When architect Fernanda Canales decided to create a vacation home for her family on a secluded plateau in Valle de Bravo, Mexico, she knew that the remote location and temperamental weather would be a challenge. But her attraction to the area’s exceptional landscapes and rich history, she says, made the endeavor more than worth it.
The goal was to create a weekend retreat—the home is three hours from Mexico City—that would simultaneously open up to landscape views and serve as a refuge from the region’s radical climate. "The temperature can vary up to 30 degrees Celsius [86 degrees Fahrenheit] in one day and rain is predominant during half of the year," says Canales.
Not only would the house, dubbed Casa Terreno, need to be resilient enough to withstand weather whiplash, but it also had to create all of its own energy. As a result, Canales followed passive house principles and turned to brick and concrete—materials with high thermal mass—for the building blocks of her design.
Drawing inspiration from the flat terrain, Canales crafted Casa Terreno as a single-story home spread out across nearly 6,500 square feet. To embrace landscape views and solar exposure from different directions, the low-lying home is designed around four courtyards.
The first courtyard, defined by its curved shape, serves as the threshold between the exterior and the entrance, and leads to a brick sky-lit chamber with a dramatic vaulted ceiling that creates a sense of arrival. The chamber provides access to the largest courtyard located at the center of the home that connects to the east-facing bedroom wing and the living areas to the south. A third courtyard is also on the south side and provides rooftop access, while the fourth, and smallest, courtyard can be found in the service area.
"These four courtyards create different atmospheres within a vast landscape and frame specific views of the exterior," explains Canales. "Each space is directly related to at least one courtyard on one side and to the open landscape on the other, allowing for cross-ventilation and sunlight during the whole day."
To give the interior extra height and architectural variety, Canales topped parts of the home with terra cotta-tiled barrel vaults. "They create a new topography that coexists with the vegetation of the flat roofs," notes Canales, referring to the green-roofed flat volumes above the kitchen and service areas.
"The project allows varied sequences and openings, sometimes through lattices that create privacy, sometimes through large windows that can open fully and hide inside the walls in order to transform interior spaces as open terraces, and sometimes through windows that frame particular views," adds Canales, whose strategic design layout ensures that all rooms receive direct sunlight from at least two directions.
Access to natural lighting and cross ventilation, as well as use of wood-burning fireplaces help minimize energy demands for the home, which does not have any mechanical heating or cooling. Electricity and hot water are powered by solar energy, while the barrel roofs help funnel rainwater into a 26,000-gallon underground cistern. Sewage is also treated on-site.
"Since the house is only one level, it almost disappears into the landscape," notes Canales, who says that’s one of her favorite aspects of her weekend home.
More by Fernanda Canales Arquitectura: Nine Black Concrete Volumes Form This Mexican Retreat
Architect of Record: Fernanda Canales Arquitectura
Structural Engineer: Gerson Huerta - Grupo SAI
General Contractor: Felipe Nieto
Get the Dwell Newsletter
Be the first to see our latest home tours, design news, and more.