Designing a white house in New Zealand is a difficult thing to do. Any mistake you make, any detail that isn’t perfect or any blemish that marks its surface is obvious to even the passing observer. Yet, in some countries, designing in crisp white is something of a vernacular language that is known and appreciated; its blemishes and peculiarities understood and appreciated.
On the Iberian Peninsula, such gleaming pieces of ivory architecture are common, particularly within the canon of modern architecture. Houses dot the roughly-hewn landscape like perfect sugar cubes, interspersed with dry-packed stone walls and scraggy olive trees. The perfection of their white forms is juxtaposed by their often sun-baked surroundings.
Oliver and Paloma Hernaiz from Architecture Lab (OHLAB) have created one such house, the MM House (200m2), on the Spanish island of Mallorca. The house is planned as a series of chisel-roofed forms, arranged in a rotational array to capture specific views within the landscape. “The views of the site are quite nice, but even nicer when you frame them properly,” notes Paloma. Each volume varies in height as it turns and gazes around the site, following the sun.
“The bedrooms face the east, looking for the morning sun, overlooking the garden and the Bellver Castle; the living and dining room faces south-east, the most pleasant orientation throughout the day in Mallorca, and with views out to the sea and the garden; the kitchen and the vegetable garden face south; and in the attic, above the living room, the terrace provides views of the sea (the sea is visible mostly from this level); and its big window over the living room faces south, allowing the winter sun to warm the main space of the house while the eaves of the roof protect from the summer sun.”
These windows are pushed deeply into the volumes, creating a kind of blinkered view out of the interior and into the landscape.
The planning also draws on a technique developed in the Renaissance era during which rooms were linked together without a designated corridor. Each of these volumes is efficient and rational internally. However, their arrangement on the site provides a dynamism that is otherwise lacking. By rotating the volumes at their intersections, the architects have created a form which recalls ideas of intuitive encampment rather than strict rationalism.
Within this series of blocks, the largest provides a double-height volume with a clever study and library provided along the corridor, which accesses a faceted balcony. The completely tiled surface feels like a cool, but empty, swimming pool. The walls of the terrace fold up to form the balustrade and roof of the block, creating an interesting and unusual form.
The triangular opening cut into the roof opens the terrace to the wide sky and a glimpse of the Mediterranean. The green and cream tile pattern (designed by fashion designer Cybilla) forms a kind of pixelated camouflaged pattern.
The house has also been designed with low-energy principles in mind. The pitched roofs collect water for drinking, washing, flushing toilets and for garden use. Water is stored in a specially-designed basement. The orientation of the windows has been considered in order to control the entry of strong sunlight and keep the house cool in summer and warm in winter.
A combination of heavy thermal mass and thick insulation in the walls evens out temperature fluctuations within the house as well. “The house was finished last September and monitoring its performance has been key. As of April the clients have not turned on the heat at all, reporting an interior temperature (measured daily – day and night) between 21ºC and 24ºC during the winter, with exterior temperatures between 5ºC and 15ºC.
“This means that during our first winter living in the house we had zero heating consumption (100% passive) and zero water expense (100% rainwater).” These efforts have earned the building the ‘Passivhaus’ certification for buildings that use natural environmental effects to their advantage, rather than relying on mechanical systems.
The MM House is a cleverly efficient project in many ways. The spaces created, particularly those between the main blocks, are both considered and well crafted. While the interiors are not lavish, the project is endearing and playful in its form, with moments of the truly unusual.