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Photo © Sergio Pirrone

Horizon Houses

Undurraga Deves Arquitectos

Santiago, Chile
May 2011

Two bridgelike houses designed by Undurraga Deves Arquitectos sit atop a rocky cliff near Santiago, Chile.

By Ingrid Spencer

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With Chile’s capital, Santiago, a two-hour drive away, and the vibrant seaport city of Valparaiso just down the coast, the onetime shipping village of Zapallar has become a chic resort destination. Located in the central part of the country’s 4,000 miles of coastline, its white sand beaches and wooded hills provide much of the region’s allure. But the rocky bluffs above the Pacific Ocean appealed most to architect Cristian Undurraga, principal of the Santiago-based firm Undurraga Deves. Inspired by the strength and persistence of the crashing waves, as well as the wide view afforded from the architect’s chosen 1.5-acre site, some 82 feet above sea level, Undurraga designed two narrow “Horizon Houses” with panoramic views of the water and sky.

The two similar concrete-and-glass dwellings — one for Undurraga and his family, the other for a friend and his family — share a common garden, courtyard, and reflecting pool. “My friend thought as I did, that the two houses need to equal one single gesture capable of a dialogue with the extraordinary landscape,” says the architect. Undurraga designed both houses as two-story bridge pavilions that would each span two large cavities excavated into the stone cliff. These cavities were dug so that patios and living/dining areas could be accommodated within them and still have views out of each of the long sides of the houses. The upper levels, devoted to bedrooms and sitting areas, occupy the glazed void under the post-tensioned, reinforced-concrete beams, 150 feet in length. These beams are supported on three piers in each house: One at the center accommodates the fireplace and staircase; the other two, at either end of each house, rest on stone walls or (in the case of the lower levels) merge with them. The concrete floor slabs separating the two levels hang by steel posts from the beams.

The two houses, one with seven bedrooms and the other, shorter one with four, total 9,950 square feet. Details differ in the two, but they do share passive ventilation and radiant floor heating. And they both feature unadulterated views to the south, showing the sea and the town of Zapallar three miles away. On a clear day you can see Valparaiso. To the north, mobile lattices shield the houses’ interiors from bright sun, or reveal views of the protected courtyard space.

For Undurraga, the house is the perfect escape from the office. “During a Christmas lunch, two whales came from the inner sea toward our house,” he says.

“They swam close to the shore and suddenly jumped in an incredible way, right in front of us. Nature welcomed.”

May 2011
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