Natural Selection

By Tami Christiansen Photography by Nathalie Krag

Natural Selection
Native wood and abundant tropical foliage are the perfect accompaniments to a striking concrete house in the north of Buenos Aires. A restricted palette of materials allow both quiet contemplation and a celebration of form.

Depending on the light, this modern black cement house on the outskirts of Buenos Aires either stands out or blends in to the surrounding greenery, fading into the shadows of the natural environment. 
In this landscape, part of the Zona Norte district of Argentina’s capital city, the house appears and then disappears, partially visible as you approach from a distance. Situated on a curved dead-end dirt road and surrounded by vegetation, the plot of land is atypical 
of this neighbourhood, known as Vicente López. The seclusion and relative isolation determined the position, design and development of the project by architect Martin Olabarrieta and his design studio, PAC.

An existing palm tree in the garden served as the starting point for the design. An integral part of the architecture, the massive palm rises up through the 
black cement structure and works as a sort of living sculpture. Its organic form both softens and reinforces the rectangular edges of the building, which is essentially a series of black concrete blocks with pergolas extending the roofline and providing shade in the heat of the day.

The tinted black façade relates to Olabarrieta’s experimental tendencies, which find an outlet in most of his projects. “I can never be certain of the exact result, which diversifies the roads and outcome of the project,” says the architect of his creative approach.
“The black colour of the cement functions in two different ways,” adds Olabarrieta. “According to the moment of the day and depending on the sun, shade 
and the proximity of the vegetation, the building sometimes stands out or blends into the surroundings.”

The right amount of space

The intent of the overall design was to cover two main objectives: to reinforce the idea of spatial continuity and to find various ways to create a distinct relationship between the inside and the outside.

The owner wanted the house to accommodate just himself, without making him feel “misplaced”, while also taking into account the needs of his three teenage sons, who live with him part time. The design reflects this perfectly – even if a space isn’t fully employed, it becomes an area for contemplation and enjoyment.

Placed in the middle of the house, the interior garden fulfills the second objective: distorting the traditional relationship between the indoors and outdoors, exterior and interior. With its exotic tropical foliage, the garden offers green views and natural ventilation.
“I am very pleased with this feature,” says the owner. “When you enter the house, you can see not only this view of the interior garden, which has a lot of force and gives a big first impression, but you can see all the way through the living space into the back garden beyond.”

The main ground floor area of the 400m2 home revolves around this central interior atrium with the living room, dining room, kitchen, den and entrance hall connected on each side.

Black backdrop

The duality – the absence then presence – of black throughout the home is recurring inside as well as out. The main living space features black wooden ceilings and black wood panelling, making a dramatic backdrop for the contemporary and organic Argentine furnishings: wooden lamps and natural textiles.

With the exception of the open, marble main bathroom, lapacho, a native Argentine timber flooring, was used throughout the house. Chosen for its strength and durability – as well as its resistance to termite attack – 
the hardwood brings unity to the building. An essential feature in any Argentinian dwelling is a parilla grill in the back garden. While this kind of architecture with its modern black concrete facade cannot be defined as precisely Argentinian, it certainly has a definite South American flavour.

Click on the images below to take a tour. 


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