BUILD Blog


The Architecture of Significance
January 30, 2009, 9:34 am
Filed under: Architecture, Rural Architecture, Travel

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Today’s post is not so much about architecture as it is about what it takes to create a significant place.  Recently on a trip to Argentina’s wine country, we came across Casa Glebinias, a rural bed and breakfast at the foot of the Andes Mountains.  This wonder of a place is extraordinary because of the patience, thoughtfulness and intentionality that went into it.  No amount of money or architectural glamor alone could achieve this level of quality and substance.

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The main house is approached via a dirt road lined with gorgeous lush trees.  Until you actually reach the steps to the home, it’s not clear where the house ends and the landscape begins.

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This assimilation between built-form and vegetation has been a delicate 25 year process for owners Alberto and Maria Gracia.  Setting out on a labor of love, the grounds became a laboratory for exploring the harmony of form, color and aroma.  Each tree and flower has been carefully selected and placed over the years, additional cabins for their guests have been delicately worked into the setting.

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The guest houses, spread out around the grounds, are small heavy structures which shield from sunlight during the day and radiate heat throughout the night.  They are not sleek and modern yet they don’t attempt to reference design styles from the past.  The structures do not subscribe to any notion of today’s fashionable “green architecture” practices, yet they will be standing long after most homes clad with solar panels and boasting greywater tanks have been demolished.  Doors open up to veiled sitting areas carved out of the landscape.  Handwoven shades cover the windows during the hot afternoons.

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In speaking with the owners, the architect didn’t even come up.  I’m sure they have great respect for the architect, and the architecture is an important ingredient to the eventual outcome of the grounds, but this place just isn’t about the architecture.  It’s about going out each day and getting your hands dirty.  It’s about taking care of something you’re dedicated to. It’s about life and friends and plants and gardens.  It’s about cultivation and the process of life.  At the same time there is a tremendous amount for us architects to learn from situations like this.

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There is such a harmony reached by this setting that it may in fact be one of the best examples of minimalism we’ve seen.  Over time, the trees and vegetation grow and flourish until one day the house disappears in the landscape.  The house is just as functional and enjoyable as ever – it’s just become part of the environment.  Something we struggle our entire careers to create.

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Bringing some thoughts back home; there seem to be some lessons that we could greatly benefit from here in the Northwest.

Staying in one place and cultivating a sense of “home” makes for better environments. In our transient society of constantly moving up the real-estate ladder, staying in a home for 25 years must seem absurd.  But it is this dedication to place that creates significance.

Allow living things and the process of weathering to play a role.
We’re not saying that you should leave that moss growing on the north side of your cedar shingled roof, but the culmination of a home should be a process that unfolds over time in conjunction with nature.

Some of the best work never gets published because it’s too mindful.
The Casa Glebinias will never get published in an architectural book or magazine.  It’s too reasonable, to modest and too difficult to encapsulate in a sound-bite.  The architectural press often focuses on drama and fashion, leaving truly significant works by the wayside.  While publications are important, such direct correlation between publication and the success of a project seems unhealthy.

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[All photos by BUILD LLC]

If you’re planning on spending any time in the Mendoza region of Argentina we highly recommend staying at Casa Glebinias outside of Chacras de Coria.  For more information click here or drop us a line, we’d be more than happy to keep blabbering on about how wonderful it is.

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8 Comments so far
Leave a comment

I’ve always thought it best that places like this don’t get published. It keeps them authentic to what they are originally about. It also increases my chance of getting reservations.

Comment by Knudsen

The vegetation and fruit trees make it look like the Garden of Eden. Pool doesn’t hurt either.

Comment by Anonymous

The owners allowed guests to pick as much fruit from the trees as we wanted. The grounds were like an oasis in the dry Mendoza region.

Comment by buildllc

Beautiful post. Doesn’t the demand to escape from our frenetic consumer culture create opportunity for those who can create and deploy these simple solutions? Or is it just something you can’t hire or buy?

Comment by Donald

Donald – I would think it has some far reaching market potential. It certainly has an importance in architecture & construction: homeowners who would like a home that lasts them the rest of their lives. Bring it on!

Comment by buildllc

There’s a book that came out decades ago called “Architecture without Architects” that I assume you’re familiar with, if not: you can find it here

Comment by Mobius

Mobius – very familiar with “Architecture without Architects” and highly recommend it. Stay tuned, it will be referenced in an upcoming post on the architecture of the Andes Mountains…

Comment by buildllc

Great post. Casa Glebinias looks like a great place to stay.

Comment by fred




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