Budget Breakdown: This Ethereal Glass House in the Brazilian Forest Was Built for $187K

Budget Breakdown: This Ethereal Glass House in the Brazilian Forest Was Built for $187K

By Tiffany Leigh
Built for a scholar, Casa Biblioteca is a sanctuary for reading, stargazing, and enjoying a cigar or two.

Though the very picture of serenity, this glass retreat in Vinhedo, Brazil, just north of São Paulo, was indirectly born out of political strife. In his youth, the client was a left-wing activist against the country’s military dictatorship; at one point, he received death threats and was even exiled. Fortunately, times are more peaceful for this now septuagenarian, who has built up a reputation as a renowned scholar, having retired from as a dean and professor of political science and philosophy at the University of Campinas.

Though he no longer works, the homeowner remains active in academia, dividing his time between his permanent residence in São Paulo, workplace in Campinas, and more recently, this dreamy refuge in Vinhedo between them. Casa Biblioteca, or Library House, is a sanctuary for reading and studying, reflecting, stargazing, and enjoying cigars.

$34,903.85
Project Consultation & Planning
$4,543.27
Land Surveying, Clearing, Site Inspection
$4,326.85
Foundation
$5,769.23
Plumbing
$25,464.56
Wood Flooring Resin, Kitchen Built-Ins, Concrete Sanding
$5,769.23
Electrical
$33,186.79
Concrete Superstructure
$15,624.80
Glass
$7,364.45
Sitework
$1,186.13
Equipment
$7,692.31
Woodwork
$41,129.42
General Labor
Grand Total: $186,960.89


The homeowner inherited the 1.36 acres over 40 years ago and finally saved enough to hire Matteo Arnone and Pep Pons of Atelier Branco Arquitectura, who came recommended by a family friend. The initial project was slated to be a modest, 540-square-foot space to house his books to be built for $50,000—but through the client’s involvement, the scope expanded. Says the firm, "While the client didn’t have an in-depth knowledge of architecture and design, he knew what he liked and didn’t like."

The homeowner inherited the 1.36 acres over 40 years ago and finally saved enough to hire Matteo Arnone and Pep Pons of Atelier Branco Arquitectura, who came recommended by a family friend. The initial project was slated to be a modest, 540-square-foot space to house his books to be built for $50,000—but through the client’s involvement, the scope expanded.

Inspired by the tropical climate, the Italian-Hispanic duo came up with something more elaborate: a 1,615-square-foot glass home where the client could slumber alongside his prized literary possessions. "It took 13 months and three major revisions, but we finally arrived at something that showcased his many accolades and defining work," says the firm. 

After surveying the land, the architects noted a few initial hurdles: "The site was on a steep, north-facing terrain within a clearing of Vinhedo’s dense Mata Atlantica—the Atlantic Forest which spans the majority of Brazil’s littoral region," explains the firm. To ensure structural integrity, the architects designed the home’s living spaces to be perpendicular to the sloping topography, and the roofline to be in harmony with the ground level, canopy, and horizon.

To ensure structural integrity, the architects designed the home’s living spaces to be perpendicular to the sloping topography, and the roofline to be in harmony with the ground level, canopy, and horizon.

Once these parameters were established, the home’s cascading form naturally defined the open-concept interior—no partitions or walls were erected. The 13-foot-tall client’s studio, which includes a bedroom and shower area, sits at the top of the slope. As you travel downward, spaces become larger and brighter until you reach the expansive living and dining area, which is 16.8 feet in height.

A six-inch-thick concrete slab forms the sturdy roof, which doubles as a terrace and viewing platform. Measuring 65 by 32 feet, it’s finished with local Garapeira wood laid in a chevron pattern and reinforced with eight slender concrete pillars. "The roof hovers slightly over the terrain’s uppermost retention wall to create this hard-edged line," say the architects. A concrete-paved staircase and walkway follow the home’s staggered design and neatly hugs the perimeter of the property.

A six-inch-thick concrete slab forms the sturdy roof, which doubles as a terrace and viewing platform. Since the client is the only person who uses the home, he opted not to have railings—but exercises plenty of caution when heading up to view the stars and smoke his cigars.

Local wood, laid in a herringbone pattern, forms the rooftop terrace.

Floor-to-ceiling glass allows light to freely flood the interior and illuminate its jewel-like structure. Here in the forest, privacy is less of a concern. "While we did include curtains in the initial sketches, the client proceeded without them," say the architects. "He does have neighbors nearby, but because the vegetation is so dense and lush, it not only provides shade and a cooling effect, but also acts as a natural barrier."

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Floor-to-ceiling glass allows light to freely flood the interior and illuminate its jewel-like structure.

Construction began in June 2014, beginning with an in-situ concrete cast. "All the materials and labor were locally sourced or consulted, so the formwork and joinery were done within a single day by two older gentlemen," say the architects, who were initially worried about the vast scope of work that needed to be completed on a tight timeline. "Edivaldo Lourenço and Eduardo Lourenço did it all ‘old-school’ by hand, and with no issues," they continue. "In the end, the task was completed flawlessly." The in-situ cast concrete also informed the core services and storage facilities, which were carved into the retention walls. This included the two bathrooms, the kitchen, bookcases, and wardrobes.

The living room is the largest and brightest space of the home. A bisecting staircase leads to the bedroom, kitchen, and living/dining room. As per the client’s desire for privacy and discretion, the furnishings have been staged by Etel Design.

Light penetrates the concrete bathroom via a skylight.

To bolster the open-concept appearance and balance the heavy use of concrete, the glass was also strategically stylized: "We crafted L-frames out of steel, mounted the glass, and used plaster to seal everything up. We opted to arrange them as motifs that pay homage to the iconic ‘Paulistana’ tradition of the 1950s."

The next 18 months of construction were straightforward, proceeding with locally sourced Garaperia wood, glass, and steel. "The wood was used to line the floors, upper terrace, and bookcases," says the firm. "It is elegant, dense, sturdy, and can last for many years." To bolster the open-concept appearance and balance the heavy use of concrete, the glass was also strategically stylized: "We crafted L-frames out of steel, mounted the glass, and used plaster to seal everything up. We opted to arrange them as motifs that pay homage to the iconic ‘Paulistana’ tradition of the 1950s." 

"While we did include curtains in the initial sketches, the client proceeded without them," say the architects. "He does have neighbors nearby, but because the vegetation is so dense and lush, it not only provides shade and a cooling effect, but also acts as a natural barrier."

Atelier Branco built 3,229 square feet of shelving units to house all of the client's texts, documents, and books.

In November of 2015, the project was completed, and the client’s books filled every shelf in the home. Though he had opted for natural ventilation rather than an HVAC system due to the relatively steady climate, the homeowner did purchase a few dehumidifiers to protect his tomes. Now it’s truly a bibliophile’s paradise.

More Budget Breakdown:

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Project Credits: 

Architects: Atelier Branco Arquitetura, principals Matteo Arnone and Pep Pons / @atelierbranco

Project Team: Andreas Schneller, Cristina Plana, Marta Pla, Martina Salvaneschi

Structural Engineer: Biscuola Engineering, John Biscuola

Foundation Engineer: Ludemann Engineering, Sergio Ludemann

Systems Engineer: JCF projetos e coconstruções, João Claudinei Alves

Formwork and Joinery: Edivaldo Lourenço and Eduardo Lourenço

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