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Cien House

Pezo Von Ellrichshausen Architects

By Clifford A. Pearson

Cien House
Photo © Cristobal Palma

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For their own house and office in Chile, the husband-and-wife team of Mauricio Pezo and Sofia von Ellrichshausen challenged themselves to create variety out of repetition. Starting with 12 identical square modules (11 indoors and one on the roof), they used perpendicular walls to divide the spaces in different ways, then arranged or stacked them to add another layer of variety. In the process, they designed a place that is both intellectually rigorous and spatially playful.

Set on a hill overlooking Concepción, the poured-concrete structure rises seven stories to capture views of the city. The narrow lot constrained the 4,625-square-foot building’s footprint but not its height, says von Ellrichshausen. So the architects took advantage of those conditions and gave the project a strong sculptural presence to “stand up to the sunsets and the views,” she explains. To emphasize the building’s monolithic character, the architects used concrete with large aggregate and had workers chip away its outer layer so the surface is textured but uniform.

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Pezo and von Ellrichshausen created a sense of tension and balance by playing the project’s tower off its base, or podium. They placed three studios for art projects in enfilade on the lowest floor, then did the same with the living, dining, and kitchen spaces on the second floor. Bedrooms occupy the beginning of the tower on the third and fourth floors, while the office resides in the top three floors. The firm employs four to six people, in addition to the partners. “We wanted different expressions for living and working,” says von Ellrichshausen, “so we made one horizontal and the other vertical.” Separate cypress wood staircases serve the house and the office. The architects clad interior walls with inexpensive 2-inch-wide planks of pine, but painted those in the house white and those in the office gray. In the living spaces, they installed eucalyptus floors to add warmth and separated the rooms by single steps to give each a different character.

Designing their own home and studio was a great experience, states von Ellrichshausen. But the couple had been thinking about their own house for years, so they had too many ideas at the start. “The biggest challenge was focusing on the most important ones,” she says, a task that might have been facilitated in conversations with an outside client.

With its unusual height and sculptural form, the building perplexes some people, says von Ellrichshausen. “They ask, ‘What is it?’” A touch of mystery only adds to its charm.

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