Architecture Monday

Start with a very tight and narrow site – 15′-9″ wide by 82′-0″ long and bordered by buildings on either side – and add in equally tight finances.  This was a house for the client’s mother, replacing one on the same site that was falling apart at the seams.   And because it was a replacement, it had to be built very quickly.

the very narrow site in context
the very narrow site in context

These are the kind of challenges architects love.  And love making magic out of.

The resulting house design is a wonderful exercise in the use of space.  The house is a bit like a dumbbell, with a main living space up front and a bedroom in back, connected by a long corridor that borders a couryard.  While it may seem odd to have a courtyard in such a narrowly-confined building, it is this courtyard that prevents the house from becoming a dark tunnel.

Letting generous light into all corners of the home, the courtyard is the property’s “lawn”, becoming an additional room during the good weather months, a perfect place for hanging out in the warm evenings.  The roof of the building, accessed via a second bedroom stacked above the main floor bedroom, also serves as a deck and even a roof garden for growing vegetables, further expanding the amount of “yard” space available on the tight lot.

Simple and readily available materials rule the roost in the house, handled with excellent detail to make them sing.  I especially like the concrete ribbed ceiling/roof – a very simple precast concrete panel that is quite akin to wood panelling that also has its own sensual feel from the smooth concrete texture.  These planks are also arranged such that the joints line up at points with the joint lines in the concrete blocks and even along some walls.  It may not seem like that would change the feel of the space much, but the eye notices, leaving the space feeling refined, whole, and unified.

Narrow framed black windows play up the the contrast between the heavy concrete walls and the light-filled gaps.  The many windows let in copious amounts of light, especially in the hallway that doubles as a kitchen, laundry, and utility area.  It’s a great double purpose area, taking advantage of the linear nature of the activities to combine them with circulation down the long site, leaving as much space as possible to the courtyard.

Even the exposed surface-mounted conduit shows a level of careful detail.  What could have seemed like a slapdash and cheap solution instead, through precise and clean installation, feels quite proper and adds to the clean lines and airiness of the house.

A lovely piece of design, creating a vibrant house that fits the constraints beautifully.  A great example of how good architecture doesn’t require lots of land or lots of expensive materials, rather, it simply takes care, skill, and design.

Vila Matilde by Terrae Tuma Arquitetos Associados