Uncle Knows Best

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By William Lamb / Published by Dwell
A niece seeks out her uncle to design a home for her family in Ecuador.

When Roberto Burneo, an architect, returned to his native Ecuador after ten years in New York City, the last five in the office of Robert A.M. Stern Architects, one of the first projects that he tackled was a house for his niece Gabriela, her husband, Sebastian, and their three children, ages ten, eight, and three.

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Roberto Burneo designed this home for his eldest niece, her husband, and their three young children in a suburb outside Quito, the capital of Ecuador. The house is set on a flat expanse of land with fruit trees, and Burneo's design "guides the social areas inward in order to link them to the gardens.”

"Gabriela is my oldest niece," Burneo says, "and ever since I designed a house for her father back in 1996 when she was a teenager—one of my first projects after finishing architectural school in Brazil—she always said that I would be the designer for her house."

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Burneo oriented the house in a pair of perpendicular volumes. The ground floor houses the public areas, including a study, while the top volume, housing the bedrooms and a family room, is oriented north-south, allowing for warm sunlight and a visual orientation toward the gardens.

The couple purchased a generously sized lot in a suburb near Quito, the Ecuadorian capital, and Burneo set about walking them through the design process. 

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Sawn wood planks add texture to the interior walls.

"For them, family life is most important," he says. "Since the beginning, the conversations of what they wanted in a dwelling centered on their desire to watch the family grow, take as much advantage of the land in terms of integration with the gardens, and have areas to entertain family and friends. The intent is for the house to be a hub of activity—their own as a couple and that of all their children as they go through their different stages."

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The custom kitchen counters are concrete, and the yellow dining chairs add a welcome splash of color.

The house is located on a flat expanse of terrain with fruit trees. It is, in Burneo’s view, a less-than-interesting landscape, so his design "guides the social areas inward in order to link them to the gardens." He oriented the 5,000-square-foot house in a pair of perpendicular volumes. The ground floor houses the public areas, including a study, while the top volume, housing the bedrooms and a family room, is oriented north-south, allowing for warm sunlight and a visual orientation toward the gardens. The top volume sits atop the lower one on pilings in places, allowing for an easy integration of the indoor and outdoor social spaces.

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This detail shot shows how Burneo anchored the laminated slats for the exterior wood screen to a concrete slab.

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Burneo added exposed brick to his palette of interior materials.

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Burneo took advantage of the perpendicular orientation of the volumes to create outdoor spaces that look out to the gardens.