An Introspective Brick Home in Mexico City Wraps Around a Jungle-Like Courtyard

An Introspective Brick Home in Mexico City Wraps Around a Jungle-Like Courtyard

By Mandi Keighran
The monolithic Casa Sierra Fría by industrial designer Hector Esrawe conceals a verdant interior with an imposing brick front.

The concept of home is often synonymous with that of a sanctuary—a secluded retreat that offers escape from the world. It was this desire for privacy that drove the form of a home in Mexico City for a mother, who works as a hotelier, and her three daughters aged 15, 14, and 11. The resulting home—the first residential project by Mexican industrial designer Hector Esrawe—offers the family a verdant oasis hidden behind an imposing and protective brick facade.

The entire home is wrapped in a brick "skin" that extends onto the ground at the front and sides of the home. The entrance is found through a simple void in the facade beside a pond with floating vegetation that hints at the verdant interior. 

"The brief was mostly based on how to achieve moments of interaction amongst the family in everyday life," says Esrawe. "The house provides a constant feeling of warmth and safety, and different spots that allow the family to relate to the courtyard and its lush expression."

The landscaping was created in collaboration with landscape architecture studio Entorno. "They are extremely talented and have a deep knowledge and understanding of the right composition and best expression of the plants inside a space," says designer Hector Esrawe. 

Casa Sierra Fría is located in Lomas de Chapultepec in Mexico City. The residential area surrounds Bosque de Chapultepec, one of the largest parks in the Western Hemisphere. Many of the buildings in the area date back to the 1920s, and feature traditional brick constructions, which inspired the materiality of the monolithic built form. "Because of its format and scale, it stands out immediately," says Esrawe. "The brick relates to the property’s surroundings and is contemporary yet not invasive."

Casa Sierra Fría is the first residential project by Esrawe Studio, the design studio founded by Mexican industrial designer Hector Esrawe in 2003. It is regarded as one of the best known design studios in the country. 

The volume of the home wraps around the internal courtyard in a horseshoe shape. A setback on three of the four sides allows the main volume to express itself as a monolithic mass floating in the center of the site. The red bricks used in the facade have been extended onto the ground plane to form patios at the side and parking space at the front.

The slim profile of the red bricks used in the facade creates a textured surface across the monolithic form, while red and brown tones of each brick create an organic, varied pattern of color. 

"I have always felt attracted to the brick and the extensive use of it in Latin American architecture," says Esrawe. "We also have a heritage from colonial constructions where the main facade allows little or no visual access from the outside, and the space is mainly oriented toward an inner experience. While I especially have memories of many patios in Oaxaca City, this type of construction extends all over Mexico."

A side patio leads from the front of the home to the courtyard. The same red bricks used for the facade have been used for the paving to create a seamless fabric that wraps the built form and the site.

While the home is brutalist and monumental on the outside, the interior is a lush oasis, with a more intimate and human scale. "We wanted to use a single material to create the skin of the home and believe that brick has a powerful expression and a timeless, warm character," says Esrawe. "Behind this facade, the interior is an organic contrast, with a richness of expression and soothing, peaceful feeling."

The enormous pivoting front door, which is 2.7 meters high and 2.4 meters wide, is crafted from oak veneer. It opens directly into an expansive view of the internal courtyard garden, creating a delightful moment of surprise and contrast. 

The entrance to the home is through a simple cavity in the brick facade, which leads to a brick-clad antechamber with an enormous front door crafted from oak veneer. This door opens into the marble-floored circulation space, that runs around the massive garden in the central courtyard. Through the glass walls that enclose the courtyard, the different areas of the ground floor are visible.

The sunken living room created an opportunity for a bespoke joinery unit that can be used as a bench overlooking the courtyard as well as a storage space for books and objects. Topped with the same Iranian travertine marble that is used for the flooring in the entrance, it extends the hallway along the courtyard into the living room. 

To the right of the entrance is the living room, which has been sunken to create a more immersive relationship with the courtyard. On the opposite side of the courtyard is the dining room, terrace, kitchen, and access to the basement wine cellar.

A stone path provides access through the internal courtyard, connecting the various ground floor spaces. 

"The internal courtyard is the heart of the house," says Esrawe. "All the spaces on the ground level have direct access through it, and all the rooms above look over it. We took advantage of the orientation of the house to allow the courtyard to receive light throughout the day and to distribute the same light to the different spaces in the house."

The downstairs hallway flooring is Iranian travertine marble, while the stair and flooring in the upstairs hallway is oak. The walls have been finished with a polished concrete texture. 

The bathroom has been entirely clad in large Fior di Bosco marble panels, creating a simple backdrop for the arrangement of plants overlooked by the tub. 

Timber stairs lead to the first floor, on which more private spaces, including bedrooms, a family room and study, and a second terrace, are located. A roof garden that overlooks the courtyard and rear terrace can be accessed from the family room. "The home has different spots for different activities at different moments," says Esrawe. "This allows the family to be all together or have moments on their own."

The floating oak staircase in the first-floor family room leads to the rooftop garden, which features a lounge area, grill, and small bar room with a restroom. Bespoke oak shelving behind the stair offers a display area for books and other objects. 

A bespoke oak desk in the more private family room on the first floor offers a space for family members to work or study in private. 

"The biggest challenge with this project was walking the client through the concept of the house," says Esrawe. "She was not confident along the way that the outcome would relate to a human scale or not be too cold. Now, however, she couldn’t be happier! The monolithic and rigorous expression of the brick contrasted with the lushness of the patio brings this project to life." 

The blank north-eastern facade faces the entrance to the property. "It is the main intention of the project to create an intimate interaction with the family," says Esrawe. "By being contained, a continuous relationship with nature is integrated into the home." 

The ground-floor living space looks inward to the courtyard and is protected on all other sides by the mass of the building and the blank brick facade.

Ground floor plan of Casa Sierra Fría by Esrawe Studio. 

First floor plan of Casa Sierra Fría by Esrawe Studio. 

Rooftop plan of Casa Sierra Fría by Esrawe Studio. 

Section of Casa Sierra Fría by Esrawe Studio. 

Related Reading: 15 Enchanting Homes in Mexico City That Retreat From the Bustle

Project Credits:

Architect of Record: Esrawe Studio

Structural Engineer: CARUNTI

Civil Engineer: Leydam Consultores SC

Landscape Design: Entorno Taller de Paisaje

Lighting Design: LUA Luz en Arquitectura

Interior Design: Esrawe Studio

Sound Engineer: COR Ingeniera

Cabinetry Installation: COR Ingeniera

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