Reflections on a Lake

Originally published in 

Unobtrusively distinct from its neighbors, a weekend house in Mexico assimilates the colors of the surrounding landscape on surfaces of glass, steel, and concrete.

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In the picturesque Mexican village of Valle de Bravo, where Spanish-colonial stucco and tile are the norm, a weekend house designed by Bernardo Gomez-Pimienta is proof that the 21st century has arrived. Hardly a newcomer to forward-thinking design, the 42-year-old architect shared Latin America’s first Mies van der Rohe prize with Enrique Norten in 1998. Together as TEN Arquitectos (1987–2003), their output included world-renowned buildings like Mexico City’s Habita Hotel and the Brooklyn Public Library in New York. Lesser known but no less beautiful, Gomez-Pimienta’s weekend getaway sits on the village’s steep mountainside, facing a massive man-made lake where vacationers come to sun, sail, fish, or water-ski. Choosing the site for its lake view and two-hour distance from his home in Mexico City, he conceptualized the house with a single sketch, and built it in just one year. The result is a place where everything—from the architectural schema to the furniture and tableware—is designed by the owner.

A neutral palette of glass, concrete, and stainless steel allows Casa Ia—named after the first child of the architect and his wife, Loredana Dall’ Amico—to rest unobtrusively in the landscape, and yet the house has a marked peculiarity. As in many Mexican mountain villages, most rooftops in Valle de Bravo tilt downhill to shed water in the rainy season—a strategy that inherently also blocks the view. Gomez-Pimienta slanted his roof in the opposite direction. “By refining the way the roof is sealed,” he explains, “we found a way to have perpetual vistas of the water, the mountains, and the sky.” With its broad side facing the lake, a single glass volume embraces Casa Ia’sliving and dining areas, supported by the ground level, where the existing stone walls of an old unfinished structure were transformed into bedrooms.

For Gomez-Pimienta, the house’s spatial magic lies in a concept he likes to call “perfect tidiness”: “Deep down, this is a big Lego assembly of columns, girders, wood, and glass,” he says. “Orifices in the concrete line up with the marble stone lines in the floor, which in turn line up with columns and wood panels. All the materials and details tie together into a cohesive whole.” His other guiding design principle was that “all spaces had to see the lake”—a vision that came to fruition throughout the house, even in the master bathroom, where the sink, tub, and toilet all have headlong lake views. In this context, the Lego-minded simplicity becomes something monumental.

Connecting the upstairs living room to the downstairs bedrooms, a stairway descends into a rectangular opening at one end of the marble floor. Encased in thick stone walls, the stair has a stainless steel banister that slopes gently at the top, and culminates in a high-velocity curve. “You can slide down at pretty good speeds,” says Gomez-Pimienta, who planned this perk for his children, Ia,
now four, and Nicolas, who is three. At the bottom of the stair is an immaculate room with bunk beds. Clad in blue-and-white-striped sheets, six mattresses lie neatly on broad cantilevered wedges of concrete.

Outside, the plan of the property continues to cut against the grain. Most of Valle de Bravo’s swimming pools are on the lake sides of houses, and so despite their lake views, they suffer chilly offshore breezes. At Casa Ia, the pool area, where the kids spend long hours withtheir parents, fits into a sun-drenched concrete box be-tween the house and the hillside, sheltered from the wind. Best of all, the splendid view remains, unimpeded by the living room’s glazed walls.

Just off the pool is a solarium, where translucent easy chairs designed by the architect blend into the scenery by color mimesis. This phenomenon is also perpetuated by the use of stainless steel in the living spaces, on col-umns and balustrades, bath and kitchen fixtures, hardware, and appliances. “Stainless steel is a great material,” says Gomez-Pimienta, “because it reflects its surroundings and disappears, enhancing the light and color that enters from outside: sky, clouds, water, and trees.”

Upstairs, the living areas are warmed, cooled, enlarged, or shrunken, simply by adjusting the glass doors on the house’s lake and pool sides. Light and ambience alter throughout the day, and due to the reflective qualities of steel, glass, and concrete, the house travels with the colors of the lake and sky—from clear blue in the morning to pink, yellow, or purple in the afternoon. With unabashed happiness, the architect declares that “the house can be 200 square meters by night, but it can go from here to the other end of the lake by day.”

In a larger sense, Casa Ia’s mutability hearkens back to the architect’s Lego reference. The family makes the rooms feel big and ethereal when they wish, or, says Dall’ Amico, “small and cozy when it’s time to cuddle.” “What I enjoy the most,” her husband adds with more of an architect’s tenor, “is that you get to watch the space extend or reduce, and the unceasing vari-ations perpetually make it a different place from one moment to the next.”

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