Rooftop parties are common in Quito, Ecuador, with friends throwing barbecues on top of apartment towers, and bars serving from terraces that take advantage of beautiful mountain views surrounding the city. Earlier this year, Juan Ruiz and Amelia Tapia hosted a set of al fresco parties at their building, with DJs spinning neu beats to a small crowd of around 20 people. The headliner? A collapsible prefab structure that served as the DJ booth, designed and built by the architect couple.
The prefab, called Iwi, is meant as more than just a venue—it’s for anyone looking to add a flexible space to their property. With a timber frame clad in cork and waterproof canvas stitched into wood ribbing, it expands like an accordion to a total of roughly 92 square feet. When compressed, it becomes a 26-square-foot roofed hutch.
"It can be either fully compressed, or half open, or fully open," says the Spanish-born Ruiz, who’s been in Ecuador on and off for around a decade. "And you get back all the space here that you would otherwise lose," adds Tapia, an Ecuador native.
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The idea for the prefab arose when the pair were trying to imagine how they could better use their rooftop patio. It had no protection from the region’s blazing equatorial sun or heavy afternoon downpours. They didn’t want to build a permanent room, nor did they want to install a tarp that did little to provide protection from wind.
The outdoor shelter Tapia and Ruiz created now provides them with a flexible space they mostly use an office. Its rear module has a bookshelf, sink, and an area for a coffee machine, and also comes with two tables and chairs that can slide into each other when it’s time to collapse the structure or just save on room while it’s open. "Every little bit of space here is important," says Ruiz.
The design, which he and Tapia are selling for $7,950, has plumbing and electricity that can be utilized off-grid, and can be adjusted to include elements like a fold-out bed or couch, more counter space, or additional shelving.
Adjusting the prefab for new settings—and making it user friendly—was part of Ruiz and Tapia’s plan from the beginning. Planks of wood, mainly cypress and eucalyptus sourced locally, are cut with a system of joints using a CNC machine that’s following the plans of a tweakable, digital 3D model. The pieces fit together like a puzzle, and according to the couple, can be assembled by anyone in two days.
"In the end, what we developed was a system, let's say a construction system, which is just the seed of everything that can be developed around it," says Tapia.
The duo’s decision to occasionally turn it into a venue for performances and parties was inspired in part by NPR’s Tiny Desk concerts and YouTube channels like Cercle, which films DJ sets in far flung settings. The pair and Tapia’s brother, David, who’s a DJ, started their series, Compacto Sessions, as a way of promoting the Iwi. For now, the sessions are only open to close friends, since their small rooftop has a limited capacity. But they hope to eventually host parties in public places around Quito, which are a rare occurrence.
"The main idea is for the Compacto Session to become not only a musical, artistic, and architectural project, but also a project that can unite, or be used as an urban regeneration project," says Ruiz.