Atop a jagged cliff in coastal Chile, Pezo von Ellrichshausen sets Casa Poli, a great concrete cube, evoking a block of porous stone
Casa Poli is only a 30-mile drive from Chile’s second-largest city, Concepción, midway down the country’s coast, but it feels perched at the edge of the world: a place with limitless ocean views, a soundtrack provided by wind and pelicans, and no other human beings within eyeshot, except for local fishermen in boats, hundreds of feet offshore. Venture 45 minutes outside any major city in the United States, and you’re in an exurban tangle of highways, but here, half the roads remain unpaved. In the States, a weekend house such a quick jaunt from the city would mean high prices for land and construction, yet here, Pezo von Ellrichshausen Architects (PvE) built almost 2,000 square feet for $63,000 dollars.
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But if the Coliumo Peninsula, on which Casa Poli rests, sounds too idyllic, the truth about its development should be told: On the bay side of this landform, construction cranes are busily erecting weekend retreats for city residents. Only the Pacific Ocean side has remained largely uninhabited, and mostly because many people consider its terrain less suitable for building. Of course, that could change now that word has gotten out about Casa Poli. (The house garnered first prize at the 2006 Santiago Biennale, where its architects, Mauricio Pezo and Sofia von Ellrichshausen, a married couple, won the Best Young Chilean Architects Award.)
The pair found this piece of pristine cliff through Pezo’s friend and mentor, artist and writer Eduardo Meissner and his wife, sculptor Rosemarie Prim. Though the property’s value had appreciated in recent years, the seller wanted to divest herself of the 2.5-acre parcel for the same price she’d paid for it long before Chile’s economic boom, hoping her generosity would spur the buyers to build something more meaningful than the cookie-cutter, cast-concrete spec houses abounding elsewhere on the peninsula.
The two couples bought the land together in 2003 and at first considered erecting two houses there, but over the course of several dinners realized that neither pair would be on-site enough to warrant double construction. As they discussed the program for a single house, they began to imagine the structure serving not merely themselves, but also a larger community. “Once we decided not to build two houses,” recalls von Ellrichshausen, “we knew we needed to do more and give something back to this area.” They agreed to turn the house into an artist’s residency during the off-season, when neither couple would be using it.
Mauricio Pezo (left) and Sofia von Ellrichshausen (right); Photo © Pezo von Ellrichshausen Architects
For Pezo and von Ellrichshausen the challenge was to create a house that felt domestic and comfortable, but might also inspire the abstract thinking of artists. Budget, or lack thereof, was a valuable constraint in determining the material palette.
Concrete—cheap, reliable, and low maintenance—served PvE’s needs, with the toughness to fend off formidable elements.
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