Mexican beach house in Oaxaca

Castles in the sand

A brave and bold beach house on Mexico’s Oaxacan shoreline pays homage to its surrounds through ostensibly simple design.

From afar the buildings that make up Casa Naila, a holiday home on Mexico’s Oaxaca coast, look like oversized sandcastles abandoned on a beach. The colours and raw textures of their material composition – off-shutter concrete and palm bone wood – echo and blend seamlessly with those of the rocks and sand on the shoreline. So rooted in their environment are the four structures that they could be the weather-beaten remains of an architectural sandcastle competition. The holiday home sits embedded in the sands of one of Puerto Escondido’s beaches – a rocky peninsula that juts out into the Pacific Ocean. Alfonso Quiñones, a founding architect at Mexican studio BAAQ, designed the structure. Conceptualised with environmental integration firmly in mind, Casa Naila’s visual simplicity is underscored by complex reason. We chatted to Alfonso to learn more.

A Case For A Cross

Quick to realise that the peninsula allowed for views of the ocean in multiple directions, Alfonso set about designing the home as a series of four blocks (or volumes – most of them seven metres in height) positioned around a cross-shaped patio. Two of the blocks front towards the Pacific coast, but all four allow for unspoilt views of the ocean. Three of the blocks are double storey; the upper floors all containing bedrooms (in total, Casa Naila sleeps fifteen). Within these three buildings, the lower levels house a master suite, a studio and a kitchen – the latter in one of the two sea facing volumes. The fourth block, also sea facing, is single storey and home to the dining space. “Since we had two oceanfront views, a cross-shaped patio was a scheme that worked efficiently,” explains Alfonso, “the angles and separation of the individual volumes allow for ocean views from every room.” Given Oaxaca’s al fresco climate, the central cross-shaped patio was intended for use as an outdoor room. In addition to a number of mini gardens, its inviting swimming pool and handful of terraces serve to drive social activities into its open spaces.

Lifestyling loves: Designed on oversized wheels, and thereby taking on an almost ritualistic significance, a rustic wooden table can be wheeled in and out of the compact dining block.

A Case For Community Interaction

As security-conscious South Africans, it’s second nature to us when building to consider the protection and privacy that perimeter fencing and boundary walls offer. We’re quick to marvel at the brazenness of a home that has no borders. Casa Naila is such a space, its boldness in this manner all the more remarkable for its position on a busy beach. “The house sits on a popular beach where local families like to spend the day and so it was important to make it feel part of the site, and to respect the social order of the beach,” says Alfonso. “Through architecture we wanted to allow the inhabitants of Casa Naila to experience this powerful and unique beach.” To this end, Alfonso has done away with perimeter fencing and doors enclosing the courtyard and patio to the beach.

Lifestyling loves: The absence of such outer protection is an approach that offers the owners direct and uninterrupted access to the shores below, and conversely encourages local beachgoers to take advantage of the pool and the terraces, something the homeowners welcome.

A Case For Traditional Construction

By referencing the traditional building systems of the vernacular coastal style, Alfonso pays respect to the natural order of the beach and its surrounds. For the many coastal communities in the region, wooden framed structures, complete with exterior palm bone wood slats, are characteristic of their informal beach huts. The palm bone skin he incorporated on the upper floors of the blocks offers a contemporary interpretation of this vernacular construction. “Given our weather conditions and use of mosquito nets, the positioning of the palm bone skin allows for permeability and cross ventilation without the need for glazed windows,” Alfonso explains, adding, “the palm bone creates an interesting play of light and shadow throughout the day and night, both inside and out.” On the lower levels he’s paired this material with off-shutter concrete, justifying its use as a means to frame the sea views to the south and east. The interior floors were finished using a combination of clay and earth, their warmth not only resulting in a natural look, but also offering thermal comfort.

Lifestyling loves: In traditional Oaxacan housing, the kitchen serves as a hub for social interaction. Alfonso honours this by offering it pride of place on the property and by building the stove from clay.

Words: Martin Jacobs
Photographs: Edmund Sumner

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