As the pandemic began to gain steam last year, Brazilian architect Marko Brajovic received numerous requests from friends for an eco-friendly refuge where they could safely isolate and reconnect with nature. Brajovic, who has designed several sustainable homes in Brazil’s Atlantic Rainforest, took up the challenge—in spite of material and labor shortages related to COVID-19.
"We designed the Monkey House as a place to connect with yourself and other species, a kind of portal," says Brajovic, who named the cabin after the area’s rebounding capuchin monkey population, which had suffered from a yellow fever outbreak a few years ago. "Walking up the staircase, you can observe the whole micro-ecosystem that is organized from the bottom to the top of the trees and how the different species interact with each other. It’s all about cooperation in nature."
Now also available to book on Airbnb, The Monkey House is an exercise in low-impact design with a small footprint of 16.5 feet by 19.5 feet. The goal, says Brajovic, was to "grow" the 925-square-foot house vertically between the existing trees with zero interference to existing vegetation.
"In order to design the support structure of the Monkey House, we were observing which plants were better adapted to the topography of the land and which strategies were adopted to allow stability in height growth," explains Brajovic. "The juçara, or içara in Tupi, is an endemic palm of the Atlantic Forest which is structured through prop roots, adapting itself to the downhill terrain and distributing the dynamic weight on multiple vectors, ensuring stability for the thin and very tall stalk."
Inspired by the juçara palm roots, the architects elevated the Monkey House on a series of thin, 15-foot-tall pillars placed at one meter intervals. The cabin rises to a height of 58 feet.
The Monkey House comprises three floors with a living area and kitchen on the first floor, the primary ensuite on the second, and a vaulted observatory space on the topmost level that’s open to the outdoors.
In addition to minimal site impact, the environmentally friendly cabin processes wastewater with a biodigester, uses cross-ventilation and passive strategies for natural cooling, and will soon be powered with renewable energy harnessed from a hydro turbine. The architects also added more than 100 native juçara palm trees, bromeliads, and ferns to the site to strengthen the sense of immersion in nature.
"Our main challenge was building during the pandemic," says Brajovic. "We only had three construction workers, who all came from the nearby community. We also needed to pay special attention to social distancing and hygiene when working." Since suppliers were no longer delivering equipment or scaffolding, nor offering transportation to the site, the team got creative in designing their own support systems.
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In addition to design influences from nature, the cabin also draws inspiration from Indigenous Brazilian architecture, particularly from the climate-responsive homes of the Guarani community. "The Monkey House roof, the side wall proportions, cross-ventilation, and indoor materials and decorations were inspired by Guarani design," notes Brajovic.
"Seen holistically, the Monkey House functions as an integral and synergetic object that interacts with the environment," says Brajovic. "My favorite part—and where I like to spend the most time—is on the top floor, where you can observe the trees moving in the wind, the birds, the monkeys, and all the species interacting with the dynamics of life."
The Monkey House is available to rent on Airbnb.
Builder/ General Contractor: Hybrida Production
Structural / Civil Engineer: Atelier Marko Brajovic
Landscape / Interior Design: Atelier Marko Brajovic
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