When called in to redesign a 1970s-era apartment in the heart of Quito’s historic centre, Ecuadorean architect Aquiles Jarrín was tasked with more than just updating the finishes and furniture — he was asked to completely reimagine how a domestic space is occupied.
The clients — a young family of three — wanted a “more dynamic space that would allow for constant rediscovery and appropriation,” says Jarrín of his mandate. Omitted from the brief entirely was a requirement for traditional divisions between social and private spaces, leading to a layout that completely does away with interior walls. In addition to a free-flowing floor plan, the clients also desired a strong connection to nature — not an easy feat to pull off in an apartment in a densely populated city.
To help guide the design, three principles were established: The space should be bathed in natural light, be comprised of rugged materials and be considerate of its surroundings (most notably its views to Quito’s Panecillo Hill).
While the second-floor, 112-square-metre apartment was solid and in decent condition, it was also dated and void of any definitive character. After removing the standard-issue 1970s porcelain-tile flooring and the thick plaster walls and ceiling, Jarrín was struck by the raw beauty of the three-metre-tall-by-30-centimetres-wide concrete columns left standing. “Without walls, the columns of the concrete structure acquired a strong presence … the challenge consisted in finding how to enhance this pre-existing element and make it coexist in a new logic,” says the architect. In a poetic gesture, Jarrín began referring to these manmade cylindrical features as tree trunks and envisioning a family space that was more wild and forest-like than predictable.
To expand on this, Jarrín incorporated nearly 70 blackened steel beams in a seemingly haphazard arrangement. The beams — prefabricated and then cut and welded on site — vary in lengths of three to 15 metres and run horizontally throughout the space (some superimposed on others, like fallen trees in a forest) to create delineation and also to serve as seating and storage. “The main idea was to solve all the needs of the space with these beams; this gave a lot of dynamism and opened the possibilities of use,” says Jarrín.
Playing with the dynamics of darkness, texture and shadows, the palette is a mix of greys, blacks and browns that contribute both warmth and elegance. On the floor, for instance, inserted beams frame alternating stretches of Peruvian chonta wood (which naturally has a rich dark colour) and polished concrete. “From my point of view, there is an overvaluation of white walls and light, shiny floors,” Jarrín says of the organically inspired colourways. “Also, I wanted to use materials in their most natural state, to find their savage yet neat expression.”
A prime example of this duality is the spectacularly sculptural ceiling. Once the original plaster was removed, the flat ceiling was further transformed by chiselling out portions of the slab brick system to give it a three-dimensional quality that helped set the overall tone.
Blackened steel beams were also used to create a series of half-walls installed on the diagonal to establish distinct zones while keeping sightlines open (magnetic curtains can be drawn closed when privacy is needed); the volumes incorporate drawers and closets to keep everyday items out of sight. In the kitchen, the hardy material became a generous island and workspace.
To foster the required connection to nature, Jarrín brought in an abundance of tropical plants that require little sunlight and water to thrive: Ivy climbs the walls, hanging vincas and large potted ferns are dotted throughout the apartment and San Pedros cacti and monstera deliciosa surround an indoor plunge pool.
Said pool has a depth of 60 centimetres and fits up to five people, providing yet another opportunity for the homeowners to experience nature through submersion in water.
While completely modern, the interior has the delightfully incongruous air of an uncovered ruin, the the brutality of its materials and the softness of its organic elements coming together with a perfect tension. Jarrín refers to it as a “world of constant discovery” that provides the inhabitants with a timeless experience that somehow changes every day.
Architect Aquiles Jarrín reimagines a domestic space as an uncommonly textured, greenery-filled oasis free of interior walls.