About 40 minutes from downtown Mexico City, a low-slung brick volume sits just past the edge of a thick forest, sheltered from the road by towering pines. An undulating wall connects two buildings—a one-story family home and a smaller, two-level guesthouse—formed in dialogue with the forest it fringes just outside the town of Ocoyoacac, Mexico.
Respect for nature was the foundation for the Forest House, the first residential project built from the ground up by Isabel Abascal and Alessandro Arienzo of LANZA Atelier, a young architecture studio based in Mexico City and Madrid. Situated far from the urban throngs of Mexico’s capital, the property serves as a peaceful home for a young family—the husband, an engineer who specializes in tunnel construction, the wife, a homemaker, and their two school-age daughters.
Given the plot’s unique location between the forest and a highway, the architects considered it a top priority to create a sense of sanctuary and retreat in the home. A curved brick wall serves as a protective external barrier for the Forest House, encasing the main residence from the surrounding environment and offering noise reduction, warmth, and privacy.
While the home’s terra-cotta-toned brick wasn’t the architects’ initial choice of building material—they undertook early experiments with blocks of local earth—the so-called "Puebla brick" quickly proved itself worthy of using for the construction. Each artisanal brick features hand-cut edges that were made using a painstaking technique the architects employed to ensure the walls’ smooth curves.
Throughout each season, the variation in the brick’s natural earth tones is accentuated by the elements, which further reinforces the home’s identity in harmony with the surrounding forest.
Natural light illuminates the central living spaces, where glass French doors lead out to an expansive garden planted with a variety of native trees and cacti. In the afternoon on cloudless days, the sun peeks through the home’s latticed brickwork, casting deep shadows onto the warm-toned walls. When darkness falls, the living spaces are primarily illuminated by floor and wall lamps that exude a soft, subdued glow.
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A subtle juxtaposition between clean graphic lines and gentle curves also resonates throughout both dwellings. The gentle slope of the ceilings enhances the sense of being cocooned from the elements, while the curved exterior wall that continues into the central hallway imbues the residents’ spatial experience with a playful sensibility. In contrast to the traditional straight axes of residential architecture, movement through the house is guided by the arching central passage that emerges into the lofty living and dining areas.
While the home is closely tied into its site, the inspiration for its design lies more than 1,000 miles away. Shortly before embarking on the Forest House in 2015—the same year Abascal and Arienzo founded LANZA Atelier—the architects visited the unfinished buildings of the National Art Schools of Cuba in Havana, designed by Ricardo Porro, Vittorio Garatti, and Roberto Gottardi between 1961 and 1965. Only two of the five domed structures were completed, and have since been partially "conquered by the jungle," explains Abascal.
Today, the billowing brick complex in Cuba stands in tribute to Latin American modernism—and the influence of its design is clearly reflected in the 6,458-square-foot Forest House on the outskirts of Mexico City. More than just an exquisite residence, the tranquil family home is a noteworthy proof of concept that establishes its creators as ones to watch as they continue to make their mark on Mexico’s spirited architectural scene.
Builder/General Contractor: Jaime Reyes
Engineer: Rubén Hernández, RHAA Ingenieros
Design Team: Celina Bonadeo, Jessica Hernández, Alejandro Márquez, Isabel Abascal, and Alessandro Arienzo
Photography: Dane Alonso
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