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Casa Q'anil

Juan Pablo Barrios

Antigua Guatemala, Guatemala

December 2019


Juan Pablo Barrios


Sigfrido Arrivillaga & Associates, Gustavo and Fernando Ortiz


Bertha Elizabeth Paiz


Andres Asturias


At the beginning it was only the silence
And from silence like a seed
Time arose
And sprout in space
That solidified the void.

Like planting a seed into the soil, this building proposes the idea of a structure born out of the earth. A monolith standing in the depths of the mountains, silent and solemn, basic in its geometry, just like a tree that grows out of the ground and merges seamlessly with its surrounding context. We propose a building that does not attempt to subjugate or force form but rather seeks integration and sustainability. From above the building its almost invisible, the mountain slopes down to spread horizontally out onto an infinite grass plane facing the infinite vast space. Nothing more, nothing less.

The home we inhabit should nurture, question, inspire, and protect. It is our shelter, our gathering place and our sanctuary, a primary point of reference in our life narrative and our understanding of our place in time.


Located in the central highlands of Guatemala we find the colonial city of Antigua, nestled between breathtaking views of volcanos and raw natural beauty. The city famed for its historical Spanish colonial architecture, agricultural lands and local craftsmanship.

Antigua is a city where the established conventional style of architecture and regulations in the area remain mostly unchallenged, we are currently witnessing the city’s uncontrolled sprawling into the mountains as a consequence. The outdated and inflexible way of building is compromising the natural surroundings the region is so renowned for.
We propose a way of building that merges with the surrounding landscape and relates to the topography and geological masses of volcanos and mountains surrounding the valley.

Casa Q’anil named after the Mayan astrological sign representative of the seed, life and creation, beginning and growth. A new way of building in a colonial city were traditional architecture remains unchallenged and competes with nature. Our proposal seeks to protect what we have come to realize as humanity we are a part of, Nature.

We suggest a home designed around the principles of flexible architecture to allow for the structure to act like a living organism in itself. To respond with ease to the ever-changing environment and contain a level of adaptability that guarantee its continual utilization for the future. We seek to use processes that are environmentally responsible to conserve the land we build on. We aim to reduce the use of resources and reuse what is already there.


This is a home that constitutes an example of ecological adaptability that goes beyond an idea and extends to actual practices. A house made with raw local materials with invigorating energies that stimulate growth and constitute the perfect atmosphere to adapt and flourish. Offering back to nature what we have taken.

A monolith covered with earth and surrounded by water sculpted to allow a void to filter natural light within the central space. A courtyard is born, a place of adaptation and cyclical temporality where produce of cultural significance are laid out depending on seasonal availability of local harvest.

We designed the house to be flexible in its nature. The house has the ability to open and close as every room has three layers of sliding doors to allow the occupant to choose the desired level of interaction with its surrounding landscape. These movable elements of glass, lattice and solid allow a highly desirable flexibility for dwelling within a minimum required space.

The main fabric of the house comes from the very soil that was extracted in the process of hollowing out the space upon which the building now stands. Fifty-four-thousand curved bricks were produced on site and manually placed layer upon layer, an utmost refinement of what is principally primitive. Not so much a building as an earthwork, the design is about digging and layering up, it is animal architecture, archaic, adaptable and primary.

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