Just a short trek from Todos Santos in Baja California Sur, Mexico, is a mini compound offering a unique escape from the bustle of the up-and-coming tourist town. Surrounded by a desert landscape dotted with low-lying scrub and cacti, Casa Santos responds to its environmental context through resilient and sustainable architecture that celebrates place and performance.
When architects María Gómez, Héctor Coss and Giovanni Ocampo were commissioned for the project, it was initially intended as a private villa for two business owners and their families. In a move that proved fortuitous, as the retreat is now available for public bookings, the trio broke away from a standard house set-up by sequestering different room functions (bedroom, kitchen and living space) into 11 separate yet identical cubes arranged into three clusters (two main groupings of four and a guest set of three).
“From the very beginning, we were fascinated by the idea of completing the program with formworks,” Gómez says of the decision to have the modules made from concrete. This was also a pragmatic choice: The seismic desert region experiences dramatic temperature shifts from day to night. Another priority was to ensure that the structures blended in with their surroundings, so the architects collected rock samples to formulate a colour-matched vegetable-pigment tint for the Cemex concrete.
After prototyping for design, dimension and hue at their workshop in Oaxaca, a single 4-by-4-by-3.2- metre frame was developed as the formwork for all 11 buildings. “This allowed us to achieve great efficiencies of scale in the construction process,” says Gómez. She also notes that all scrap metal left over from the formwork was used for doors, gates and fences across the property (which also includes an oasis-like plunge pool and a low-slung maintenance and storage shed).
Poured on site, the 11 cubes are defined by their “sunset pink” tone and thick ribs, which give them a compelling texture and aid in climate control. “The channels provide shadows throughout the day, which lowers the temperature during the summer months,” says Gómez. Inside, these “gutters” contribute a pleasing visual rhythm that is enhanced by smooth concrete dividing walls and flat-fronted built-in wood furnishings. Large sliding glass windows afford access to private terraces framed by open steel canopies, which can be draped with canvas for further protection from the sun.
A private retreat in Mexico uses repetition and textured concrete to provide an oasis in the desert.