TETRO Arquitetura’s Casa Açucena in Brazil hovers above the forested landscape

Perched atop stilts that blend in with the surrounding tree trunks on a sloped site in the Minas Gerais region, this concrete and glass shelter conforms to the flow of its context.

by Jerry ElengicalPublished on : Aug 10, 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.

The residence is settled on a steeply sloping site in a forested area | Casa Açucena | TETRO Arquitetura | STIRworld
The residence is settled on a steeply sloping site in a forested area Image: Jomar Bragança

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.

  • An astute reading of the context was paramount to the design, which strived to have minimal impact upon the site | Casa Açucena | TETRO Arquitetura | STIRworld
    An astute reading of the context was paramount to the design, which strived to have minimal impact upon the site Image: Jomar Bragança
  • Black pillars elevate the structure above the slope of the terrain | Casa Açucena | TETRO Arquitetura | STIRworld
    Black pillars elevate the structure above the slope of the terrain Image: Jomar Bragança

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.

The pillars blend into an array of tree trunks that dot the site | Casa Açucena | TETRO Arquitetura | STIRworld
The pillars blend into an array of tree trunks that dot the site Image: Jomar Bragança

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.

  • No trees were felled in the realisation of the project, as the irregular plan form weaves around them | Casa Açucena | TETRO Arquitetura | STIRworld
    No trees were felled in the realisation of the project, as the irregular plan form weaves around them Image: Jomar Bragança
  • The home’s two wings accommodate the pool and main living spaces respectively | Casa Açucena | TETRO Arquitetura | STIRworld
    The home’s two wings accommodate the pool and main living spaces respectively Image: Jomar Bragança

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."

Directly visible from the pool, the living area appears to hover over the forested landscape | Casa Açucena | TETRO Arquitetura | STIRworld
Directly visible from the pool, the living area appears to hover over the forested landscape Image: Jomar Bragança

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.

  • An outdoor deck has been placed at the centre of the plan | Casa Açucena | TETRO Arquitetura | STIRworld
    An outdoor deck has been placed at the centre of the plan Image: Jomar Bragança
  • Verandahs and balconies connect internal areas to the forest outside | Casa Açucena | TETRO Arquitetura | STIRworld
    Verandahs and balconies connect internal areas to the forest outside Image: Jomar Bragança
  • Large glazed openings grant panoramic views of the context, contributing to the home’s sense of openness | Casa Açucena | TETRO Arquitetura | STIRworld
    Large glazed openings grant panoramic views of the context, contributing to the home’s sense of openness Image: Jomar Bragança

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.

  • The interior design scheme is centred on glass, concrete, and wood | Casa Açucena | TETRO Arquitetura | STIRworld
    The interior design scheme is centred on glass, concrete, and wood Image: Jomar Bragança
  • A hallway and study beyond the living space leads to the two bedrooms at the end of the eastern wing | Casa Açucena | TETRO Arquitetura | STIRworld
    A hallway and study beyond the living space leads to the two bedrooms at the end of the eastern wing Image: Jomar Bragança

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.”

  • The bedroom and bath on the ground floor | Casa Açucena | TETRO Arquitetura | STIRworld
    The bedroom and bath on the ground floor Image: Jomar Bragança
  • Skylights protrude from the green roofscape, enlivening both exterior and interior | Casa Açucena | TETRO Arquitetura | STIRworld
    Skylights protrude from the green roofscape, enlivening both exterior and interior Image: Jomar Bragança

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."

  • Floor Plans | Casa Açucena | TETRO Arquitetura | STIRworld
    Floor Plans Image: Courtesy of TETRO Arquitetura
  • Section | Casa Açucena | TETRO Arquitetura | STIRworld
    Section Image: Courtesy of TETRO Arquitetura

Project Details

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
Construction: Engecapo
Automation: Stereosound
Lighting: Iluminar
Landscaping: Nativa Paisagismo

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