No. 5 . 14 June 2000 
ArchitectureWeek
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Modern House Steeped in Mexican Tradition

by Cathi and Steven House, House + House Architects

We have just experienced one of our greatest joys as architects: designing and building a second home for ourselves in Mexico. Our goal was to create a house that would be strong, embracing yet transparent, and layered in color, form, and emotion: completely modern yet saturated with Mexican traditions.

Construction has been recently completed on this 2,000-square-foot house that is filled with gardens and light. At the lower floor the entry, living room, dining room, and kitchen open onto a plant-filled patio. The master bedroom at the rear is set slightly above the patio with its own private garden, and the master bath wraps around an ancient pomegranate tree.

Materials are local, as are the techniques of construction, but the forms are a product of organic geometries designed to align with the sun, wind, and views to the many church towers.

We discovered the beautiful 450-year-old colonial city of San Miguel de Allende by chance in 1989 while searching for a quarry for a Mexican stone that we use frequently in our American practice. This city is Mexico at its best, frozen in time, yet alive in every way. Indians dance their holy rituals across from contemporary art hanging in a gallery wrapped around an ancient colonnaded courtyard. Luminous skies, crystalline at the 6,300-foot altitude, give an almost magical glow to the deep colors washed onto and fading from the ancient walls. Bougainvillea cascades, aromas waft, music and laughter fill the air. San Miguel de Allende has become our home away from home, a retreat where we nourish our creative souls and recover our senses.

Colors of mango, cobalt blue, and a soft gray-green are produced by lime washes

We acquired our ramshackle ruin on a 25 by 60-foot lot on a quiet street just four blocks from the center of town. There was little salvageable structure surrounding an 80- to 100-year-old pomegranate tree. We took the ruin down brick by brick and reused them in our new house. We also reused every rock and bit of broken mortar in preparing the foundation sub-base.  

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