Mexico City, one of the largest cities in the world, has traditionally had a low density for high-income housing. That has been changing recently. This House is the newest to go up in a family compound. Initially there were 5 houses in a 2.5-acre lot (1 Hectare). The lot was subdivided into 8 lots in the 70’s and then into 23 in the 90’s. The House lot is 400 square meters about 1/10 of an acre, with a street front width of 10 meters (33 l.f.).
One of the 5 original houses occupies the back of the lot. In turn the house’s garden is the front of that house’s lot. Eventually that house will be rebuilt with more density and in it’s own lot allowing for full use of the back garden of the lot.
Typically Houses in Mexico City are wall enclosed from the street. Crime has increased with the growth of the city, and the street elevation faces the north, so it is a solid wall.
The site is within a classified Historical Character area called “Chimalistac, San Angel”, with XVI Century Churches and cobbled stones streets. One of the predominant styles there is the Mexican Minimalist or Barragan Style.
Before I started my practice, Barragan’s right hand man of many years had done my sister’s home on the adjacent lot. I learned from it, and realized the style’s purity and accent of color were peaceful and attractive, however not taking full advantage in the use of natural light due to the size and shape of most of the windows. Given an open country site lot this is usually not a problem, as windows can surround the house, however in a densified lot and the lot’s sharing logistics mentioned before, and with the shading of some beautiful mature trees, something had to be done to allow as much natural light as possible, which was one of our important goals.
I had designed and built over 100 “Aca Joe” stores (in Mexico and in the USA in the late 80’s and early 90’s) with very large structural glass storefronts, and was passionate about the material. As an early promoter of Glass through my work in Mexico, the manufacturer granted me as a gift where I could do my own house’s structural glass at no manufacturing cost. This credit could not be transferred to my client, cashed, or used in any other way; it had to be used for the Architect’s own home and was simply a corporate gesture for the sake of Architecture.
My wife and I owned the lot through inheritance but had no money to build a house, and residential mortgages in Mexico were not available particularly for high-end construction, in addition to the exorbitant interest rates, at the time.
So I designed the house, and obtained the permits (Saying to myself I will never be able to do it). I had very little money and hired a contractor to start the foundations, and we went on a one-week’s trip. During the trip we thought we wouldn’t get far and that we had essentially thrown our money away. Upon our return the foundations were dough so we decided to continue.
One of the Aca Joe stores I had worked on had been the site of “Pani’s Fabrics”. Arturo Pani was the premier decorator in Mexico for many years. I had to demolish the building and chose to salvage at my cost materials, including: The entrance set of French Chateau Doors; travertine slab floor; wood floors; steel beams; doors, etc... All of which I used in the house. We kept building for 6 years, making ends
meet to afford it and making sacrifices and stopping construction at many different times.
The house is 300 sq. meters (3,500sf) in 3 levels, and has 3 bedrooms, a family room pent house, and 3-1/2 bathrooms. The covered garage has an upper level with a servant’s room and bathroom (A standard in Mexico) and space for a future home office.
The color of the entire exterior is light lavender. While it offers the coolness of blue it has the warmth of the pink in it. There are far to many orange or terra-cotta house which is so common in the style and in Mexico, and I was inspired by the flowers of the two Jacaranda trees on the lot, which is a blue and white flower resembling lavender.
From the street you enter a covered walkway leading to the vestibule, and past it to the garden and back yard. Most of the ground floor is 16” x 24” travertine slab, extending into the Hall, the powder room, and the kitchen and dinning room. The entrance Hall is octagonal in shape and has a large mirror, access to the stairway, a glass entrance door with a neo angle glass sidelight and 4 other doors, leading to kitchen, powder room, living room, and coat closet. All the interior doors and frames are flush with the walls, and the same color as the walls, making them somewhat disappear. A more contemporary minimalism not practiced in the traditional Mexican one.
The stairway to the future home office has the underneath the water pressure system and a 10,000Liter cistern. That Equipment Room needed doors so we used the Pan’is Fabrics’s elegant entrance set, as a reverse effect from the main entrance’s glass door.
The living room is a split level with 1/2 of the roof in structural glass at a 45-degree angle, which extends down into a 45-degree glass wall with doors. Measuring the corner pieces without doing a template was the hardest thing, as total accuracy was required since there is no on site adjustment possibility. Once glass is tempered.
The fireplace conceals in it’s back a wet bar. Glass covers the entire fireplace surround. The glass heats up too, acting as an additional refractor.
The kitchen offers both the option of opening to the dining room or enclosed with slide counter top doors, and has a stainless steel counter top. The kitchen and dining room sit between two trees. On the kitchen side a Jacaranda and on the dining room side a dead pine, with twin trunks, which was so beautiful we treated it to retain it, allowing the dead trunks to run through the master bedroom balcony and behind the back façade.
On the second level are a bedroom, the master bedroom, and the guest room or alcove. The latter two open into the split-level living room. That way full use of the house is enjoyed from them. Also through the double height glass wall, these rooms have side garden views.
Going to the top level is by means of a metallic stairway with racetrack shaped glass panels as a side wall which is next to a glass toped banquet which allows natural light into the powder room below and acts as a lower stairway wall.
On the third level are a studio or family room with bath, laundry and a large terrace, and great view.
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Glass fireplace bar behind
Stairway form first level to roof garden and studio
Glass doorway to garden, split level and balconies behind
Split level from Master Bedroom
Split level from Master Bedroom balcony
Dining room and garden view
Elevation from graden. Salvaged tree
Elevation showing three levels
Window into living
Tunnel and entrance
Salvaged tree at kitchen entry
Living room split level
Exterior fountain at the corner.