The ellipse

The ellipse

VS Arquitectos
CF, Argentina | View Map
Project Year

Glass world

VS Arquitectos as Architects

Located in a residential area of the north of Buenos Aires, the ellipse is not a house, and it is not exactly an office either, nor a study. But it has something of all that. On the sidewalk, a net concrete and wooden wall separates the private world from the city. But above that wall, the second floor from the side of the more acute edge of the ellipse may be seen, generating an extremely interesting counterpoint between the smooth and opaque plate of the wall and the transparent and brilliant curve of the ellipse. In this manner, while the total view of the building is only possible once you have passed the wall, a fragment is perceived like an anticipation of the image. The total vision of the ellipse, once you have passed the access door, is a spectacle of Architecture. A softly ascending wooden deck links the access door and the access to the ellipse and, inscribes the axis that is the structure of the building on site.

However, and in spite of the fact that the eye does not register it, the axis is not placed on the mean of the plot, but instead it is slightly displaced towards the left, to allow the access to the underground parking spaces. The distance between the access door and the ellipse is calibrated in order to be long enough to allow for the comfortable total view of the building, and short enough to appear extremely ephemeral, highlighting its length and immediately breaking any possible confusion with reference to its shape. The ellipse is not only an ellipse, but it also looks like one. In this sense, the building is classical considering that its final shape derives directly from the layout, and at the same time, there exists an absolute correspondence between the outer volume and the inner space. However, as the absence of walls and the transparence of the glass skin tend to weaken the understanding of the elliptical layout, the architects reconstruct it with the three white plates of floors and roof. Net and abstract, in principle they appear wider than necessary in structural terms, but with respect to their visual weight, the ellipse is rewritten in opaque and slightly distorted keystone. The slabs do not follow the elliptic lines of the glass skin, but they expand at the edges, amplifying the stretching of the building simultaneously creating covers over the accesses, without losing the abstract character.

The pond constitutes an important part of the exterior aspect of the building. Its square layout and only slightly larger than the ellipse, gives the appearance that it is floating, barely suspended on the water. At the same time, the pond links the differentiated worlds of the ellipse and the garden. If the ellipse is the dominion of rationality, the garden is the kingdom of the picturesque; and through the garden, that erases the limits of the plot, the new building is related to the surrounding fabric, characterized by houses and chalets, built in the first half of the XX Century, and surrounded by gardens. Obviously this takes us to the difficulty that the architects had to surmount to implant an architectural object in this environment, different in so many aspects. A program that is not domestic in counter position to the residential hegemonic function, an abstract format in counter position to an architecture of strong programmatic expression, a technological abyss. They solved these frictions based on small and highly measured projected operations that created a second more invisible, but not less important, project than the ellipse: the wooden decks, the studied edge of the pond, the picturesque garden and the grill shed, low and sober, and that – like a belvedere – closes that axis of the composition of the project. We could say that the classical axis that organizes the layout and the façade, inside and outside; and that is materialized in the wooden deck, flows from the street towards the interior of the ellipse, flying over the water of the pond, and stops in the threshold, being the only indication of this almost imperceptible fact that in architecture the ellipse is the passage from the outside to the interior.

We might say that to project the layout of the building the architects worked with two registries. On one side, we have the glass skin and the three elliptical slabs, and on the other side the orthogonal geometry that adapts to the programmatic needs. The relationship between both geometries may be one of the most serious problems to solve in circular layout buildings – or their derivations – and of small surfaces. The sanitary units on both floors are solved in a Miesian canonical manner: one wood paneled exempt block, located in the wider section of the ellipse, symmetrically opposite to the core of the vertical circulations. The rooms and offices are limited by glass plates, by opaque boxes containing equipment and by the combination of both systems. The project organization is anchored in the load bearing system. Twelve circular metal columns that support the slabs determine the geometry of the elliptical skin as well as of the orthogonal programmatic division, and at the same time solve the complex adjustment of both systems.

The format of the axial shaft changes in the interior. After the hiatus of the hall, it reappears converted into a long and narrow garden, a slit that crosses – and integrates – both floors. Beyond the ellipse, the axis materializes again in the wooden deck, flies again over the water of the pond and ends in the grill shed, an intimate and homely area. In the first floor are the two certainly most important spaces of the building. The conference room towards the front and the main office towards the back and open to the landscape like a real XXI century lookout. The rest is Vila+Solowieiczyk’s impeccable work, the monochromatic paint that covers everything, from the load bearing structure to the light switch plates, the resolution of the details appealing to the highest visual economy, and especially the technological solution of the magnificent glass skin. And, above everything, the huge effort of turning a dream into a possible technological object, a perfect project, summarizing: Architecture.

Buenos Aires, June 2012. Text by architect Norberto Feal

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