Chambers of the Villa Nautilus
The house was designed by Migdal Arquitectos, a relatively young firm headed by three principals educated in their native Mexico and in the United States at Columbia and Harvard. The designers — Jaime Varon, Abraham Metta, Robert Brown, and Javier Artaloitia — have given Villa Nautilus clean, white surfaces with minimalist detailing, recalling the work of Le Corbusier or California modernists such as Richard Neutra.
Weaving Inside and Outside
A set of stairs tucked in the south end of the plan leads down to a collection of three bedrooms off a hallway. These bedrooms are buried into the hillside, underneath the entry wing and, oddly enough, have no windows. One assumes that on such a spectacular site one will be spending very little time inside the house — in these bedrooms particularly.
Across from this bedroom wing, the house opens up to light and views, with an unbroken series of living spaces that take in the bay. These rooms are framed with floor-to-ceiling windows, which makes the spaces appear to be carved out of a shell of white plaster.
One steps out onto a narrow terrace and follows a set of steps down to a larger outdoor area that wraps around the house to the northeast. The terrace at this level is protected to the northeast by a freestanding wall, which helps to buffer strong winds and also offers a bit of privacy for the small swimming pool on this level.
Additional living spaces are found on the lower two levels, which also have their own terraces with views toward the bay. Spaces that wind around the house to the south tend to be service areas, and their glazing is restrained, resulting in fenestration that is a collection of rectangular punched windows. This treatment lends these facades the quality of a Mondrian quilt of solid and void.
Because the house's broadly glazed rooms essentially face north, shaded from strong southern light, the coloration of the architecture is less blinding. The terraces throughout the levels are stacked in such a way that privacy is maintained from one to the other, and they are accessible through a series of stairs (some of them curved) that meander through the site.
The effect is a collection of indoor and outdoor spaces that have visual privacy from each other and reinforce the sense at each level that this is actually a small, private house unto itself. At dusk or at night, with all of the spaces illuminated from within, the house glows like a beach lantern.
Villa Nautilus has transformed this piece of Mexican hillside into a collection of spare, modern spaces that hearken back to earlier modern masters while they also echo the irregularity of the slope. The variety of indoor spaces and outdoor terraces is achieved through the slight angling of walls that would normally be parallel to each other.
The result is a house animated by spatial tension that is subtle yet rich. With such a restrained material palette, the minor variations of Villa Nautilus are all the more obvious, and welcome.
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Michael J. Crosbie is editor-in-chief of Faith & Form, a senior associate with Steven Winter Associates, and a contributing editor to ArchitectureWeek. Michael J. Crosbie is editor-in-chief of Faith & Form, a senior associate with Steven Winter Associates, and a contributing editor to ArchitectureWeek.