence, no trees were felled during the construction process. This arrangement also negated the need for excavation and filling to soften the gradient.
From here on in, every course of action was motivated by what the site dictated, staying true to the principle established by the design team at the outset. The resulting irregular plan weaves around trees at angled trajectories, creating interesting viewpoints at each turn. "The ground on the site was already screened from sunlight by the tree tops. Forest cover in the area is very dense. What we designed incorporated measures to lessen the impact of the structure and collect rainwater that could then be used to irrigate the surface beneath the house," relays TETRO Arquitetura. They add, "The most difficult part was to actually build the house without taking down any trees. Special equipment and smaller tractors were required so that the machinery was able to enter the forest without damaging it."
Regarding the material palette, the designers mention that they used, "concrete and glass, and nothing else. Concrete so that the structure would relate to the surroundings, but not be subjugated by it. Glass to bring the forest inside the house." On the ground level, the footprint is quite minimal as the layout only hosts a bedroom and office with a spiral staircase connecting them to the floor on top. Above it, skewed volumes jut out from the two main arms of the first floor - with the western wing leading towards the pool and deck as the eastern one accommodates most other functional areas which lead into verandahs and terraces that connect internal spaces to the forest.
At the centre of the program, the outdoor deck branches off to an open plan living space towards the east, featuring a kitchen, lounge, and dining area. Full-height glazing here furnishes views of the nearby landscape, with an interior design scheme focused on a palette of wood and exposed concrete. This space is also directly in the line of sight of the pool, seeming to levitate above the terrain as if frozen in time. Beyond, a hallway leads to a secondary bedroom and the large master suite equipped with a walk-in closet. Projecting out into the forest, the cuboidal volume of the master suite has panoramic views of its verdant surroundings through large glass openings that echo those used in Casa de Vidro.
In addition to the glass walls that dress a number of the home's faces, the residence’s design also integrates a number of skylights that permit daylight to flood in from above. The architects note: "The main attractions, for us, are the skylights, which allow you to look up and contemplate the treetops, preserving this action that would have been natural to anyone entering the site before the house was built. It was an interesting exercise to find the right angles and the viewing points and we are very happy with what came about with these elements.”
Protruding from the roof structure as angular extrusions, these elements are a quaint addition to the project, enlivening both interior and exterior. The roofscape around them is itself blanketed by a green carpet, blending into the tree canopy when viewed from above. From top to bottom, and roof to foundation, the entirety of the home's design has been driven by a desire to meld with its context, and in this regard, the home adapts pertinent concepts used by Brazil’s most revered designers to organically merge architecture and nature while infusing the project with an identity of its own. The team at TETRO Arquitetura concludes: "Surprise and novelty are values inherent to art, and Casa Açucena presents itself as a white flower in the midst of nature."
Name: Casa Açucena
Location: Rua dos Jacarandás, 1012 - Jardins de Petrópolis - Nova Lima, Minas Gerais, Brazil
Built Area: 500 sqm
Year of Completion: 2021
Architect: TETRO Arquitetura
Lead Architects: Carlos Maia, Débora Mendes and Igor Macedo
Contributors: Laura Georgia Rodrigues Layoun, Otávio, Daniele Meloni, Déborah Martins
Concrete Structure: M Estruturas
Landscaping: Nativa Paisagismo