This article is part of our new "Material Focus" series, which asks architects to elaborate on the thought process behind their material choices and sheds light on the steps required to get buildings actually built.
The Enseada House project was developed by the Porto Alegre office of National Architecture in 2015 and is 317 square meters with an interesting interplay between volume and materials. We talked with the architect Paula Otto, one of the designers to learn more about the material choices used in this project and the role that these choices played in the design concept.
What are the main materials you used for this project?
PO: Concrete, wood, stone (marble) and glass. In addition to those, we used some vegetation incorporated into the facade.
What were your main sources of inspiration and influence when choosing the materials used in the project?
PO: This basic combination of concrete and wood is very classic since they contrast and complement one another cooler and warmer. The use of vegetation on the facade is something that fits the project well and is increasingly used in contemporary architecture, references that we respect and influence us in a positive way.
Describe how decisions on materials influenced the project's design.
PO: The project arises as a result of the composition of pure volumes. The goal was that the three distinct volumes of the house read very clearly. On the lower level, we would have the timber volume and the vegetation volume, upstairs we have the concrete volume. To make it so that the frames don’t break the uniformity of the concrete volume on the second floor, we used marble louvers (in very similar tone to the concrete) incorporated into the volume.
What were the advantages that this material offered to the construction of the project?
PO: Concrete was used as a structural element, without any other kind of coating. In this case, great care was taken with the numbering of the formwork, since any marks would be visible. Wood (in the shape of vertical louvers) was used as the light and privacy control element with foldable openings. Developed by the office together with the supplier, the louvers have a design that, when closed, make up the volume of the ground floor. The advantage of using wood for this comes from its format, flexibility, and handling.
Did the choice of materials create any challenges for the project?
PO: I think it made it more challenging to get specific things from the suppliers. In the case of wood, with respect to designing the louvers, and in the case of aluminum frames, finding a supplier who could develop a frame with more than 3 tracks. But the biggest challenge was developing the mounting details for the marble louvers on the facade. All in all, we talked to seven different providers before finding one that did the details correctly and was in line with the project.
Did you ever consider other possible materials for the project? If so, how would that have changed the project?
PO: No. This particular project started out being very similar to what was implemented, the materials were well defined from the very first sketches.
How did you research suitable suppliers and builders for the materials used in the project?
PO: We end up looking for suppliers that meet our needs in relation to specific materials and especially the detail necessary for the project. We try to create a network of relationships that will end up being used in future projects. We look for suppliers ready to move away from the familiar and work on details with the office. We believe that new proposals are crucial for the supplier’s growth as well. Being open to new challenges are qualities that we value greatly in our partners. The means of finding these suppliers are through internet searches and specialized fairs, but particularly on visits to other sites (where we can see live materials) and by referrals.