Guna House

By Henry Stephens

Guna House, Pezo von Ellrichshausen
Pezo von Ellrichshausen

On a remote strip of land between a lake and a eucalyptus forest, Guna House by Pezo von Ellrichshausen combines a rigorous geometric approach with a thorough knowledge of site, materiality and program.

As a practice, Pezo von Ellrichshausen has always been interested in the potential of rigorous geometric layouts for architecture. While many of its residential projects prior to the Guna House demonstrate this, it is interesting to see how these ideas have been explored in pavilions and installations at much smaller, more direct scales. Perhaps most relevant to the Guna House is the 120 Doors installation from 2003. The installation consists of a steel-frame structure, square in plan, broken down into a precise, endlessly repeating module, where walls comprised entirely of doors form a series of overlapping passageways leading to a central void space.

The Guna House is born from a similar template. Much like the 120 Doors installation from a decade prior, the house is both square in plan and based on a repetitive module, forming a series of enfilades and a perimeter around a central void. Unlike the installation though, the house consists of two parts: an upper floor, cantilevered from a central structural core, and a ground floor with a minimal footprint, connecting the house to the surrounding environment.

Formally, the building seems almost impossible, its upper levels precariously perched on a pedestal that anchors it to the ground. At the scale of the landscape, the horizontal mass of the house appears to hover in midair, acting as a focal point under which the surrounding landscape unfolds. Materially, the house is somewhat at odds with its surroundings, its large structural and ornamental bulk made from the same cast-in-situ concrete. However, the immediacy with which the house positions itself relative to the landscape creates a productive tension between built artifice and the site on which it rests. Rather than the house impinging on the landscape, the quality of one seems to be enhanced by the positioning of the other.

The upper floor of the house is formed by a grid of 16 squares framing a central courtyard, which also doubles as the building’s structural core. The courtyard remains as a private space at the center of the home, elevated above the surrounding landscape – all except for a corner which is left open – dissolving into a series of steps to meet the lakeside below. This gesture creates a sense of diagonal movement through the building – inhabitants must pass underneath the vast structural bulk of the house to reach its center, and the usually private courtyard also doubles as a roof terrace and circulation space.

Quite logically, the footprint of this courtyard also doubles as the central core which both supports the cantilevered upper floor and constitutes most of the building’s inhabitable floor area at ground level. The rest of the ground floor consists of a plinth, also divided into four equal quadrants, which spills out into the surrounding landscape.

The internal arrangement of the house is pragmatic – each one of the interior modules on the upper floor is programmed via its orientation and the presence of natural light across the day. Each room is punctured by a repetitive series of openings – large windows create views bring the surrounding landscape into the house, and a pattern of small skylights allows for naturally lit interior spaces. As a result, the daily activities of its inhabitants move in a logical loop through the enfilades forming the perimeter of the house. In this sense, the architecture acts as a frame that marks the passage of time, capturing and condensing the minutia of everyday life.