One of the problems with modernist architecture is that in many places in the world, it has supplanted traditional methods of building that over generations, have been specifically adapted to local climates, materials and knowledge. Much of this monoculture of modern architecture depends on carbon-intensive, industrial materials, creating forms that are often divorced from the unique cultures and building solutions that have developed in place, over many years. Think concrete boxes and gridded subdivisions, devouring land as far as the eye can see.
Of course, modern architecture can be rehabilitated -- or at least made to integrate local realities of climate, building culture and materials that are naturally available. Ecuadorian architects Luis Velasco Roldan and Ángel Hevia Antuña created this small house prototype that takes into consideration the region's traditional building techniques, using naturally sourced and local materials and passive solar heating.
The last few decades have seen the abandonment of centuries of traditional building techniques, accumulated knowledge and locally adapted construction, replaced by industrialized, low performance materials. This entails a danger of replacing constructive models perfectly adapted to the climate, constructive, economic and social reality, for housing models based on concrete blocks, steel sheets or fiber cement. These models currently occupy not only urban areas of new colonization, but are gradually replacing thetraditional models of buildings, creating a total dependence on a supply of materials from distant industrial areas and a high energy consumption.
The current Latin American reality shows that many of the buildings located in temperate climates have periods of thermal discomfort, the result of incorrect constructive approaches that could be corrected with proper energy efficiency strategies.
The architects' prototype challenges these recent trends by employing a design that is energy-efficient and uses locally abundant materials. It is small, measuring only 524 square feet, and incorporates a living tree right in its center -- perhaps to save it from being cut down (though from the looks of it, they may have to enlarge the hole sometime in the future). Large, full-height sliding glass doors close the house off from the outside, or opened up to welcome in the surrounding nature.
The home consists of a living room, bedroom, kitchen, dining area and office. There is plenty of natural daylighting and warm materials (Ecuador laurel for exterior cladding and eucalyptus wood for framing) throughout, creating an clean and uplifting atmosphere.
The bedroom is lovely, featuring a glazed corner and skylight that doubles as a reading nook and solarium. The windows can also slide open here.
One of the most interesting aspects of the house is hidden: the architects used pumice stone for insulation. The pumice stone's air pockets insulate the home, while also acting as a thermal mass to regulate fluctuating temperatures. The home's innovative use of this material allows it to maintain interior temperatures of 20 to 21°C (68 to 70°F) all year round, even when it got as cold as 12°C (53°F) outside. Pumice was used once more on the insulating green roof above, as a drainage layer.
In addition, the home is built to be easily disassembled, in order to move it around for testing under various climates in Ecuador. There are also plans in the works to incorporate automated energy management systems, like motorized shutters, using open-source software. As this small house prototype shows, the modernist aesthetic does not have to spell the end of traditional building knowledge. With careful design and consideration of local contexts, it can be made to support the continuation of a building culture that's relevant to the place and times. More over at Small House Bliss, Luis Velasco Roldan and Ángel Hevia Antuña.