“At the beginning,” says Javier Corvalán, “this house was the antithesis of our usual way of doing things, since we had chosen a physical factor as our point of departure, instead of starting from a material and structural question as we normally do.” The exception may perhaps be ascribed to the fact that this house — built for a famous Paraguayan movie director — induced the architect to be swayed by a topic that has always fascinated him: the properties of light.
With this inspiration he developed his design as an optical device, a sort of “camera obscura” into which the upturned image of the surrounding landscape is projected through a pinhole. This idea might initially sound like a gratuitous ploy, but in truth, the chosen solution is perfectly suited to the building’s functional programme. The project can be summed up as two simple parts: a base housing the bedroom and bathroom, and an upper volume with the kitchen and living room.
The main feature of this metal box, and the most curious thing about the whole house, is the mechanism that allows it to swivel on a pivot offset from the longer side of the building. By inertia, the volume breaks away from its balanced state and opens up to the landscape, thanks to a simple manual winch that operates the opening and closing mechanism.
The logic behind the development of the tilting metal box deserves further consideration. In its search for balance — or imbalance — between weights, its design sets out to exploit certain elementary laws of physics that, when suitably harnessed, allow the volume to be opened and closed. In this sense, the project recalls a celebrated solution adopted on a smaller scale by the Brazilian architect Paulo Mendes da Rocha for the windows of his home in Butantã (1964). They, too, were conceived to rotate around a pivot that was offset from the centre of gravity.
These figures are also revered as “masters” by an entire generation of Latin American architects who are united by the conviction that structure can and must be a combination of space, form and matter. That conviction is particularly applicable to Paraguay, where the highly limited resources must be used sparingly in any given situation, dictating the fundamental need to make rational choices.
The focused references to tradition also serve a precise purpose. On average, Paraguay has 285 days of sunshine per year, with temperatures often reaching 40° Celsius. The comfort of shade is thus a necessity, and precisely for this reason the porch is a key feature of traditional Paraguayan homes, where it serves as a ventilated family meeting place sheltered from sun.
Furthermore, in a country like Paraguay, where profound social and economic differences and consequent criminality represent a source of ever-present insecurity, the clients’ long absences would have exposed the house to obvious risks of burglary and vandalism. The almost total absence of windows is not only due to the necessity to cut costs, but also responds to the need to make the house less vulnerable. Thus when the upper volume is in the closed position, the building becomes an impregnable, hermetic box.
Architect: Javier Corvalán + Laboratorio de Arquitectura
Design Team: Nicolas Berger, Carlos Agüero, Joaquin Corvalán, Katja Kostrencic
Structural and Plant Engineering, Construction Supervision: Javier Corvalán
Client: Paz Encina, Ignacio Telesca
Built Area: 85 m²
Cost: € 20,000
Design Phase: 2011
Construction Phase: 2011–2012