Architecture of the see-through
Luis Miguel Lus Arana
Sitting in its privileged location in Valle de Bravo, Mexico, House EH, “La Lagartija”, stands as the distillation of a certain type of modernity, or at least, of the way in which the international style has been absorbed and translated in Latin America since the 1940s. When approached during daytime, the main façade offers a convincingly opaque impression. However, upon entering, or at night, when the inner lighting dissolves the solid brise-soleil of the upper floors, the building reveals its true nature as a tenuous, ambiguous barrier between the front access and the private space of the back courtyard. With its simple, yet effective use of a few key elements of Latin American modernity – pergolas, brise-soleils, excavated porches – the house succeeds in diluting the transition between inside and outside by means of intermediate spaces with varying degrees of permeability and light exposure.
In this sense, the project is firmly rooted in a very Latin American tradition that takes us back to Francisco Artigas’ “Casa del Risco” in El Pedregal, the house that Antonio Bonet designed for Gabriel Berlingieri in Punta Ballena, Uruguay, or the brise-soleil-ridden Milton Guper residence built by Rino Levi and Roberto Cerqueira Cesar in Sao Paulo. Meanwhile, the curving walls of the basement access immediately bring to mind other seminal works of the Spanish-speaking single-family housing tradition such as Juan Antonio Coderch’s Ugalde Residence, with its sinuous shapes retaining the mountain slope and guiding visitors towards the threshold that marks the entrance to the house. And of course, they take us back to a whole other branch of Latin American modernity better represented by the works of Oscar Niemeyer, especially his own house in Gávea, Rio de Janeiro.
With all these houses, but especially with the former ones, the EH residence shares the naturalness with which certain Latin American countries integrated the paradigm shift that emanated from Europe and the United States into their vocabulary. If, in the case of Brazil, it was the raw concrete buildings produced by Le Corbusier that would mark the agenda – even if tarnished by a local tendency to sensuality – Mexico preferred to look northwards, importing the rigorous lightness of the Case Study House program, with Richard Neutra, Craig Ellwood, and Ralph Rapson as its standard bearers. In the absence of a generation which, like Peter Behrens or H.P. Berlage in Europe, represented the transition between beaux arts and modernity, Latin America in general, and Mexico in particular, adopted the tropes and motifs of the international style without their heroic shortcomings. Certainly, the EH House also includes some contemporary styleme, such as the continuous band of concrete/stone that runs through the façade, echoing the remnants of a broken single-surface, or the glass railings. However, beyond these few incidental features, it is seamlessly interwoven into a modern tradition that has been developing, almost unchangingly, since the second post-war period: an architecture whose proven efficiency relies on a pragmatic gestural economy.
Location Valle de Bravo, Mexico
Architecture Gomez Crespo Arquitectos
Associated Architect Gaxiola Arquitectos
Project design Federico Gomez Crespo, Gomez Crespo Arquitectos
Construction José Antonio Gaxiola de Haro, Gaxiola Arquitectos
Team Stefano Menchelli, Ana Elena Hernandez
Interiors Covadonga Hernandez
Landscape Pedro Sanchez