One of Argentina’s First Passive Houses Stands Tall Above Rising Tides

Set on eight-foot stilts, this highly insulated island home provides a Buenos Aires couple with an off-grid escape.

Erica and Eduardo Heidenreich’s remote delta retreat can be reached only via a magical one-hour boat ride from Buenos Aires through the narrow, winding tributaries and canals of the Paraná River. As our vessel skips across the water and brilliant green flora envelops us on either side, the city’s high-rises become a hazy memory etched upon the horizon.

Sitting eight feet off the ground, Erica and Eduardo Heidenreich’s island retreat in the Paraná River delta, north of Buenos Aires, is built to withstand the remote wetland’s periodic flooding.

Sitting eight feet off the ground, Erica and Eduardo Heidenreich’s island retreat in the Paraná River delta, north of Buenos Aires, is built to withstand the remote wetland’s periodic flooding.

Designed by Uruguayan architecture firm Mapa, the house is supported by 30 pilotis.

Designed by Uruguayan architecture firm Mapa, the house is supported by 30 pilotis.

Erica is the owner and founder of the interior design studio Solsken, and Eduardo is a civil engineer and the vice president of Data IQ. Their two grown children live away from home, so the couple wanted a place where they could all spend weekends together as a family.

A covered deck runs the length of the structure, its deep overhang helping to regulate solar gain. The home, certified a Passive House by the Passive House Institute, is highly insulated and airtight. "Once the windows and doors were installed, the workers preferred to sleep inside the empty house instead of in their converted shipping containers," says Eduardo.

A covered deck runs the length of the structure, its deep overhang helping to regulate solar gain. The home, certified a Passive House by the Passive House Institute, is highly insulated and airtight. "Once the windows and doors were installed, the workers preferred to sleep inside the empty house instead of in their converted shipping containers," says Eduardo.

Erica had fond memories of the delta, so she and Eduardo jumped at the chance to buy six adjacent plots on the Paraná Miní tributary in 2018. They liked that the site was far from the mainland with little speedboat traffic, yet was still serviced by water buses and supply boats. (It also had electricity and good cell service.)

"Even without central heating, it was far more comfortable," continues Eduardo. A 100-foot walkway leads to the dock, which is serviced by water buses and supply boats.

"Even without central heating, it was far more comfortable," continues Eduardo. A 100-foot walkway leads to the dock, which is serviced by water buses and supply boats.

After visiting a Chilean friend’s Passive House, Erica and Eduardo were inspired to create a sustainable home without compromising on design or comfort. As they researched firms, they discovered Mapa, an architecture studio in Uruguay whose philosophy aligned with their approach—and they warmed to the architects’ laid-back buena onda (good vibes). They also worked with Horacio Battagliero, a born and bred isleño (islander) who had led the construction of many houses in the delta, and Argentine architect Joaquín Berdes, who worked closely with Mapa throughout the process.

One of Argentina’s First Passive Houses Stands Tall Above Rising Tides - Photo 5 of 12 -

Mapa had never built a Passive House before, but its designers drew up a bio-climatic scheme that complied with the building standard’s strict requirements. It includes state-of-the-art insulation and faces north, with a generous roof overhang, which blocks direct sunlight in the summer months while still allowing the lower winter sun to warm the interior.

All of the furnishings are domestically made and were sourced from Erica’s design store, Solsken, in the Palermo district of Buenos Aires. "The leather upholstered chairs and benches won recognition for good design for furniture produced in Argentina, so I’m proud to have them on display here," she says.

All of the furnishings are domestically made and were sourced from Erica’s design store, Solsken, in the Palermo district of Buenos Aires. "The leather upholstered chairs and benches won recognition for good design for furniture produced in Argentina, so I’m proud to have them on display here," she says.


"Every architectural decision was made to favor sustainability and the search for a construction that is aware of its environmental impact."

—Matías Carballal, architect

The walls and ceiling are covered with local guatambu wood, and semi-sheer ivory curtains soften the frames of the nine-foot-tall, triple-glazed windows.

The walls and ceiling are covered with local guatambu wood, and semi-sheer ivory curtains soften the frames of the nine-foot-tall, triple-glazed windows.

The project’s biggest hurdles involved transporting materials and building on such a remote site. "To work in a location that’s prone to flooding and only accessible by boat was a huge new challenge for us," says Mapa cofounder Matías Carballal, "but at the same time, it gave us the opportunity to rethink the way we practice in a more environmentally sensitive way."

The sophisticated interiors belie the fact that the house is almost entirely off-grid. The water, sanitary, and heating systems are completely independent, and the electrical system is connected to the grid only as a backup. The house relies mainly on solar panels and a generator for power.

The sophisticated interiors belie the fact that the house is almost entirely off-grid. The water, sanitary, and heating systems are completely independent, and the electrical system is connected to the grid only as a backup. The house relies mainly on solar panels and a generator for power.

By using prefabricated structural insulated panels, the designers were able to reduce the amount of complex work required at the site, and the home sits on a series of eight-foot-high wooden pilotis that secure its elevation and safeguard it from tides and floodwaters. "The terrain is muddy, which made laying the base a challenge. We’d seen other houses that had partially sunk due to their poor foundations," explains Eduardo. Most important, the structure is designed to withstand significant lateral pressure in case large branches or fallen trees are carried toward it by floods.

"Every architectural decision was made to favor sustainability and the search for a construction that is aware of its environmental impact," says architect Matias Carballal.

"Every architectural decision was made to favor sustainability and the search for a construction that is aware of its environmental impact," says architect Matias Carballal.

The rectangular, 2,260-square-foot house is divided into two wings, with three bedrooms on one side and the common areas—including an open-plan kitchen/living/dining room and a deck with a parrilla, a traditional Argentine grill—on the other. Erica’s design expertise and sensibility are reflected in the home’s decor. "I wanted solid, practical furniture—nothing delicate," she says.

One of Argentina’s First Passive Houses Stands Tall Above Rising Tides - Photo 10 of 12 -

The soft, neutral shades complement the calm that fills the space when all of the doors and windows are shut. "One of the things I love most about the house is the silence," says Eduardo. "Each time I come to the delta, I sleep one or two hours more than I do in my apartment in Palermo."

One of Argentina’s First Passive Houses Stands Tall Above Rising Tides - Photo 11 of 12 -

In the months to come, Erica and Eduardo plan to develop the terrain further. They’d like to create a lagoon with an island where their future grandchildren can play, carve out elevated footpaths that won’t flood, and enjoy and cultivate the landscape around the house as it matures over the coming years. It’s a lifelong project—and they’re in no rush to finish.

One of Argentina’s First Passive Houses Stands Tall Above Rising Tides - Photo 12 of 12 -

Project Credits:

Architecture: MAPA Architects

Interior Design: Solsken

Executive Development and Construction Management: Joaquín Berdes

Construction: Battagliero Construcciones

Structural Engineering: Diego Vázquez, Rothoblaas Argentina

Landscape Design: Clara Billoch

Lighting Design: Eli Sirlin

Passivhaus Consulting: SUPERFICIE (Pedro Reyna, Lole Gawuryb, Gabriel Yurevich)

— 

Head back to the January/February 2023 issue homepage

Published

Last Updated

Get the Pro Newsletter

What’s new in the design world? Stay up to date with our essential dispatches for design professionals.