Giusto Van Campenhout
Ciudad de Bueno Aires, Argentina
Santiago Giusto Nelson Van Campenhout
Javier Agustin Rojas
If for a moment we decontextualize and take the famous Mies’ quote “less is more” literally, we could end up arguing that the primary preoccupation of architecture should be demolishing and not building. It is of course an argument that can’t be taken seriously as a universal dogma in a world in constant growth, but Ungers and Koolhaas have already explored in their seminal project Berlin as a Green Archipelago, how useful demolition could be in some specific scenarios. We thought that The Casa Chorizo project could be one of them. When a client came to us asking to refurbish an old casa chorizo in ruins into his dwelling “without adding anything”, we proposed him to do “less than nothing”. We thought that the house was actually too big for the use he was going to give it and that the most logic thing to do was to make the house’s interior space smaller. It was daring of his part to accept this in a society driven by the maximization of the built square meter, but he understood how valuable this act could be regarding other forms of non-human life and a more efficient use of energy and materials. The project was structured in a series of incisions on the existing structure that reorganized the functioning and spatial qualities of the house.
The Casa chorizo is a multifamily housing typology that emerged in the Rio de la Plata region to accommodate the European immigration arriving in hordes during 19th and 20th century. The typology is defined by a series of rooms and patios that are connected by a corridor gallery. Each immigrant or family occupied one unit and shared a common kitchen and bathroom. The project transforms an existing Casa Chorizo into an unifamilial dwelling through a series of incisions. Our fascination for incisions comes from the study of a technique which development started in Argentina in the 1940’s, when Lucio Fontana begun making punctual holes over blank canvases. It was after nearly twenty years of technical refinement that he arrived to his “cuts” in 1958. Ten years later, Gordon Matta Clark retook Fontana’s obsession and did his stucco incision studies. In 1971 Matta Clark started to make interventions on abandoned buildings in the Bronx, a process that lead him in 1973 to his famous work Splitting in which he cut a suburban house in two. As Matta Clark explains, perhaps the best interpretation of his work was made by an old man who was passing by the Conical Incision at the Pompidou site and argued it was a very good exercise to fill the space with light and air. A few years later, in 1978, Matta-Clark died leaving what is probably the first post-colonial American architectural practice that did not emerge from European objectual and representational tradition open for further investigations.
The 19thc and 20thc demographic expansion provoked in Buenos Aires a building densification that resulted in a great deficit of green urban areas. Buenos Aires is among the least green cities in the world, with only about 1.8 square meters per capita of green space. The project can be seen as a form of reaction towards this condition. By reducing the existing structure footprint the casa chorizo project can be seen as an effort to make an architecture that minimizes the use of energy and materials in an attempt to build an environment that leaves space for others forms of life can emerge. The house functions as a dwelling for a young couple, a dog, and a multitude of plants and insects that little by little populate the space. The interior space of the house is divided by a circular patio. A more public room is left in the front part of the house disconnected from the more private areas. The house ends with a glassed bathroom where you can take a shower looking to the sky. The terrace is mostly covered by a green roof that once planted was left to grow through an entropic process. At an urban scale the project can be seen as a small green oasis that humbly helps in building up the city’s biodiversity and biomass. At a human scale the house can be understood as an attempt to build a green domestic landscape in the center of a dense metropolis.