Casa Condesa

Casa Condesa in Mexico City, Mexico by TEN Arquitectos, 1994

This three-story house designed by Enrique Norten of TEN Arquitectos is located in a residential neighborhood of Mexico City, unaccustomed to such minimal architecture. Although the brute concrete facade has few openings it strongly expresses the interior's logic. The front is made up of garage doors below a concrete wall on the right and a door with vertical windows, a balcony and roof projection on the left. These two halves, opaque and transparent, tell more than a passing glance may indicate. The entrance and windows continuing above illustrate the houses main vertical circulation and, hence, its grouping of living spaces. And while the garage does lead to other service spaces, the concrete wall hints at an introverted space, attempting to screen itself from passers-by. This simple parti of two parallel bars is wonderful in its simplicity, but surprisingly suited to its site, in response to both the urban condition and climate.

The house's interior continues the exterior's reliance upon concrete, structurally and in a haptic presence. The use of this material with oak and plain, white-painted surfaces give the interior a warmth, eschewing harshly poetic use of concrete and fellow Mexican Ricardo Legoretta's brightly colored concrete. Instead the architect use these three materials to orient the residents within their surroundings while creating an internalized environment. Poured concrete is used at the street frontage and the edge of the patio and terrace, behind and above the garage, respectively. So within the house one is made aware of the presence of the street, without seeing or hearing it, and outside the same is true in regard to the neighbors.

At the dividing line of the two parallel bars is a light, transparent glass wall, shielded from the strong southern sun with red cedar louvers, helping to give the wall a weight so it is not overwhelmed by the concrete walls. Reinforcing the introverted nature of the house, the louvers allow the occupants to see without being seen (insert voyeuristic comment here). On the second floor circulation between the living area and dining area (past the kitchen) is adjacent to this wall. But on the first and third floors, movement is pushed to the opposite, solid wall, lined with cabinets on each level. This gesture both layers the spaces and encourages movement throughout the house's interior spaces, making the terrace an integral part of the design and the resident's lives.

Without a familiarity of Enrique Norton's work, this small house shows a love of modernism with a sensitivity for local conditions, all the while responding carefully to the client's desires. Like many of his contemporaries (and come to mind) works, this house uses rigid geometries, limited, local material palette, and layered spatial experiences to create designs that are eminently modern, yet grounded in a place. This house, in my mind, establishes Norton and his firm as someone to pay attention to, at a time when rampant technology, coupled with globalization, makes us forget the need to be rooted. Physically and mentally.