Nine Black Concrete Volumes Form This Mexican Retreat

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By Michele Koh Morollo
Arranged to preserve existing trees and form an interior courtyard, these concrete structures are balanced by warm, wood interiors.

About 100 miles southwest of Mexico City, nine black concrete blocks in a forest clearing make up one family's holiday home. Designed by Mexican architect Fernanda Canales with landscaping by Claudia Rodríguez, Casa Bruma makes elegant use of a construction material that's commonplace in Latin America.

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Large, floor-to-ceiling windows face the courtyard in most of the rooms.

Large, floor-to-ceiling windows face the courtyard in most of the rooms.

The volumes that contain the living room and a guest bedroom were designed with roof terraces, and green roofs cover four of the other volumes.

The volumes that contain the living room and a guest bedroom were designed with roof terraces, and green roofs cover four of the other volumes.

To preserve every existing tree on the site while ensuring that the interiors would receive sufficient sunlight in the morning and afternoon, the design consists of nine cuboid volumes that were strategically organized to create a central courtyard that is connected to the natural environment.

A studio located above the dining area enjoys direct access to one of the two roof terraces.

A studio located above the dining area enjoys direct access to one of the two roof terraces.

The walkways provide access to the patio and the landscape beyond the property, offering views along the way.

The walkways provide access to the patio and the landscape beyond the property, offering views along the way.

"The result is an ‘exploded house,’ where the dwelling is composed of isolated volumes that are placed according to the views, the orientations, and the existing vegetation," says Canales. 

The design allows each volume to assert its independence while interacting with the other buildings in a rhythmic sequence.

The design allows each volume to assert its independence while interacting with the other buildings in a rhythmic sequence.

There is a studio space on the upper level of one of the volumes, above the dining area.

There is a studio space on the upper level of one of the volumes, above the dining area.

Each of the volumes has a different height that corresponds to the terrain it sits on. The layout and height differences give each cuboid structure its own independent identity, but the volumes remain unified by their board-formed, black concrete facades and flat rooflines.

Black-and-white walls, polished basalt floors, and oak ceilings give the interiors a simple, pared-back aesthetic that allow the nature outdoors to take center stage.

Black-and-white walls, polished basalt floors, and oak ceilings give the interiors a simple, pared-back aesthetic that allow the nature outdoors to take center stage.

In one of these volumes is a children’s bedroom, with a master bedroom located above it. 

In one of these volumes is a children’s bedroom, with a master bedroom located above it. 

Four volumes—one containing the living area, one containing the kitchen, another housing the dining, and the fourth serving as a sitting room—make up the common areas. These four main volumes are linked with covered walkways. 

"As the patio closes itself to the surroundings, it also anticipates what is behind each enclosed volume, making each area a surprise," says Rodríguez.

"As the patio closes itself to the surroundings, it also anticipates what is behind each enclosed volume, making each area a surprise," says Rodríguez.

The timeless character of the black concrete is felt as one enters the semi-hidden entrance path to the house, and each of the volumes gradually reveals itself.

The timeless character of the black concrete is felt as one enters the semi-hidden entrance path to the house, and each of the volumes gradually reveals itself.

The remaining four volumes contain a private apartment, two guest rooms, a garage, and a utility room. Harvested rainwater is used for the gardens.

An exterior staircases rises along a courtyard-facing wall on one of the volumes, and leads up to a roof terrace that faces a mountain to the east.

An exterior staircases rises along a courtyard-facing wall on one of the volumes, and leads up to a roof terrace that faces a mountain to the east.

Cross-sectional drawing

Cross-sectional drawing

Five simple materials comprise the entire retreat: black concrete, wood, stone, metal, and glass. "The dialogue between interior and exterior, and the link between the different volumes, generates a unified image within isolated structures," says Canales. "Each volume molds into the topography, and makes the whole project seem to disappear into the landscape."

Ground floor plan

Ground floor plan

First floor plan

First floor plan

Project Credits:

Architecture: Fernanda Canales Arquitectura

Builder: CM2

Structural engineering: Grupo SAI

Landscape design: Claudia Rodríguez

Photography: Rafael Gamo