by Jerry ElengicalJan 27, 2023
The imagery that is invoked when one thinks about the architecture of the Greek Islands are the visions of scattered and stacked white boxes with terraces that overlook generous vista of the natural shorelines and sea. This is particularly true for the Cyclades Islands group that constitutes a part of the Aegean Sea archipelago. The style has become synonymous with the region and is often referred to as Cycladic architecture. This typology of structures stands in contrast to its natural landscape. While the streets and the placement of its structure follows a natural sinuous curve of the hill they are placed on, each cube stands out as a distinct form within its surroundings. Tucked away in the hills of the Serifos Island, an inconspicuous structure called Xerolithi House, designed by Sinas Architects, experiments with alternative forms, instead of the archetypical island architecture.
Deeply embedded within its geographical context, the structure is nearly invisible. It blends into its natural environment and takes its cue from the existing elements, slopes, and contours. The external walls of the house flow in conjunction with the contours of the hill it is placed on. In addition to the natural elements, the house also incorporates existing stone retaining walls, locally called xerolithies, into its form. George Sinas, the architect behind this project, comments on the importance of this existing wall saying, “Created a long time ago for land cultivation purposes. These walls, usually not more than a meter in height, formed flat strips of land parallel to the slope and extended along the entire surface of the hillside. The site with its xerolithies was the spark of inspiration”.
Sinas wanted to challenge the morphological preconception of the Cycladic home, by re-envisioning the main facades of the house as “xerolithies”. Referencing the traditional style and technique of the region, this main exterior wall has been constructed using stone with no joint mortar. As the house nuzzles against the slope, the structure is only visible when seen from the shore looking up towards the hill. The summer home blends into the landscape when seen from afar or from on top of the hill. While the house is linear, the plan does not consist of any straight wall along the contours. The wall moves gently closer and away from the slope, but are not parallel. This allows for the interior spaces to open up at certain sections to consistently create variations in the volume of the structure.
Because the walls seem to move independently from one another, they create spaces in between them which are unique. All the functions of the house are placed sequentially, adding to its long and narrow form. This particular aspect of the home makes it distinctive when compared to the more cuboidal forms generally associated with the Greek islands. The 245-square-meter house has a living room, dining space, an open kitchen, a master bedroom, and two independent guest bedrooms. The house is technically split into two parts, with one section that comprises the main house, with the master bedroom, kitchen, living and dining space. The two guest rooms are on the other end of the long and narrow structure. The two sections of the house are connected by an open dining space which is covered with a traditional bamboo pergola.
The motif and detail of the pergola are seen throughout the length of the house, both on the inside and outside. Its wooden raw beams are kept in their natural colour and trail the curvilinear morphology of the walls. The beams supporting this structure take on a similar form, and look like vertebrae on a long spinal cord. One of the techniques used to knit the bamboo was the fishbone, it created a unique pattern that added a texture to the shadow it casts.
Along the longer edges of the home are two open-to-sky spaces that encompass the living spaces. An open-to-sky courtyard is inserted between the structure and the existing xerolithies against the slope. This courtyard also has two grand staircases, along the shorter edges, that lead down into the space. The main house even has windows that look into this space. Facing the shore is an expansive terrace that offers a grand view. The doors and windows, all made of wood and painted a light olive colour, are carefully inserted to create framed vistas. The two open spaces are connected through the outdoor dining space.
The variations in the massing of the house allow for a more dynamic spatial experience, while also enabling the home to feel larger than it truly is. By attaching itself so closely to its geographical context the house provides privacy from outside. While from the inside one can experience their natural surroundings with immense ease.
Name: Xerolithi House
Location: Serifos, Cyclades
Area: 245 sqm
Year of completion: 2021
Architect: George Sinas, Sinas Architects
In collaboration: Maria Mamoura
Interior Decoration: Olga Ktena