Cookie-cutter architecture doesn’t do us many favors. It may be easier to design and build, but it’s rarely well suited to its environment, intended purpose, and the people who will be using it. When you drop a structure in place without considering things like the local climate, culture, and architectural vernacular, you’re missing opportunities to truly connect with the setting in ways that are beneficial to everyone.
Why, for example, would the same basic gabled house that works in a suburban neighborhood also be considered appropriate for the beach? Not only is the feel of the area quite different, but so are conditions like exposure to sun, wind, and humidity. Purpose-built designs that engage with the setting in a more intentional way are a lot more energy-efficient and comfortable to inhabit.
“Refugio Matanzas” by Cerda Pe Arquitectos demonstrates one way to pull this off. Placed on a sandy bank adjacent to the Rapel River and South Pacific Ocean in Navidad, Chile, this wooden beach cabin gives its owners everything they could desire: spectacular views in multiple directions, plenty of natural light, a direct dialogue with the outdoors, and protection from the elements.
The client for this project is a big fan of kite surfing, a sport that harnesses the power of the wind to ride the waves. Matanzas is the perfect place for it, so as you can imagine, it’s quite windy around it. The architects explain that “With this as a priority, we worked on a simple scheme that referred to his hobby. A roof that changes in width with respect to the base [and] a simple geometric frame that gives movement to the house and that makes the house perceived differently depending on the point of view, generating a dynamic architecture. The site is at the top of a hill, [so] we chose to place the house a few meters below the top, taking advantage of the hill as a natural protector of the south wind. In addition, a closed terrace was developed that protected from the sun and setting wind — a location that also directs the view towards the main landscape, the Rapel River.”
“The material chosen was impregnated pinewood, both for the structure and for the cladding. Pine wood is an abundant material in the area and often used among local workers. [The cabin] was thought from the beginning to have large windows with north orientation (privileging view of the landscape and abundance of sun) plus a facade with small openings to the south, thus reducing thermal losses.”
Inside, Refugio Matanzas enjoys a large common space surrounded by windows that can be opened wide to create a virtually seamless transition to the deck. Bedrooms and a bathroom are tucked into the back of the cabin, toward the hillside. The architects also left open the possibility of future expansion, just in case the client decides to grow his family and needs more room.
The result feels cocooned without being closed off. It’s especially cool that even its outdoor space is contained within the sloped roof, so you can enjoy the sights and sounds of the location without being fully exposed. All of that pine wood complements the natural setting, too, and both the shape and materials of the house fit right in with other structures in the area without feeling conformist.