12.01.11 | Dwell Magazine
When Vancouver-based architect Javier Campos was first approached by his client about designing a retreat in Baja, California, he knew it would be an entirely different experience from his recent renovation of the Microsoft executive’s urban Seattle digs. The silent, who has a passion for architecture and was very involved in the design process from the beginning, was interested in the idea of an environmentally friendly yet stylishly modern house—a low-tech retreat for a high-tech man with rigorous design standards.
Chilean-Canadian Campos, who easily adapts to rain forest and desert, was immediately intrigued by the challenge of designing a residence on four acres in remote Los Zacatitos, 19 miles from the nearest town. Key to the project, he felt, was avoiding the excess of other villas in the region—monstrosities that imposed desalination plants and tennis courts on the arid landscape.
“I wanted to capture the simplicity and the beauty of the desert,” says Campos.
Drawing on references ranging from R.M. Schindler and the California “healthy living” aesthetic to traditional adobe structures to underground houses in the Tunisian desert, Campos conceived the retreat as three separate buildings. The main villa contains the “gathering places” of kitchen, living room, and patio, and two smaller villas house bedrooms and bathrooms, all connected by a series of courtyards.
Building materials are limited to steel and concrete, offset by Honduran mahogany. Solar panels located on top of the garage provide power, while passive heating and cooling systems based on traditional desert architecture found in the Middle East and Mexico keep space liveable in the extreme desert climate.
The retreat has its own water filtration system, and recycled gray water from sinks and showers nourishes the courtyard gardens.
After consulting with local surfers about prevailing wind patterns, Campos developed a low-impact ventilation strategy. He situated the main villa to be open to the north and south so it could catch the Pacific winds for cooling purposes.
The design, says Campos, was intended to blur the lines not only between indoor and outdoor space but also between the concepts of “built and found, private and public, and synthetic and natural.” The graceful combination of such disparate elements is well suited to the cross-cultural Campos, who not only practices architecture but is also a graphic and furniture designer. “Good design,” he says “is something that crosses boundaries.”