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Wall House by FAR frohn&rojas architects 4


July 5th, 2007

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In our final post on Wall House by FAR frohn&rojas,
here is a full description of the project from the architects plus
drawings, plans and models (plus some of Cristobal Palma’s photos again
to help make sense of it):

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With a limited budget, our office was asked to design a residence
for a retired couple in one of the suburban areas that stretch out from
the center of Santiago de Chile along the Pan-American Highway.

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We were immediately curious about the ambiguous nature of the
couple’s purchased lot (see site plan above): while technically being
part of a suburban subdivision, the development actually projected a
highly rural image through its dirt roads, large lots of more than
50,000 square feet, and most importantly its clever use of tall hedges
to enclose the lots on their perimeters and provide a high level of
privacy.

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Finding that the hedges, while blocking off any visual connection to
the immediate suburban context yet still opening up to views of the
distant Andean mountains, could be understood as an outer layer of
building skin, they became an intriguing starting point for the
project. Using this new understanding of the hedge, we developed the
idea of a house based upon a series of separated wall layers which
structure the house and progressively fade it out, starting from its
solid, innermost core to its soft and delicate encasing.

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While the “traditional” single family home, regardless of locale,
typically establishes a strong separation between interior and exterior
through solid walls and clearly defined window and door openings, our
design creates a gradual and hazy transition between the two, finally
including the exterior in its hierarchy of interior spaces.

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Based on 4 layers, in between which residential activities result,
each layer offers its very specific structural, material, functional,
atmospheric, or climatic qualities and contributes to an intelligent
hierarchy for a limited-budget project: while the innermost zones
contain the most demanding functions associated with home (i.e. kitchen
and bathroom), the selection of materials and finishes is allowed to
‘roughen up’ toward the exterior. Moving from room to room plays with a
perception of moving deeper into or further out, with changes of
materiality and lighting providing a range of qualitative experiences
and cues.

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Layer 1: Concrete Cave
The introverted concrete core forms the first element of the structural
system. Containing the house’s two bathrooms, its inside surfaces are
fully covered in ceramic tile, allowing it to be an entirely wet zone.

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A sturdy and vault-like chamber, this innermost layer is solid,
opaque, and shiny-smooth, offering cave-like protection for the most
private of domestic activity.

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Layer 2: Stacked Shelving
Surrounding the inner core is a pair of upper and lower structural
shelving bands, built of engineered wood, formwork panels and plywood,
shifted in their relative positions and cantilevering out up to 5.20
meters along the corners.

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Backed with plywood sheets in select areas while left open in
others, the bands set up varying configurations for placement of
domestic articles, privacy or openness, and levels of illumination
according to program and orientation. The decision to use formwork and
plywood as two of the primary materials reflects the specificity of
material required by the budget.

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Fully contained within the shelving band in a continuity of spaces
are the kitchen, dining and guest room on the ground floor and a work
studio on the upper. Through the collocation of objects amongst these
shelves, passing movement, pattern and lighting changes fluctuate
intermittently.

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Layer 3: Milky Shell
Moving out to the climate threshold, an upwardly folding translucent
skin, or milky shell, of high-insulation polycarbonate panels filters
the harsh Chilean sun, registering shadows of trees and outside
elements on its surface and flooding the zone with light.

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A delicate and vertically laid substructure for the panels,
typically used in drywall construction and calling for an almost
zero-tolerance assembly, was employed for a seamless reading of the
panels.

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Surrounding the building much like a shrink wrap binds two shifted
boxes, this shell creates two partially double-height spaces along the
outer corners of the house. Outwardly-focused and filled with an even
diffusion of natural light, these two areas include the living room and
master bedroom, where expansive sliding glass surfaces extend the
spaces outward toward the hedges.

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Layer 4: Soft Skin
Finally, a soft fabric membrane typically used in greenhouse
environments acts as an energy screen, filtering out up to 70% of the
solar energy hitting the building, and at the same time creates a
protective barrier against the mosquitoes and insects prevalent in the
area.

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Wrapping itself entirely around the house and logically connecting
along the lengths and corners of the polycarbonate skin, this soft
casing creates a tent-like screened porch between inside and out, fully
open to breezes and varyingly open to views (employing 3 differing
degrees of transparency), yet still providing a protective sheath.

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As seen from the outside, the aluminum netting and its folds of
connectivity create a crisply tailored, jewel-cut form that changes its
luminosity and depth of field depending on time of day and season of
year. A fold in the membrane opens the path from the exterior towards
the main entrance. Additionally there are three zippers in the skin for
easy access from the house into the garden.

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Both the polycarbonate shell (above) as well as the soft fabric
membrane (below) are interesting in the context of this project both
through their performative and sensual qualities, but showed their
extra-value during the construction process as they could be installed
in a quasi-“do-it-yourself”-manner by the mostly untrained labor force.

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After having passed through the series of different wall-layers from
the interior outward, one understands not only the climatic but also
the formal and geometric relationship between them. Starting from a
simple rectangular core the different layers build upon one another
creating increasingly complex geometries. Thus from the inside out the
house describes the transformation from a simple box to a diamond-like,
light-reflecting shape, which the house is perceived as from the
surrounding.

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WALL HOUSE
Santiago de Chile 2004-07

Project Team:
Marc Frohn, Mario Rojas Toledo, Amy Thoner, Pablo Guzman, Isabel Zapata

Structural Planning Wood:
Ingewag Limitada, Santiago; Ing.civil. Mario Wagner

Structural Planning Concrete:
Ing. Ernesto Villalon, Santiago

HWAC
Central TechnoPlus / Vaillant, building technology;
Nelson Quilaqueo, Christian Aguirre

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Posted by Marcus Fairs

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