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2018 MCHAP

Cypress Houses

SurrealEstudio Arquitectura

Cuenca, Ecuador

December 2017


Carlos Espinoza Abad


Felipe Cobos Hermida (Senior Architect) Mateo Abad Vega (Senior Architect) Carlos Paucar León (Building Administrator)


Juan Heredia Casajoana


Felipe Cobos Hermida


Cypress Houses is an exercise in how to conduct a intervention in a built environment. The basic principles of the project are: 1) Preserve the existing elements we considered to be of value: the retaining wall supporting the garden; the principal trees that create a union with existing vegetation along the banks of the Tomebamba River ; and finally the dividing wall which serves as historical evidence of the types of urban subdivision adopted during the colonial era and the Republican period. 2) Introduce an urban densification operation in the historic city center which we believe is the only possible way to achieve real estate feasibility in an area that is suffering from population decline and that requires alternative forms of implementation and occupation that do not sacrifice the architectural quality of the area or put at risk the urban image of the historic center of Cuenca, and particularly the Barranco. These are tried and tested formats that create mixed-use, high-density and low-rise housing which we deem to be fundamental for the development of Latin American cities. To conduct an exercise in urban and material redevelopment and recycling. The existing constructive system allowed us to salvage a large quantity of bricks which we recycled using a system of bearing walls whose patina (caused by lime residue) solved issues related to chromatic integration. The brickwork became a fundamental element of the project and the we have taken the resulting format to the extreme, reproducing it on decks and handrails.


Cuenca is a city located in the Ecuadorian Andes which was declared a world heritage site by UNESCO in 1999. Its historic city center, along with its urban, scenic and architectural values have been recognized internationally. These kinds of acknowledgments can however bring with them risks related to uncontrolled tourism and gentrification. The historic center of Cuenca is made up of about 300 hectares, and until the 1950s housed the entire population of the city until the city began to suffer from excessive growth. The urban sprawl now covers more than 7,000 hectares of low urban density, thus requiring enormous investment in basic infrastructure which the local economy can not afford. What is most worrying is that the only areas registering a decrease in population are the areas located within the historic city center. The road to sustainable urban development finds a highly viable solution in the rehabilitation of central areas. The historic center enjoys first-class infrastructure, capable of hosting three times the current population, with optimal conditions of supply, complexity and walkability. Cypress Houses is a multi-family and mixed-use residential project is located in El Barranco, a ravine at the edge of the historic city center which falls into the Tomebamba River that passes through the city, and a landmark of high scenic value.


The building, despite being located in a culturally sensitive and protected location, blends into its surroundings. The existing trees have created a layer that softens the construction. In addition, the building uses the materials from the original construction which lends double justification to the principles of sustainability raised in the objectives. We believe that Cypress Houses is a clear demonstration that you can achieve low-rise and high-density solutions without sacrificing spatial quality. The project has been careful in relation to privacy. The risks taken regarding the limits of distances between the different blocks have been successful since there is a clear community spirit fostered by the number of intermediate and common spaces. Some theorists describe this as life between buildings. The building also enjoys a suitable relationship with the city, by adding commercial use to the street and visual permeability via the main entrance and circulation area that functions like an internal walkway connecting the outside street with the river. The building integrates with the surrounding landscape of the Barranco due to the leading role played by vegetation and conserved trees. The simplicity of the building, in terms of functionality and expression aims to show respect to a culturally and historically sensitive location, seeks to recognize the value of local materials, as well as construction processes that are both manual and replicable.

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