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2016 MCHAP.emerge

Brick House

Diego Arraigada

Rosario, Argentina

July 2014


Diego Arraigada Arquitectos


Pablo Gamba (Project Architect) Consultora PI (Structural Consultant)


Maria Sabina Cachero


Gustavo Frittegotto


Five load-bearing masonry walls are the only structural elements that define an almost square plan divided in two bays where the different spaces of the house are distributed: kitchen, dining and living areas in the ground floor; bedrooms in the first floor; and a studio, laundry and terrace in the second floor. Parallel to the façade, a concrete stair connects the three concrete slab levels and half levels. Walls are monolithic and don’t contain any additional layer for thermal or water proof insulation. The energy and comfort demands are met thanks to their mass and the use of a water-proof mortar. A series of studies of different bonds and their possibilities of perforation in relation to their structural behavior resulted in the adoption of a Crossed Bond for every wall. The north façade is built using the minimum amount of matter with which the wall maintains its structural stability. As a result, it can be thoroughly perforated to define the relationship between interior and exterior, creating a bearing screen that filters light and views while permitting structural loads travel diagonally through it. The rest of the facades repeat the same motif as a bass-relief in order to save unneeded material and create a continuous lattice pattern that unifies the volume. Where needed, apertures of different sizes are located to create doors and windows within the diagonal logic of the fabric. Above the bigger apertures, thin steel re-bars embedded in the joints derive the loads above them.


As many latin-american cities, Rosario has a regular plan but a chaotic section. Characterized by a perfect square grid plan that extends indefinitely in the flat landscape, the urban elevation has an ever changing profile where low single family houses and boxy medium-rise mix-use buildings coexist in vertical friction. The local urban code requires that all party walls are built out of load bearing earth brick walls up to twelve meters. This pervasive and repetitive requirement was the starting point for a research on the contemporary architectural possibilities of traditional load bearing masonry construction. Within the urban fabric, the massing of the project falls in between the typical typologies of the single story house and the mid-rise rise housing buildings: it is a 3 level tower-like-house. The small footprint allowed for liberating as much green area as possible towards the center of the block and, when seen from the street, its shape blends with the fragmented and jagged condition of the urban landscape. Earth brick load bearing walls are also the customary and widespread construction technique of the area, the most common and the less expensive –and, perhaps, the most discredited one. Thus, the decision of using bricks and leaving them exposed aims to establish a relationship with the city´s traditional construction methods, to take advantage of the expertise of local labor in artisan brick fabrication and layering, and to acknowledge the excellent aging of the its surfaces over time in the humid weather of the region.


Both for the design phase and the production of construction documents, the brick bond (understood as a logical system) was digitally modeled as an algorithm that recreated its laws and allowed for modifications in their parameters to make the final adjustment between the abstract diagram of the bond, the actual dimensions of the site, the imperfect hand-crafted bricks, and the thickness of the joint. From the digital model, one plan per brick layer was produced to guide the actual hand-made construction. Brick is the only minimal construction module that extensively repeats itself in different configurations. It is its relative position or absence in the whole what defines its properties; at the same time, it become structural support, enclosure, aperture, finishing, shelving and inherent decoration. Against the warm backdrop of the brick texture, domestic life unfolds in static spaces that get activated by the path of the filtered sunlight and screened views. Minor shifts in the heights of the different rooms also introduce subtle spatial variations. The equivalence of the interior and exterior facades creates an exterior-like quality of the interior spaces -and viceversa. The house borrows from the city its basic material logics and main formal decisions. However the final outcome adds something unexpected to it. As a result, the project is perceived both as strange and friendly, new and familiar, boring and not.

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