An Astounding Tessellated Home in Greece Burrows Into the Earth

An Astounding Tessellated Home in Greece Burrows Into the Earth

By Melissa Dalton
A 10-year project on the island of Milos culminates in a sunken residence shaped by a 19th-century math formula.

Ten years ago, in the project’s nascent stages, the architects started by walking. "The topography is very, very important," says Carlos Loperena. "So, we actually walked all of it." 

Adds Alexandros Vaitsos: "Not only did we walk all of it, we spent time there. The idea was to feel out the place completely. We were not trying to create a house to be inhabited. We were inhabiting the entire landscape. And we were feeling the vibe of each individual place, because it has a gigantic variety of experience."

The entire property comprises 90,000 square meters, or about 22 acres, on the island of Milos in Greece. Each of the five corrals is defined in the landscape by a white border. 

Loperena and Vaitsos are the founding partners of DECA Architecture in Athens, and when the client first approached them about building out this 90,000-square-meter parcel on the Greek island of Milos, the goal was to achieve the opposite of the typical vacation community—that of overdeveloping and plopping houses down for the best view. 

Instead, the client wanted to "maintain the natural conditions of the site" as much as possible, says the firm. After a thorough inventory and many steps logged, the architects suggested inserting five separate "corrals" at different points on the property. These corrals are defined as an "informal and empirical way of zoning" on the Greek islands, and are used to demarcate different uses, including residential, agricultural, and wilderness preservation.

The Orchard Corral is just below the house, and is home to a large grove of olive trees for olive oil and white wine production. Many of the island restaurants serve the olive oil.

First, DECA completed the Immersion Corral in 2012, a small two-bedroom home that perches cliffside and enjoys dramatic ocean views. In 2013, they installed the Orchard Corral, which contains 20,000 square meters of productive olive trees, the largest grove on the island. A protected Preservation Corral is planted with fruit trees unique to the island that are in danger of extinction. That’s "what's considered in the Greek Islands a forest, because it has incredible biodiversity but with very short plants," says Vaitsos.

The Hourglass Corral is a four-bedroom, 3000-square-foot home that derives its tessellated form from the architects’ application of the Voronoi diagram.

The fourth installment, the Isolation Corral, has no road access—so as not to impact the land—and was built by hand "as simply one room with a desk and a bed," says Vaitsos. The last piece to be completed was the biggest domestic sphere, a four-bedroom house called the Hourglass Corral. 

For its essential form, the architects turned to the Voronoi diagram, concocted by 19th-century Russian mathematician Georgy Voronoy. In the beginning, DECA identified essential points on the site. "Our first exploration was very visceral and it was very experiential," says Vaitsos. "We were like, ‘Okay, this is a really good spot for a tree, right? Yeah. Wow. Wouldn't this be incredible just to have a table here and hang out? I would really love to put a bed right here, like facing this way.’" 

With those points defined, they plugged them into the Voronoi formula to produce an organic grid. That grid then informed the layout inside the house. "Each cell corresponds to a clearly defined use, be it an exterior courtyard, a shading canopy, a common space, a bedroom, or an auxiliary space," says the firm. 

The circular insertions are custom operable skylights that allow for daylighting and passive cooling.

Each cell denotes a different area inside the house below it and is planted with a different species of aromatic plant from which essential oils can be extracted. The landscaped roof also helps to insulate the home and blend it into the environment.

"In a sense, we treated earth as one of our materials," says Vaitsos. "We figured out how much earth we needed to excavate in order to position this house here. And then we used it to transform the landscape a little bit." This was done to create as little waste as possible.

The exposed concrete framework cantilevers dramatically from the stone walls.

From the exposed concrete and stone walls outside, to the polished concrete, wood cabinetry, and sculpted marble sinks inside, material selection was guided by how the material felt in hand. "We know the client very well. And one of the things that we have in common is this love for the haptic: when you see a material and you know how it feels," says Loperena. "It creates a sense that you are looking at materials that you want to touch."

The choice of materials for their tactile qualities extended to the pool. "The same marble that's outside is inside of the swimming pool," says Loperena. "So, you look into it, and you immediately feel cool looking at it. And you go in and you feel it."

Custom pendant lights hang below the skylights in the roof. 

The resulting home is one that, rather than imposing on its environment, thoroughly merges with it. And thanks to the Voronoi diagram, the interior flows together equally smoothly. "It's one of those meant-to-be spaces somehow," says Vaitsos. "You enter, and the proportions are exactly as they’re meant to be. It's a really intense, nice sensation."

Custom shutters can close off the skylights. "It's like an apparatus. It's more industrial design than architectural design. But it's a very important: It controls the natural light, it controls the temperature," says Vaitsos. "It's central to the actual concept of the house." Adds Loperena, "Yes, because it's the center of the Voronoi."

The architects look through one of the skylights.

The custom cabinetry with pronounced wood grain is one of the materials chosen for its haptic qualities.

The bedrooms all face south and are cooled by ocean breezes.

In the bathroom, a sink carved from marble echoes the shower cladding.

Related Reading: 

This Y-Shaped Greek Villa Looks Like a Flying Saucer That’s Embedded Into the Hills

An Idyllic Vacation Home in Greece

Project Credits:

Architect: DECA Architecture / @decaarchitecture

Civil Engineer: ERISMA G.P

Landscape Design: Kalliopi Grammatikopoulou

Lighting Design: ASlight

Interior Design: DECA Architecture

Oculus Design: Manos Vordonarakis

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