Earth as a symbol of stability

An ancient technology combines its sustainable potential with the architectural metaphor for a united family group.


Architecture / Niki Nakazawa

Built in the spirit of open-source design, Ajijic House is the product of a dynamic collaboration between a multidisciplinary team of architects, artists and designers working closely with the client. This highly integrated process of designing and constructing the house transformed what could have been a traditional provider-client relationship into a deeply bonding experience in which the user and architect became accomplices and co-authors.

This weekend home is located in the beautiful sleepy town of Ajijic, Jalisco, on the northern shore of the largest freshwater lake in Mexico, Lake Chapala. Built for a family of three, the house's design is composed of four cubes, three separate volumes (one for each family member) and a fourth representing the family as a unified whole.

Beyond their symbolic resonance, the cubes are divided between public and private spaces connected through circulations created in the areas where the cubes overlap. The two cubes aligned with the lake and mountain vistas host the common areas, while the two other volumes are more closed, intimate, containing the bedrooms, bathrooms and studio. The construction and distribution of the house poetically reflect on the solidity of the family and the centrality of these relationships to the client, creating quiet, reflective areas as well as permeable communal spaces that open up with views of the surrounding landscape.

View of the house towards the garden, with the bedroom wing in the foreground.

Ajijic House was constructed using rammed earth, an ancient construction method in which a mix of damp earth and a stabilising agent is compressed into a temporary formwork. In this case, the walls were produced using a combination of earth sourced on site and 8 to 12 per cent cement, significantly reducing the cost of materials. A layer of the dirt and cement mixture is first poured into a modular wood formwork and then compacted either manually or with the aid of a pneumatic tamper, leaving the walls with a delicate banded complexion.

The thick walls are constructed with layers of earth that create a striped texture. The surface has no uniform colour, but rather a range of shades revealing a sense of unity.

Although labour-intensive, rammed earth constructions ultimately save on energy consumption by creating "breathing walls" that regulate the internal microclimate of the house while effectively blocking out any surrounding noise. The incredible depth and range in the colour of the walls complement the simple geometric plan and establish a more intimate relationship to the natural surroundings.

Although labour-intensive, rammed earth constructions ultimately save on energy consumption by creating 'breathing walls' that regulate the internal microclimate of the house while effectively blocking out any surrounding noise.

The project extends the communal parts of the home towards the landscape, while letting light into the more private rooms through tall and narrow windows.

As in a number of her past projects, Tatiana Bilbao decided to invite several artists and designers to collaborate with her on the development of the interior domestic spaces and finishings. For example, Rodolfo Diaz and Marco Rountree, two young and creative artists based in Mexico City, created a system of light-pink patterned tiles for the bathrooms, while the artist Cynthia Gutierrez from Guadalajara produced geometric brise-soleils in vinyl for the windows, and Cuban sculptor Jorge Pardo custom-designed six lamps distributed throughout the house.

View of the entrance. The use of pressed earth enabled the architect to explore contrasting concepts such as transparency and compactness.

Tatiana Bilbao's disciplined involvement of her clients and of professionals from other fields in her designs not only accomplishes beautiful results, but also imbues them with a tangible sense of warmth, which is so often the key to truly fantastic spaces.
Niki Nakazawa

View of the kitchen, which is a continuation of the dining and living rooms.

Architect: Tatiana Bilbao S.C.
Design team: Tatiana Bilbao, Thorsten Englert, Damián Figueras, Adriana de Carvalho, Alex Cabrales, Marco Robles, Edgar Gonzalez
Construction Supervision: Tatiana Bilbao, Damián Figueras
Structural Engineering: MONCAD, Jorge Cadena
Hydraulic Engineering: Hidrotecnicos S.A.
Electrical Engineering: Incoesa S.A.
Building Contractor: Cabrera & Asociados Arquitectos, Enrique Cabrera
Artists: Vigueta y Bovedilla (Marco Rountree y Rodolfo Diaz), Cynthia Gutierrez
Landscape: TOA, Emiliano Garcia WITH Paisage Tony Rodea
Client: Vivian Charpenel
Total Floor Area: 298 m2
Cost: € 141,000
Design Phase: 10/2009—04/2010
Construction Phase: 05/2010—12/2010

The whole building is 15 cm above the ground level.

Ajijic House faces the shores of Lake Chapala, near Guadalajara, in the Mexican state of Jalisco.

View from the kitchen.

Geometry plays a major role in Titiana Bilbao’s work. In this home, for example, the arrangement of its interiors is derived from the intersection of four squares, two of which are orientated towards the lake and two towards the town of Ajijic.

View of the main entrance facade. Bilbao used pressed earth as a single material with which to build both the structural part of the house and its insulation.

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