Made from concrete, glass and dark mesquite wood local to Mexico’s northeast, Casa Narigua appears to float like a modernist vision amongst the forests of the El Jonuco mountains. Designed to blend in to the landscape—even to the point of adjusting floorplans to allow for the cedar trees on site to weave between and within rooms—the house and its views, as captured by photographer Pia Riverola, are all the more remarkable for being found in what is effectively a suburb of the city Monterrey. Here we check in with Casa Narigua’s architect, David Pedroza Castañeda, to discuss the challenges of designing a floating house, and the inspirations behind this juxtaposition between modernism’s sleek lines and the natural landscape.
What was going on in your life when you were designing Casa Narigua?
The project started at a rocky point in my professional career. At the time, I was still living in Barcelona and about quit my job, due to the economy’s downturn. The owners of the land approached me in the midst of this career shift, and commissioned me to design their home, which, in my eyes, was a great opportunity. It also gave me an excuse to move back to my homeland, and reconnect with northern Mexico. Although it might seem that the house seeks to stand out, it was the abrupt and rugged landscape that dictated the aesthetic results and its positioning.
It looks as if Casa Narigua floats above the land…
The floating effect came about because the owners were adamant about the home being single-story. They didn’t want stairs, and even though the house has three levels, all the main areas are accessible from the ground floor which provides them with everything they need to live comfortably. Building a house of this size on the ground would have had a significant impact on the surrounding environment. Hence the idea of placing the main floor on a small volume – a decision that greatly reduced, if not eliminated, a negative environmental impact.
It must have been really complicated to build upon such a difficult landscape. How do you create this dreamy set of volumes that makes the house so special?
It was, to put it bluntly, a massive fucking challenge, to say the least. And we almost dropped off a few times, but we made it, and as a result we have a house that works as a window to the landscape of El Jonuco. From the very beginning, the idea was to try to blend the house into its environment. It was of paramount importance that people couldn’t easily see the house – we wanted to hide it into the mountains. It’s quite difficult to see the house until you are pretty much at the entrance actually.
Metaphorically, I always imagined the building as if it were a stone. As if the mountain itself, where the house was built, gave way with time to reveal stones worked into shapes that are in harmony with our idea of what makes a home. However, the project then took a different turn, where, instead of the house becoming a stone, the building itself became a platform floating above the mountains. This new approach brought up new ideas, like the horizontal volumes and the massive windows.
Were you inspired by other buildings or architects?
In my travels, I’ve visited several buildings by Le Corbusier – La Tourette, Unité d’habitation in Marseille, as well as the chapel of Notre Dame du Haut in Ronchamp. Even though I never applied these references too literally, I had them in mind when I sketched the house for the first time. Mies van der Rohe was also a big influence, and a number of his buildings like the Barcelona Pavilion, the Neue National Galerie in Berlin, and the Seagram Building in New York were also a starting point. The interiors of Luis Barragan’s buildings also.
I could sense the Luis Barragan influence in the way the doors open out, almost spinning. What other elements of the house are you most proud of?
The way we used old-world ways of construction. Often, when designing a contemporary structure, we have to base everything on modern technologies, leaving behind traditional tools and styles of construction – which was something we didn’t want to do. For example, we used wood instead of steel for our beams. In addition to the way the doors open, they are made of mesquite, which is very typical of northern Mexico – they’re one of the few trees that can survive the climate here.
One thing I forgot to mention is the use of water and its relationship with the gardens. We have a fountain at the entrance, with specifically Arabic details, and the acoustics from the fountain generate a sense of sorrow which permeates throughout the home.
In your opinion, what is the most peaceful space in the house?
Without doubt, it’s the terrace. It’s a very comfortable space where you are in constant contact with nature. The terrace downstairs also fascinates me because you can see the landscape filtered through the agaves. This space is also very special because it came up completely unexpected.