by Estudio Morton
Location: Horizontes al Sur, Guernica, Prov. de Buenos Aires, Argentina
Design and Construction Site Management: Arch. Diorella Fortunati
Collaborators: Arq. Nuria Jover, Daiana Ferreira, Marisa Caudi
Built area: 1400 ft2
Land area: 6460 ft2
Design year: 2019
Construction year: 2021
structural engineer: Carlos Tinirello
PH: Matias Godec
Awards: Mención Premio Obra Construida 2022 Categoría Vivienda Aislada
Selección In Award Bienal de NY 2022
Other uses of houses
by Diorella Fortunati
I would like to talk about the premises that led to the construction of this house and at the same time show how according to its use, it becomes alive in different ways.
This began with a family of three and now they are four, without considering Matu, their basset hound. In 2018 they were complete strangers to me. I received an e-mail with an unprecedented proposal, to design a house that could be built with half of the market value that year. I immediately felt I had to take the challenge and work together with them, to prove it could be done. With a lot of questions in mind, I took my time to think about strategies that could lower the construction costs. The working method would be with different contractors, this way the clients could buy materials after researching prices. But, what materials would these be?
They wanted concrete because of its austerity and low maintenance since this house is in Guernica, an economical land badly oriented and without vegetation. I had to explain that we wouldn´t be able to use this material because of its cost and they would have to expect an integral project. A main condition was that this gated community demands that the minimum square meters to build is 120m2 in one phase, which made the project even bigger because the semi-covered area are essential to the interior spaces. To concede these spaces was not a possibility. It was getting more complicated to resolve the proposal with the available budget.
The train of thought began positioning the design on its south façade, since one of our challenges would be to create passive sustainability in order to reduce future energy consumption. The result was a pavilion directed towards the back of the site, with the public area opening towards the north east façade and a pavilion parallel to the front of the site with the private areas facing north west façade. Both pavilions articulated with a nucleus with a bathroom, a toilet that accesses from outside, a kitchen and a laundry room with the water tank above them, so the prism grows towards the sky. In this articulation between both areas, is also the access to the house. We talk about areas, in other words, big flexible spaces with the option to possible divisions in the future (a second phase), this is why in both pavilions there is an added closed volume that breaks the geometry and gives privacy where it is necessary. In the public area this volume is where we find the TV, fireplace, library, countertop and grill, covering the visuals from the neighbors. In the private area, it contains the wardrobe area thought for four people, the linen and machinery room, in a way that it interrupts the direct visual to the bedrooms from the public area. These 3 closed prisms (nucleus and both storage units) are materialized as dark boxes made of bricks that characterize and give scale to a fluid, ambiguous and austere preliminary space shaped only by the upper plane and the floor, allowing unobstructed views in every direction. I proposed to solve all the semi-covered areas that generate the intermediate spaces between the outdoors and the interior with exposed concrete and phenolic formwork, to speed up its execution, at a height of 6’-9”.
In the interior spaces we work with precast concrete planks, ensuring better thermal insulation, located at 7’-6”. Between these two horizontal planes suspended at different heights, the country landscape enters through 18 inch high slits that seem infinite due to the landscape proportion and because they end up opening up to the sky in a continuous separation that avoids linking the solid planes that contain space and the sight. The same operation is repeated in different areas of the house with different goals.
Varying the levels of the ground, from that also cementitious zero, we achieve the dimensions of relationship with the exterior sought in each area, maintaining the same level in the upper planes and stressing the space to generate contrast between narrow and slender areas.
Using precast technology in the largest surface area of the roof gave us the following benefits: negate the use of formwork, reduce execution time and thus the value of labor, avoid the suspended ceiling, unlike the option of joists and schedule a single pour of concrete, solving in a short time the entire structure and roof of the house.
I proposed to materialize the relationship with the internal street of the neighborhood through an 32 inch thick filter. Formed both by an eave and by an alternation of exposed concrete partitions dissonant with the rhythm of the aluminum window frames, which avoid direct views of the interior, among which are rebars from the construction that are allowed to rust and work as guides for future vines. The choice of vegetation, whether it is perennial or deciduous, whether it has flowers or scent, makes this "living filter" change with the times of the year, letting in the afternoon sun in winter and with it the heat, and preventing the entrance of sun in summer with the foliage.
The project was ready. We applied for a building permit immediately.
When the preliminary work began, the pandemic began and with it the mandatory quarantine, the project was interrupted.
When we resumed work, already in 2021, the land was abandoned, without maintenance and invaded by pests of native animals. Thus, we began the construction of a project that had been planned for some time, in a different market. They were able to add the pool to the project a year after construction began, due to the devaluation of our currency at that time.
We finalized the work in front of the neighborhood and its architect. We had gone through the nightmare of removing the temporary support of the great beam after the comments of "it will fall", and the construction workers that did not want to work under it. In the middle, Carlitos (Engineer Carlos Tinnirello), our structure calculator and friend, died due to the pandemic, he left us this legacy of daring that we can proudly expose today.
A few months ago, I rang the bell and Hipólito, our client, opened the door with a smile: the project is no longer ours, now it is his house. I could see some furniture located here and there, the cups, the sugar bowl, the mate, life… I would like to spy on those other uses of the houses that now have a place.
 In Buenos Aires, Argentina, it is easier to buy land in gated communities located in the suburbs. It has become the way middle class can afford a home.