Zoncuantla Apartments by Rafael Pardo tower tetris-like above panoramic contours

Baring its pigmented concrete composition, the set of vertically stacked apartments in Coatepec, Mexico, boasts a shrunk-down footprint and stunning views for each unit.

by Anmol AhujaPublished on : Jul 21, 2022

Dwellings atop hilly, heavily forested terrains bear a dual–and pressing–responsibility. Apart from designing and building in an ecologically sensitive manner, the structures have to cut through sizeable terrain, while also addressing a notion of vernacularity prevalent in the region. When lent a distinct architectural treatment and character – turning obstacle into opportunity – these interventions bear immense potential to be model avenues for building on sensitive terrain in a manner that doesn’t quite uproot native ecosystems, even when scale is considered. On that note, what particularly impressed me about Mexican architect Rafael Pardo Ramos' Zoncuantla Apartments, located amid the mesophilic forests of the old Xalapa Road in Veracruz, Mexico, is that apart from ticking all of the boxes above, the structure still manages to emerge as an architectural statement, a veritable declaration of individual style. From form to material to the mineral hues adorning its unclad surface, its distinctly modernistic sensibilities stand in contrast to the nearest context it would have drawn from - the heritage lined cobbled streets of Xalapa.

  • The apartment complex rises from a wall of rubblework “taken from the same land” | Zoncuantla Apartments | Rafael Pardo Ramos | STIRworld
    The apartment complex rises from a wall of rubblework “taken from the same land” Image: Naser Nader
  • The meandering road towards the rear of the site provides secondary access to the upper levels of the structure | Zoncuantla Apartments | Rafael Pardo Ramos | STIRworld
    The meandering road towards the rear of the site provides secondary access to the upper levels of the structure Image: Onnis Luque
  • The apartments’ driveway on the ground level, composed in concrete and grass pavers | Zoncuantla Apartments | Rafael Pardo Ramos | STIRworld
    The apartments’ driveway on the ground level, composed in concrete and grass pavers Image: Naser Nader
  • The structure’s composition seeks to maximise panoramic visual avenues for the apartments | Zoncuantla Apartments | Rafael Pardo Ramos | STIRworld
    The structure’s composition seeks to maximise panoramic visual avenues for the apartments Image: Naser Nader

With a composition Pardo describes as 'polygonal', the structure corresponds to the steep slope of the site, erecting itself over only 50 per cent of the site area. The remaining half has been earmarked for green spaces, both natural and landscaped, with the entire process involving extensive replanting and greening. The apartment complex thus rises from a wall of rubblework, "taken from the same land" according to the architects, and expands vertically through cantilevers and entire building blocks jutting out, re-forming the rather slender profile of its core. The cantilevered masses capitalise on the panoramic views offered by the site, while expanding on available social and green space. The greens therefore extend to the vertical avenues of the towering development, materialising on the terraces formed by the cantilevered masses below.

  • Birds’ eye view of the apartments showing the extent of its cantilevered terraces | Zoncuantla Apartments | Rafael Pardo Ramos | STIRworld
    Birds’ eye view of the apartments showing the extent of its cantilevered terraces Image: Naser Nader
  • The apartments are adorned in a unitary exposed concrete materiality, pigmented using minerals from the site | Zoncuantla Apartments | Rafael Pardo Ramos | STIRworld
    The apartments are adorned in a unitary exposed concrete materiality, pigmented using minerals from the site Image: Onnis Luque

Accessed from the curving road beside the site, and leading from an expansive grass paved driveway, the ground level apartment abuts its own garden with endemic, native vegetation at the same level as the site. The ground level apartment, the only one spread over a single floor, provides access to the apartment floors above, and an additional subterranean level below. In that sense, vertical circulation through the structure becomes an odyssey of discovery and a playful uncovering of views and spaces, both public and private.

  • Residences on the upper levels have mezzanine levels and spaces divided between two floors | Zoncuantla Apartments | Rafael Pardo Ramos | STIRworld
    Residences on the upper levels have mezzanine levels and spaces divided between two floors Image: Onnis Luque
  • Each floor of the apartment complex is oriented differently | Zoncuantla Apartments | Rafael Pardo Ramos | STIRworld
    Each floor of the apartment complex is oriented differently Image: Onnis Luque
  • The vertical circulation and stairways, minimally designed, imbue a sense of discovery through the space | Zoncuantla Apartments | Rafael Pardo Ramos | STIRworld
    The vertical circulation and stairways, minimally designed, imbue a sense of discovery through the space Image: Onnis Luque
  • The outer material composition of the building also defines the interior spaces | Zoncuantla Apartments | Rafael Pardo Ramos | STIRworld
    The outer material composition of the building also defines the interior spaces Image: Onnis Luque

The apartments on the floors above boast mezzanines and double-height spaces elevating the living experience, with expansive glazing along all four facades of the cubist edifice whimsically arranged, ranging from floor-to-ceiling windows to vertical and horizontal ribbon windows, maximising visual avenues for the project.

  • The whimsically placed glazing capitalises on natural views in every direction | Zoncuantla Apartments | Rafael Pardo Ramos | STIRworld
    The whimsically placed glazing capitalises on natural views in every direction Image: Onnis Luque
  • The spaces and interior materiality is highlighted by natural light escaping inwards through cut outs in the ceiling and stairways | Zoncuantla Apartments | Rafael Pardo Ramos | STIRworld
    The spaces and interior materiality is highlighted by natural light escaping inwards through cut outs in the ceiling and stairways Image: Onnis Luque
  • The structure seeks to inspire a sense of playful discovery among visitors and residents | Zoncuantla Apartments | Rafael Pardo Ramos | STIRworld
    The structure seeks to inspire a sense of playful discovery among visitors and residents Image: Onnis Luque

The bare external materiality of the towering structure, that of exposed concrete pigmented and tinted with minerals from the site itself, is complemented with materials like wood, adobes, and clay in earthy tones, carrying over to the interiors of the residences as well, highlighted by light escaping inwards through cutouts in the ceilings and near sculptural stairwells. While the interior layout of each flat morphs according to a bespoke floor plan for each level, it is this unitary, almost monolithic material outlook, along with the sense of traversing through an enlarged vertical tunnel to reveal spaces in spurts that brings the structure together. Even as the project’s decidedly minimal being tips it toward a more widespread appeal as opposed to entirely local, the markedly distinct concrete sensibility, each strand of each band, remains quite typical of the early tenets of Mexican architecture, with tonal hints of tropical modernism even.

  • Zoncuantla Apartments: Floor plans | Zoncuantla Apartments | Rafael Pardo Ramos | STIRworld
    Zoncuantla Apartments: Floor plans Image: Courtesy of RP Arquitectos
  • Zoncuantla Apartments: Section showing the two levels of access | Zoncuantla Apartments | Rafael Pardo Ramos | STIRworld
    Zoncuantla Apartments: Section showing the two levels of access Image: Courtesy of RP Arquitectos
  • Zoncuantla Apartments: Section showing the structure towering over and accommodating sensitive terrain | Zoncuantla Apartments | Rafael Pardo Ramos | STIRworld
    Zoncuantla Apartments: Section showing the structure towering over and accommodating sensitive terrain Image: Courtesy of RP Arquitectos

Project Details

Name: Zoncuantla Apartments
Location: Coatepec, Veracruz, Mexico
Architect: Rafael Pardo Ramos
Typology: Residential
Site Area: 900 sq.m.
Ground Coverage: 470 sq.m.

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