This Black Prefab Cabin in Uruguay “Melts” Into the Woods
The pandemic led Conrado, a Uruguayan living in London, to follow through on a long-held dream. For years, he’d wanted to build a vacation home on family property in the coastal town of Blancarena where he could gather with loved ones. After several Zoom meetings with prefab builder iHouse, a Montevideo-based firm that he discovered while scrolling Instagram in April 2020, Conrado’s dream would soon become reality.
The undertaking, however, was ambitious from the start. Conrado wanted to spend the holidays at the new home, which would mean that iHouse would have to finish everything by December. To add to the challenges of a condensed timeline, Conrado was still in the UK.
"[It] was unusual because of the distance between us," admits Agustin Sica, a member of iHouse’s design team. But by adapting practices and technology that enhanced the experience of remote collaboration—a silver lining to the pandemic, if there are any—iHouse was able to keep Conrado involved at every step.
iHouse’s cofounders, architects Marcelo Mederos and Andres Garcia, led the entire process beginning with the design phase: They easily shared photorealistic renders, plans, and references from previous works, all over video calls. In addition, Conrado’s mother was able to serve as an in-person liaison, accompanying the firm to the project site.
Designed to contemporize the small, wooden cabins that are common in the area, Casa ZGZ is a single-level, black-clad cabin comprising two modules pushed together lengthwise. The first includes the spaces that require plumbing: the bathrooms and the kitchen. The second module houses two bedrooms and the living and dining areas. The cabin’s exterior gets its black color from a natural oil-like finish that protects the wood, a treatment that also makes the home "melt into the shadow of the trees" for added privacy. Floor-to-ceiling windows, and decks at both the front and rear, further immerse the home into its setting.
Set in sensitive ecosystem, a native forest, the home would have been much more difficult to build using traditional on-site methods. iHouse constructed the prefab’s pieces in a production plant adjacent to the firm’s architecture studio in Montevideo. Then, they toted the pieces to the site where they installed the design quickly and efficiently and with minimal impact to the local environment.
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The materials for the home, too, were selected for their relatively light carbon footprint. Steel-frame construction is combined with wood that is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council—meaning it’s sourced from responsibly managed forests—for both the exterior and interior paneling. During installation, the home was positioned to best optimize the site’s sunlight, creating interiors that are naturally warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer.
Once completed in the factory, the modules were transported to the site and installed in five days. "Conrado was thrilled when he saw the house for the first time," shares Sica. "I remember him saying ‘It’s better than the pictures!’ He had doubts about the deadline because he couldn't believe it was possible to make a home like this from start to finish in just seventy days."
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Architect of Record: iHouse / @ihouse.uy
Builder/General Contractor: iHouse
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