Organized around a walled courtyard that provides its interiors with shelter and privacy, Casa Ithualli (which translates to “Patio House” in the ancient Nahuatl language) emphasizes direct access to outdoor spaces and natural light while using ordinary materials in novel ways. The architects’ goal was to embrace local building techniques in ways that were exciting and innovative, while creating inviting spaces that recall the characteristics of traditional Mexican architecture.
Located in a compact urban neighborhood where homes are built right up to the property lines, Casa Ithualli strikes a balance between the need for privacy and security and a sense of openness and transparency. A solid concrete wall with horizontal striations wraps into the main entry, balanced visually by a trio of metal garage doors. At the second story, a screen of white metal pipes creates a gradient from the private interior spaces to the open-air courtyard beyond.
Arriving by car or on foot, visitors enter a vestibule where they are greeted by a nine-foot-tall pivot door clad in copper tubes. Once inside, a large glass pivot door opposite a prismatic oak staircase leads to the main courtyard. Echoing the street façade, the lower walls of the courtyard are solid concrete, contrasted above by delicate white pipe screens—one of which is offset from the property line, spanning overhead to create a visual buffer to the adjacent structure. The pipe screens reappear throughout the interior and exterior of the house. A rectangular pool stretches the length of the courtyard, and the shade from the pipe screens is supplemented by an oak tree in the middle of a grassy lawn.
In the formal living room, a double-height glass curtainwall maximizes views to the courtyard on one side, and a narrow garden on the other. Wood accents above the fireplace and on the curved ceiling of the adjacent dining area complement the marble floor, mantel, and hearth. A staircase formed out of bent steel plate and suspended by thin steel cables leads from the formal living room to a glass-walled loft containing a media room. Meanwhile, a pair of doors from the dining room provides access to a common area containing the kitchen, breakfast room, and an informal family room. A door from the kitchen opens onto a secluded patio with an outdoor kitchen and reflecting pool.
The second level contains two bedrooms, each with a closet and full bath, and the master suite complete with a private lounge/study. Windows in the master suite and media room overlook the main courtyard, while the bedrooms have views to the smaller garden and private patio. Oak floors add warmth to these private spaces. The pipe screen motif reappears as a solar shade for windows along the perimeter, and as a partition by the main stair.
Since pre-Columbian times, courtyards have been one of the hallmarks of Mexican architecture—from ancient Teotihuacan to colonial haciendas and convents to modern masterpieces by architects such as Luis Barragán. Casa Ithualli continues that rich tradition in the 21st century.
Casa Ithualli was commissioned with the express purpose of being raffled off in a nationwide lottery to raise money for college scholarships. The annual contest is sponsored by Sorteos Tec, an organization that has provided scholarships to over half of all students at the Tecnológico de Monterrey over the last 70 years. The design continues the evolution of the Sorteos Tec lottery into a showcase for contemporary architecture. Casa Ithualli is the 204th residence to be raffled off by Sorteos Tec, but only the third design to be commissioned from an internationally-recognized architecture firm (its two predecessors were designed by Alberto Campo Baeza and Tatiana Bilbao).
The house was constructed in just six months—a feat made possible by the adoption of local construction materials and methods, combined with forwardthinking design elements such as pre-fabricated tube screens. Upon its completion the home remained open for tours by the public, giving over 31,000 people the opportunity to experience its contemporary architecture firsthand. Nearly 270,000 tickets were sold for the lottery, which took place in December 2017. The grand prize winner received the house with all furnishings and electronics, as well as two new vehicles.
The envelope of Casa Ithualli is composed of a double-wall system with intermediate insulation panels and a Duo Vent type window system; this combination allows for better control of interior comfort levels while avoiding unwanted losses or gains and reducing the overall HVAC load. A prefabricated system of ribbed concrete slabs lightened the structure and reduced the amount of concrete and steel required. A 2-kiloWatt rooftop solar array is expected to offset 40 tons of CO2 emissions over the next 25 years.