Retreat House – Relations with the territory

This short essay explains the design concept for the Retreat House I designed during the first semester of BAC 2.

Designing a house that will serve as a retreat from the stressful, fast, contemporary way of living is a challenge that questions the way one would imagine a retreat. I imagine a retreat to be in the countryside and it’s a place in which I have all I need to be comfortable. The studiolo I would have inside would be a peaceful place in which I can relax and think.

The fact of placing the house in the countryside immediately gives rise to territorial problematics connected with nature which need to be addressed. The problematics to be confronted when building in the countryside are probably more direct than building in an urbanized context. This is due to the fact that in the city, the territory and landscape is basically made up of other existing buildings. The countryside allows the project to have more relationships with nature’s forms and patterns. I’ve tried to propose an idea that responds to problematics in a harmonious way with nature.

Administrating views

When I arrived to do the visit of the place itself where we should build our house, there where four main views that gathered my attention. The first view was to the Maloja Palace and surroundings which composed the most urbanized part of the landscape. The second was the view to the lake and to a couple of houses that in a way trace the beginning of the lake. The massive mountain that is located to the north of our site was the third view that gathered my attention. Finally, the fourth view was to the little valley which is formed by the mountain sitting at north and the continuation of the hill where my house is located.

I properly “aimed” the view of my sudiolo as this would be the place in which I would think, study, and read in order to relax from the outer world. Looking at the possible alternatives I decided that the view I preferred for my studiolo was the view to the big, nearly located mountain at north. Aiming the view to the north would give me the advantage of having a diffused type of light in the place I need to study. My choice is similar to the one a photographer does when deciding the color of the table where he is going to look at his photographs. For sure he won’t choose a very colorful table, but instead a color which is neutral and helps him concentrate in the photographs. Another fundamental reason why I chose the view to the mountain was that since the first time I saw it I was astonished by the beautiful uniform texture that the grass composed. This uniform texture attracted me much more than the view of the lake or the view to the Maloja Palace which I founded “distracting views” and not “concentrating views” which was the type of view I was searching for my studiolo. In conclusion, I can say that this homogeneous, vast and naturally composed texture was a key element when it came to decide the view of the studiolo. But then I though that after being concentrated for many hours I would for sure need a space in which I would have a very open and varied view. This is why, in order to make a contrast with my private, intimate, and concentrating space which is my studiolo I decided to do a space in the middle of my house which contains the kitchen and living room which is open to the most “free” view of the landscape which is the view to the lake and to the little valley that I’ve explained before.

View from the studiolo’s window

To the southern part of the site I decided to close the view in order to affirm the feeling of being in the countryside when I’m inside the house’s main spaces. The position of the entry is located in a way that the last gesture that one does to the most urbanized part of the view is one of turning back and in a way rejecting the urbanized context of the landscape. Turning back, closing the door, and finally entering the house are physical movements that due to the way they are made also try to affirm that one is entering this house which tries to forget the human interaction within the landscape.

Dialogue with topography

Another aspect that got my attention immediately was the topography of the site. The site is located in a place in which topography is an essential component in order to understand the beautifulness of the hill where the house sits. Later on, I had a hard time on finding the most reasonable way on how the house should make contact with the terrain. After experimenting with various alternatives, the most reasonable idea seemed to hold the house on four pillars and with this medium, pronounce the idea of my studiolo being a place for concentration in which elevating the house brings a sense of freedom from the terrain and surrounding environment. By provoking this sense of freedom I also provoke intellectual thoughts to arise with more ease.

The east-west aperture tries to invite the valley inside the house and don’t compromise the  parallel visual flow that one can get of the valley when inside the house. This visual flow and continuation of the valley inside the house remarks the idea of this open relaxing space which serves as a balance for the use of the studiolo. The open space complements the closed space of the studiolo.

Living room “axis” parallel with the valley

Internal proportion vs external proportion

The question of proportion that the Maloja valley naturally proposes is one that defines the interior proportion of my house. When being in the house I wanted to generate a balance or analogy between the different proportions. I believe that one can work with density and proportion in order to achieve an equilibrium between the vast exterior and compact interior. The internal proportional expression that the house reveals is an abstraction of the vast mountain at north and the internal density the house manifests, abstractly identifies with the topographical density of the Maloja valley. This equilibrium gives me peace and a feeling of being in constant relationship with the outer territory that would help when it comes to study in my studiolo.

View from entrance into the living room


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