Photo credits: Courtesy of Rory Gardiner

Casa Mérida by Ludwig Godefroy

Casa Mérida is a single-family house project located in the historic center of Mérida, a few blocks from its central plaza, in its colonial area. Mérida is the capital of Yucatan, but also the capital of Mayan culture. Yucatan represents a large part of the Mexican Mayan territory.

For your information, Mérida is a city where life without air conditioning is almost impossible, and where it was very common to use it 24 hours a day. How can we step back from this intense use of AC that you are doing today? And what could be the possibilities that architecture offers us?
With this objective in mind and looking at the past, the following question arose: How is it possible to build an architecture that reflects and considers the identity of Yucatan, so that this house belongs to its territory? In other words, how could this house be Maya?

The Casa Mérida project explores the relationship between contemporary and traditional architecture, both connected through a very simple use of vernacular references. Upon entering the site for the first time, something memorable was the unique ratio, which is a rectangle 80 meters long x 8 meters wide, which looks like a large lane. Here the only idea of the project arose: to preserve this perspective of 80 meters, as a straight line, crossing the entire land from the entrance door to the end point, where the pool is located. Insertion of the traditional concept of air flow cooling as a starting point. But it wasn’t just about air circulation, this long perspective also
refers to anti-Mayan culture and architecture, and more precisely to its Mayan “Sacbé”, literally the white road, the white limestone stucco covered stones.

With its airflow column, Casa Mérida returned to an original and elementary principle of vernacular Yucatecan architecture, natural cross ventilation, which then led the project to a second question: how is it possible to achieve the best self-sufficiency in the midst of a city, without being so dependent on modern technologies, to try to be more responsible with the management of the energy waste of the place? This next concern led the project towards the idea of disconnecting the house from the city to have better control over it, basically creating a kind of isolated rural situation in the middle of an urban context. To physically disconnect Casa Mérida from the city, the design has been modified by changing the social area with the backyard area; sending the living room, the kitchen and the pool to the end of the land, in addition to the quietest area where
the noise from the street no longer reaches; to bring the functional patio to the front, to use it as a buffer in the city.

To disconnect typologically. In addition to the permutation between the front and the back, the general design of the house is also organized according to a regular rhythm of positive built area and negative empty area, to always generate empty spaces on both sides of the built spaces, making that the gardens participate in their place of being only ornamental juxtapositions. The outdoor spaces were integrated as part of the interior space, fading the classic border between inside and outside, increasing the visual depth to create a feeling of more generous spaciousness of the volumes. Casa Mérida is inverting the classic scheme of the house with its garden, to create a singular habitable garden with its house.

To disconnect electrically. To conclude, after isolating the house in a sensible way, came the last obvious point of disconnecting the house, electrically speaking, from the city. To complete a completed cycle of water regeneration, the rainwater had to return to the
subsoil, and the absorption wells were designed to fulfill this function, placed under sculptural water collectors, which became part of the aesthetics of home. The wasted water system was also disconnected from that of the city, using a biodigester to treat dirty water and generate irrigation for the garden.
The complete cycle from pumping to regeneration, without making the city take care of our wasted water, is completed. The last point was electricity, resolved through the use of obvious but appropriate technologies, such as solar boilers to heat the water, as well as solar panels to cover the rest of the electricity needs.

To reconnect culturally. The project is willing to get rid of the unnecessary, unfinished and without decoration, to preserve only the structural part, as well as only simple materials. The Mayan cream stone walls have been traditionally built by covering the joints with stone chips, a typical Yucatan stone used in Mayan pyramids and Mayan temples. Raw concrete has also been used for floors and walls, definitely industrial but still locally produced in Merida, the main structural material. Finally, to control the light atmosphere, huge wooden grating windows and doors have been designed. Construction reaches 90% on site, using local materials and built exclusively by Yucatecan bricklayers and carpenters, a kind of modern reinterpretation of what vernacular architecture could mean. Made of massive materials that do not require special treatments or maintenance, accepting aging and time as part of the architectural process, the house has been conceptualized to end a day covered in a new layer of materiality: a layer of patina.

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