What makes everyday life extraordinary?
What transforms ordinary gestures into exceptional experiences?
“Extraordinary, Everyday” explores the deep connections among people, spaces, and objects through a variety of stories, places, and projects. It delves into how relationships, ideas, and traditions intertwine, revealing unexpected inspirations. A series of episodes that highlight the values and innovative principles of Arclinea, celebrating the profound cultural significance of food and design.
Architect Javier Sánchez’s favourite part of being at his place nestled in the Mexican mountains of Valle de Bravo is waking up early in the morning and enjoying the sunrise and the volcano view. His daily routine begins with meditation and then going for a run, swimming in a rainwater lake, and sometimes taking a sauna.
Designed by the owner together with the American Robert Hutchison, Rain Harvest Home was born from the desire for a retreat in an enveloping and uncontaminated landscape. But it has become much more.
JAVIER SÁNCHEZ AND ROBERT HUTCHISON
The two architects, before being colleagues, are very good friends. Both specialised in projects that balance between formal elegance and minimal economic-environmental impact, they have designed the house through constant conversation, continuously sharing ideas and thoughts. The goal was to create a residence as self-sufficient as possible in water and energy within the natural reserve of El Peñón, a region where summers are humid and winters are extremely arid and where water is scarce and a valuable resource.
“My idea was to realize a simple cabin inspired by Alvar Aalto’s one in Finland to enjoy the verdand site with my family”.
A PROJECT IN HARMONY WITH NATURE
Rain Harvest Home resulted in a series of three low forms: a main residence, a detached art studio, and a bathhouse, featuring a catchment with a reservoir system that purifies harvested rainwater. The three pavilions that make up the complex were conceived as porticos whose materiality allows their presence to disappear among the vegetation to experience the landscape. Enjoying the sunny days in the sun and the rainy days under cover.
The project respects the place both through the layout and through the materials used. The house has a raised concrete and volcanic stone foundation, and a wooden frame with a steel perimeter colonnade supports the floating roof. The structure is complemented by three skylights to generate favorable sunlight for the interior.
How did the reserve influence the design?
JS: The reserve is like a frame where we can design almost whatever we want, but it has to fit into some rules of size, rules of height, rules of capturing rainwater, etc. We were thinking, How do we make the house kind of disappear? And how we can integrate into the project the culture of bathing, which had a very strong connection with these places, where in pre-Hispanic times the Temazcal steam bath was practiced.
RH: We began considering the possibility of making a small house and maybe a beautiful experiential bathroom, but Lorenia, Javier’s wife, didn’t agree, so we had to negotiate. The result is a bathroom inside the house and outside the spa, which proposes a poetic dialogue with the natural qualities of water through a thermal bath, a sauna, a steam shower, and a cold immersion pool open to the sky, filled with rainwater.
JS: The way the house is designed is such that when you open the sliding doors and they recede into the walls, the entire house feels like it’s all outside. It’s like a big porch, where the wind goes by and you feel the sounds from outside, and even the fog sometimes goes within the house.
THE KITCHEN, THE HEART AND LIGHT OF THE HOUSE
At the centre of this unusual project that dialogues with an ancestral land, is the kitchen. A huge Italia stainless steel island, 5 meters long, was placed in the middle of the large porch, fulcrum of the house, and place where people naturally gather.
“What I really appreciate about this kitchen is the impeccable design, typical of Arclinea. A powerful piece, but neutral enough to serve as a background to people, their stuff, and household rituals”.
Does the definition of the kitchen as the “heart of the house” fit your project?
JS: There are many inspirations in the house. One of them is the idea about the hearth or the center of a house being the kitchen, where fire would happen and people would cook. Another idea was also to think about the material of the kitchen, and the inspiration came from Donald Judd’s installation of 100 aluminum boxes in Marfa, Texas. The stainless-steel island is perfectly blended into the architecture, but it reflects light and the landscape inside the house, creating an amazing effect. It’s this glowing piece, like an art installation in the middle of a space.
RH: At night, it is magical too. We intentionally kept artificial lighting extremely minimal because the stainless-steel island emits a soft glow. Furthermore, its timeless design serves as a perfect background to the owners’ beautiful collection of handcrafted pottery, plates, and glasses from Oaxaca. The kitchen is incredibly elegant and incredibly simple at the same time.
A PLACE FOR BODY AND SOUL
Rain Harvest Home is open to the landscape and the rhythms of nature, but also to friends and family. The generously sized stainless-steel island accommodates more than twenty people at once and is often the stage for nice evenings of food, good wine, and amazing conversations. The days are punctuated by special moments and rituals that are repeated, renewing each time.
How is conviviality expressed in this project?
JS: Food and wine, cooking, is a great space for people to open up and talk about the important things in their lives. I think the kitchen, in the end, today is an experimental space for people to learn, exchange knowledge, and share experiences. It’s not so much about gastronomy but more about how life happens in general.
RH: For myself, it’s such a privilege to be able to come here whenever I want. And I have too many moments that I enjoy here that I could list. I love walking in the reserve, where you disappear into the landscape and then discover a new building or come across the bath house. I love it when Felix, Javier’s father, is here and makes Martinis on the Italia island. And then, at the end of the evening, we’re out at the fire, enjoying the fire and a glass of wine. I think for Javier and me as architects, the value of this project is not just something that’s applied to the design but rather something that’s integrated into the experience of being here and living in the spaces.
JS: This place is a peaceful space; at the same time, it is an inspiration space. A place of connections where cultivating a healthy, holistic lifestyle with nature. It’s an amazing stage.
AN EXPERIMENT OF REGENERATIVE DESIGN
Reserva El Peñón is a landscape-driven development that has achieved water self-sufficiency for a community of 80 families in 450 acres of a nature reserve, presenting a new model for how communities can coexist with nature. Within this reserve, each home is required to incorporate rain harvesting, but the architects wanted to try and raise the bar by designing a home that is 100% autonomous and, in times of surplus, feeds excess water back into the community’s larger reservoir system.
“This house is a prototype of regenerative design. The project is an example of architecture defined by context, in harmony with surroundings, a celebration of the landscape”.
What is your responsibility as designers working within a natural reserve?
RH: The reserve is a magical place that has two purposes. One is to regenerate soil, and the other is to harvest rainwater. In our work, Javier and I are constantly committed to incorporating sustainable design principles that encourage a mindset of doing more with less. As designers, we need to talk about those issues within our designs and explore new possibilities.
JS: Sustainable design is also about integrating natural processes as they become part of a building’s life. It is very exciting to see a building perform naturally; it makes everything come into play. Rain Harvest Home is an ongoing experiment to see what is possible with rainwater harvesting within a closed-circuit system. Obviously, nothing is as objective as science would make it seem because things are always changing over time, depending on how much and when it rains. The house has to live with that, and it is a constant learning experience for us as designers. It’s about integrating design into the cycle of water and life.