The true beginning of the project is when we sold our old apartment and decided to find a bigger place as our family grew and we welcomed our daughter Luisa. We wanted to stay in the city and, if possible, maintain a certain level of connectivity as to be able to move around as easily as we’ve had before. As the search for a house went on, the option of Parque Chas grew more and more present.
A small garden city type neighborhood flanked by three major avenues and a few blocks away from “los incas” one of the latest subway stations to be built in the city. Created in the earliest part of the 20th century, it borrows some ideas from the famous Ebenezer Howard project, like a circular center, and deviates from it as slim house blocks sprawl outwards to form a square at its limits since as I mentioned before, it is delineated by avenues. Is that quality, mixed with some other follies like some streets that repeat their names, and some others that end and some point and then reappear at another, that has made this small area a place where cars and busses don’t usually enter much as they would in other parts of the city, to cut short on the avenues traffic, although some people who don’t know much, do. It is known that to go in is a headache, an aneurism that in an era pre GPS, gained it it’s fame as a labyrinth. One very much repudiated by outsiders coming in, but welcomed and cherished by the ones inside, so much so, that the people who live within it, talk about it with a certain pride.
On the neighborhood closer side to the avenues, only one block away from them. A couple of apartments were being sold as one unique structure. The family was never able to legally separate the two properties and once the last tenant was gone, they decided to sell it.
The property being In a state of near ruin. It was mostly being offered to small developers as a structure to be demolished, and use the grounds to create at least five small units. It was this particularity that brought it to our price range, as the price was a bit lower than other properties in the area, it needing to be appealing to investors. For us, there were many positive things on the existing property, the sound level was one, very rare that close to a transportation hub at the scale of what the area is, and the fact that most rooms had natural light and ventilation. Although in reality, it was the plan that finally did it for us. We found there were already 180 square meters of rooms that could be used, with another 120 made out of terraces. We recognized that it was possible for us to only occupy those rooms without the need of building almost anything, this gave us the chance to overreach our intended budget quite a bit, and in the process, to have a house in the city, something that until then was not in our plans, we would have been content just with a bigger apartment.
There was a final reason though, one that in retrospect could be seen as if not mystical, at least of the poetic kind, that in all honesty bared quite some weight. It is a custom of this neighborhood to name its streets after some of the great cities of the world; such as London, Madrid, Berlin, Constantinople, New York, and others. Our home, or better Sayed our future home at that time, was placed in Ginevra street, Ginevra, the city where Jorge Luis Borges spent part of his youth during world war two, and also, the place where his grave is, in a way, the name of the city and its connection to him made a final push. His obsession with labyrinths came straight to mind, specially his short story “the house of Asterion”, a retelling of the old Minotaur myth, were the figure of the mace is transformed from a trap for brave Theseus were he enters to slay the beast, to the Minotaur’s, Asterion’s own Home, narrated in the first person, he goes into describing his home, a home where he says “all its doors are open”
As Rossi puts it, the concept comes from an old roman myth where each district of the city of Rome was inhabited by a sort of spirit, a Demi god. Rossi goes on to explain how this concept can be used to trace the life of cities and its identities. I have always found this concept fascinating, more the myth than the concept to be honest, and have always wondered how far would the roman spirit go, if it would leave at the door, or if it would go all the way in.
This house was an opportunity to explore how does the identity of a neighborhood permeates into the identity of a house.
An accidental maze
As I’ve mentioned, the property we bought initially was made out of two apartments in horizontal property divided by an internal separation wall. Combined, they had more than enough rooms for our family, that is what first brought our attention to the property. It is true the rooms were there, but their uses needed to change if to fit our needs. I will now describe this changes in detail:
The front house rooms were to become as follows: entrance to be closed, and become the kitchen, dining area to become new main entrance of the house, bedrooms to become new living and dining space, and bathroom to remain as such, the last room to change was the front house kitchen, which became a playroom for Luisa, and one of the two transition spaces that the house needed in order to become one unit, in the upper floor, a workshop became the laundry/storage room, being also the connection between the two houses on the terrace level. Back house to change as follows: entrance to become playroom for Luisa and transition space, bathroom and bedroom to keep their old uses, Living/dining area to become bedroom and kitchen to become a dressing room, with the only 2 new square meters built into the property attached to it, a glass passage with a mirrored wall that connects the public area of the house with the private area of the rooms. Finally, another small workshop in connection to the terrace became a studio.
There was an specific tool with which this rooms were transformed, mainly, and it has to do with the transplanting of windows and doors that came out of the front house demolition, as, for example, one of the facade windows became the studio window and the other one, the laundry/storage room window, the rest of the refurbished doors went to new openings done, all of the as well, done in the internal dividing wall, the same one were the windows went, A 45 cm thick wall that separated the original apartments, on which a number of transgression s were done, the final one being a crack, 50 cm wide and 7 m tall, that would work as an eye catcher, a possible narrow path, as well as a possibility to see one house from the other, partially, a thin vision of continuity that gets blocked, hidden, and rediscovered as you walk in circles around it, going from the living area to the main room, to Luisa’s room, to the living area again.
The possibility of a garden
It is not an easy task to find in the city of Buenos Aires, a property that can have a green area. The dream of the suburban garden that was imprinted in most of our generations mind seems farther away as the city moves forward and upwards.
The original apartments were very well organized around a series of dry patios, some for access, others for different uses as expansions or just for drying laundry. Almost as soon as the plan of the new unified house became clear, the idea of making them into small gardens appeared. Not only they would become visual anchors as one moves through the house, but they would also, by adding draining soil, would be of help in an area of the city that has had its history of flooding. The plants that were possible to use in ground floor, because of the limited amount of light (two or three hours a day), would be subtropical plants, very much used to prospering in the lower parts of the jungle, such as Alocasias, Monstera deliciosa, Adiantus Capillus (native to this country), Strelitzia, and Philea Microfilia. Other crawling plants are used on the walls, and an Acer Palmatum in the back garden.
In the same way that we were able to visualize the gardens in the lower floors, as we spent more time in the construction of the house, we were able to see how the terraces were an exceptional spot for certain plants, as well as a perfect place to make a social area, since as it has happened in other countries around the world, terraces are replacing lawn gardens as an alternative. An average of 12 hours of sunlight gave us the opportunity to experiment with different kinds of plants, some that would not only bring green but colors, flowers, and with them, bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies, with plants like salvia Guaranitica among other salvias, Aslepcias that would bring emperor butterflies to reproduce, roses, and different kinds of fruit trees like lemon, almond, peach and plum.
A house for all seasons
As mentioned earlier, there was an inherited quality to the house, one that we had the original architect to thank for, which was that all rooms were able to ventilate and be illuminated naturally. That was not something that needed to be changed but only improved. Windows to be widened, made taller, and some walls to be moved out of the way to create the chance of cross ventilation. The terraces were covered with concrete slates and concrete containers for the plants, helping with the draining Cycle. The trees on the front of the property are also very much of help, a Platanus orientalis, and a Fraxinus tree, loose their leaves in the winter, making the front terrace a nice place to stay on a sunny winter day.
A big part of this process was not in the attempt to create design but to learn how to observe, as if having a kinder look could become a way of doing architecture.