A Small But Mighty Weekend House In The Jungle

Carla Juaçaba, one of Brazil’s more awarded architects, has produced a stunning weekend home in a montane nature preserve a few hours from Rio de Janeiro. With its massive exposure of organic textures both inside and out, it makes a strong case for stark minimalism as architectural interface with nature.

It’s all based on four huge steel beams piercing (and supported by) two walls of native stone, each 43 inches thick. Steps are incised into one corner to reach a rooftop garden. A full-length skylight above each wall washes and highlights the masonry’s texture.

Rio Bonito House

Front of Rio Bonito House. Image by Nelson Kon via Carla Juaçaba

The end facing the river is a wall of five massive sliding glass panels, each 6-feet-8-inches by 9-feet-4-inches high. (Better keep those tracks clean and lubricated.)

The architect’s website leaves me to speculate on the heating or cooling. The site is at a little below 3,000 feet elevation in the tropics. My guess is that the owners go there to relax in generally benign temperatures, relying on shade to prevent excess heat, and on wood heat when things get a bit chilly. One room has a wood cooking stove, and the other a large fireplace set into the stone wall.

Rio Bonito BR

Rio Bonito bedroom. Image by Nelson Kon via Carla Juaçaba

The walls themselves are of course paragons of thermal mass, absorbing heat both from the fireplace and from warm afternoons, and re-releasing it over time. This is among the lowest-tech, highest-mass, and most visually dramatic recent example of thermal mass features; in tomorrow’s article I’ll describe the opposite extreme, a high-tech low-mass low-visibility product for thermal mass.

Rio Bonito cookstove

Cooking area and masonry detail. Image by Nelson Kon via Carla Juaçaba

Juaçaba designed the house for the director of the Museum of Images of the Unconscious, in Rio, which exhibits naive art by psychiatric patients. It’s founder, a pioneer in psychiatric art therapy, described her museum as a resource for mental health workers as much as for art fans. The severe but organic minimalism of Rio Bonito house offers a fine escape from that job.

Working on grand scales as well as small, Juaçaba was awarded a 2013 ArcVision prize for her “Pavilion Humanidade” exhibit hall for the UN conference on sustainability. The pavilion is an array of halls, ramps, and long galleries suspended in an enormous grid of reused, reusable scaffolding.

Pavilion Humanidade

Pavilion Humanidade. Image by Leonardo Finotti via Carla Juaçaba

Daniel Mathews writes about plants, animals, geology, and culture—most often writing in book form. (Bible form, if you listen to his fans. And now also in iPhone app form.) But he got his start in green homebuilding. Fresh out of Reed College, he went into the Oregon woods and built himself a tiny house out of timbers he cut and a cedar shakes he bucked and split all within 100 feet of the site. Fortunately he keeps up with the times, and focuses today on high-tech paths to a small carbon footprint. He lives in Portland with his wife, son, daughter, cat, dog, vegetable garden, and lots of music.