When beginning to design a house, we believe an architect should consider new ways of thinking about dwelling. Every circumstance is different, changing with time, place, and client. New building technologies, site idiosyncrasies, social factors, and the client’s personality can combine to suggest a unique approach.

Even a modest house can be full of complexity when constructive and spatial variables overlap with sociological factors. In this sense, we are interested in exploring beyond established social factors to those that reveal new experiences of space.

This project, a house for a single engineer, is an example of this experimentation. FACTORIA Design attempted a process of synthesis in which we had to rethink every question about designing a space for dwelling.

The client is a food engineer and industrial production manager of a fish canning plant. He is constantly involved with machines and production chains. On one hand, he wanted his new home to provide an escape from the plant; on the other hand, he wanted the house to reflect concepts of efficiency, which he works with and values.

As the house’s single inhabitant, our client does not fit the typical profile of “family.” He interacts with his domestic space, its surroundings, and its views in a very different way than if he had a traditional family with children.

Context and Site

The house is located at Pingueral, one hour from Concepcion City, Chile. Although the Pacific Ocean is about a quarter mile (400 meters) away from the site, one can sense its proximity by the ocean air, the smell, the sand, and the undulating landscape.

Pingueral has historically been thought of as a remote place, distant from the city. However the idea of “distant” has changed in today’s world. Our client wanted to live physically outside the city but also be connected to his work. This led us to consider creating spaces specifically for nontraditional activities, like an Internet navigation area and a guestroom for city friends who might stay over for a few days.

The nearly square site, 79 by 82 feet (24 by 25 meters) inclines down toward the west. The slope is constant and diagonal to the site boundaries. We took advantage of this topography and orientation to cut a concrete volume into the site and suspend from it a glass structure.

The house is surrounded by a stand of young pines. They are very tall, without low branches, so their foliage doesn’t become dense until about 15 feet (4 or 5 meters) above ground level. Creating a dense canopy over an open area with a beautiful humus carpet, they provide a poetic image of floating tree branches over an area of trunks.

The canopy is also a sunlight filter that creates a dense and magical atmosphere, varying with the sun’s movement and with one’s vertical proximity to the canopy.

The Insertion

The house is made up of three tectonic elements of basic geometry and of different materials: a concrete core, a glass box, and an opaque wood-covered metal box. We wanted to make the minimal intrusion on the site so we set the concrete core and the metal-and-wood box above the ground level. Onto these we anchored the glass box, which is structurally supported by the steel.

The three elements are connected by a complex circulation system. Spaces are fluidly connected or completely separated. A fourth element is being considered for bedrooms in a future phase. The proposed volume would be connected to the concrete core through a glass connecting bridge.

We tried to express a paradoxical relationship between dwelling and land: the dwelling as an object contrasting with nature but giving equal value to the site and the architecture.

Dwelling Elements and Circulation

One enters the house via a ramp to the wood-clad, steel-frame structure. A totally opaque exterior opens to a three-floor-high interior space. At the entry is an access hall and two stairs, one that goes down to the living room and one that goes up to the top floor and glass roof. The theatricality of this entry hall is accentuated by the use of transparencies, with a fiberglass floor and sheet-metal stairs.

Descending from the entry hall, one enters the glass box. The lightness of the glass contrasts with the concrete, opening the house, in both plan and section, to the surrounding landscape. Inside the glass box are a large open dining room and living room, both two stories high. This volume is connected to the open kitchen inside the concrete box.

The glass box is suspended over the site, between the trees. Structurally, it is framed in galvanized steel, all members bolted for easy assembly. The perimeter has an aluminum structure and a double-glass curtain wall. We wanted to create a sensation of floating among the trees

The concrete core is a vertical anchor from which the rest of the house unfolds. This hybrid and stable structure creates a dialectic of heavy and light, earth and sky. Within the three-story-high core are grouped the bathrooms, kitchen, and mechanical shaft.

At its lowest level, the concrete core connects to the glass frame through the kitchen and to the wood-metal frame below the entry level. In this area, there is a bedroom and a hall for the future bedroom extension volume.

On the second level is a hanging platform of wood and steel. At this level there are a studio, a bathroom, and a suspended Internet navigation area. This element floats out over the dining room into the double-high glass box volume.

The top floor has a bedroom, a bathroom, and access to the roof of the glass box, a large exterior terrace. Here one is literally within the tree canopy.

We hope that our process of synthesis is inscribed in this domestic space, integrating topography, social context, materiality, client experiences, and cultural factors. These inscriptions in space constitute the object. However, this object will only be completed over time, as the client makes the house into his own place.

Susana Andrea Herrera and Jose Miguel Heras are principals of FACTORIA Design and Construction Ltd., a design/build firm in Concepcion City, Chile.