"Rich Inner Life"
01.01.16 | Azure
In creating this intimate villa in coastal Mexico, Vancouver’s Campos Leckie Studio carved out shared and private spaces for the owner and her B&B guests.
Amid the Spanish colonial villas of San José del Cabo – a town of nearly 70,000 and less touristy than nearby Cabo San Lucas – a modernist home stands out. Costa Azul is the latest residential project in Mexico by Campos Leckie Studio, a Vancouver firm that recently disbanded to become two separate studios. Over the past decade, though, principals Javier Campos and Michael Leckie built a reputation for their off-grid houses in hot desert climates, particularly in the sun-drenched southernmost tip of Mexico’s Baja California Sur.
From the street, Costa Azul reads a bit like a Donald Judd stack of modest building blocks. Yet the all-white concrete home, designed for a single film-world professional and her black cat, Zelda, is deceptively complex. The boxy form is built around passive solar principles and the client’s plan to use the house as an Airbnb enterprise. It is also a study in contrasts, a deftly executed dance with the demands of intense sunlight and shade, and the need for private and shared spaces where strangers can feel comfortable under the same roof.
From this hilltop perch, the views are spectacular, with a popular surfing beach to the east and sand-covered hills to the south. The house occupies approximately one-third of the 932-square-metre lot, which is surrounded by a semicircular wall that adds a strikingly gestural sense of flow and movement. Inside, each delineated space, including the kitchen and living areas, connects to the outdoors and the main attraction: a swimming pool in the courtyard.
Privacy is maintained via a series of walled-in stairways, multiple entrances and discreet corridors, all of which recall a desert modernist version of Jorge Luis Borges’ library of Babel. The various ways to traverse the interior allow the owner to move from the outer courtyard to her bedroom upstairs without disturbing the guests, who access their rooms and the communal rooftop deck by separate routes.
The architects engaged fully with the sky plane, so that the more the indoor and outdoor volumes blend, the more what’s above becomes a key part of the overall palette, creating dramatic blocks of blue next to the painted concrete and white plaster. A tiled shower is left open to the elements, while slices of sky are strategically revealed poolside.
One of the big differences between working in the city versus the desert, says Campos, is that you have other houses to contend with. “In the desert, there is so much open space,” adds Leckie. “The challenge is to focus the eye on a specific view so it doesn’t get lost.” In San José del Cabo, the goal was a bit of both: to frame the views and filter out the residential surroundings. From the patio, for instance, the neighbour’s garden is visible, but not the house; in the kitchen and living area, the windows align with the distant hills and the beach. These gestures reveal the structure’s singular grace, as well as the drama of Baja itself.
"On The Rise"
01.01.01 | Azure Magazine
The ‘House of Stairs’ by Vancouver-based graduate architect Javier Campos is a delicate study in how to animate space. The project is a renovation of an early 1980s condominium unit on a spectacular site in downtown Seattle, facing Union Lake. The client, a Microsoft executive who is a transplanted Canadian, wanted to transform the drab four storey walk-up, with its small, dark spaces and uninteresting, enclosed staircase. Campos decided to gut the interior and begin anew. His first desire was to capitalize on the necessity to move vertically through the spaces by excavating the stairwell, opening it to the light and views and creating a vertical sequence that would at once emphasize the transition from the ground to the sky and bring more light into the interior. “I wanted to make the precession through the house and event,” says Campos. To this end, he designed a stair that is constructed in six distinct sections.
The entry to the unit is through a rather dark, compressed foyer with a light grey slate floor. The threshold between foyer and stair is constructed from a solid concrete block clad in slate. This threshold is a step up from the floor, but part of the block has been cut away, forming a cavity into which the first step is set. In this way, Campos makes a wry statement about the human desire for ascension and the realities of gravity; the step simultaneously lifts the body upward and sinks back toward the earth.
From here, the stair becomes a solid wooden element that slowly emerges from the ground and the white drywall shaft that surrounds the stair on the first floor. The cadences of the stair constitute a rhythmic counterpoint to the floors themselves: three floors with six flights of stairs that change their constructive style subtly at each landing, becoming more ethereal with each transition.
The last three sections of the stair are constructed of powder-coated industrial grating, a semi-transparent material that permits light and views to penetrate, giving the sense of continuous space through all three levels of the residence and creating the illusion of much larger spaces and openness. Each section of steel stair is detailed uniquely to help emphasize the spatial transitions. The first run is supported on laser-cut flat stock, the second run hovers above two angle-iron stringers, and the third is set between c-channels. The changing constructive language calls the visitor’s attention to the stair and transforms the necessary, everyday vehicle for vertical transportation into a ceremonial, almost ritualistic, event. At the third floor, the steel landing hovers over the elegant Australian jarrah flooring and offers an invitation to continue upward to the roof deck.
While the stair is the central feature of the renovation, it is not the only element Campos has used to unite and animate the space. Within this residence, it is possible to see from one end to the other, and from the bottom to the top. The designer himself speaks about the desire to create a “fluid” space punctured by volumetric pieces,” by which he means a spatial and light continuum interrupted by volumes such as bathrooms and closets. Translucent glass panels in the walls and doors that enclose these volumes allow light to flo from one room into another, increasing the sense of continuity.
White walls are not simple, flat surfaces, but sculpted volumes that oscillate from thick to thin, massive to delicate. In addition to fluid space, Campos uses a vocabulary of dynamic, asymmetrical forms and floating planes and reveals, along with solid/void plays, that keep the eye moving over surfaces and around rooms, adding to the sense of expansion and motion. In the main living area, for instance, he has designed a built-in custom shelving unit made from ash-veneered plywood that seems to float above the black powder-coated plate steel fireplace.
The promenade through the residence culminates at the roof deck, which spans the entire footprint of the condominium. The roof is covered by a raised wooden deck whose separation from the solid surface below helps emphasize the sense of floating in air. The wooden deck surface folds upward to form a bench and upper deck at the back of the roof, reminder of the fluid space expressed in the residence’s interior. At the House of Stairs, the climb that begins in the dark, confined foyer ends on high, out in the open: views to Queen Anne Hill and Union Lake make the rooftop a breathlessly magical destination.