In what used to be a social housing neighbourhood in Santiago, Chile, Lucas Amione has created the Virginia House, a refurbishment project designed to create a modern, stylish, and comfortable home from a piece of local history.
The neighbourhood where the house sits newly transformed was established and built in the early 1960s. The dwellings there were all created using prefabricated designs involving concrete panels and wooden trussed roofs with a saddle shape. Over time, the economic growth in the city influenced its social and architectural fabric, generating continuous change and improvement in the area, particularly in recent decades.
This particular dwelling was actually one of the last on the street left in its original state by the time designers selected it for renovation. Teams arrived on site to find a building in its precise old construction, one of only a few that hadn’t yet had any type of intervention to its interior or exterior.
In order to give the modest original dwelling a little more expanse, designers began reconstruction by expanding its limits to the edges of the plot horizontally, stretching to the east and west. The house received a vertical expansion as well, this time from light steel rather than the same heavy materials originally used to build its foundation.
These expansions make much better use of the plot than the original design but still leave space in the front and back, as well as to the sides of the house. On one side, owners are afforded access to parking, leaving the other side for a stunning garden that wasn’t there before. Bringing additional greenery into the scene brightens the whole plot and helps bring it to the level of those houses on the street around it that have already been updated.
Inside the refurbished home, the same goal of expanding and using space more effectively continues but designers also heavily prioritized the amount of natural sunlight that might reach the interior spaces. Now, a double story vertical void of freeing space right in the centre of the house lets light permeate just about every corner. A light staircase connects the home’s two levels through this space.
While the vertical space gives a sense of openness and freedom to the bottom floor, it also provides a sense of privacy and intimacy to the bedrooms upstairs; building them to be closed off along the side of the void’s top creates a border and makes them feel cozy instead of dark.
The way the windows are placed in the house does more than just let sunlight in, even though that was top interior priority. Where the windows are situated in the house also plays a huge role in heat regulation, which is important in Chile’s hot summer afternoons. Windows are purposely placed towards the north while solid walls are built along the west side, letting passive heat control work in partnership with various ventilation systems.
Speaking of ventilation, the wooden cladding on the facade of the home’s upper floor is, besides being decorative, actually a ventilated wall system! This portion of the house helps reduce thermal transmittance through the walls. On the ground floor, the exteriors are painted a dark, neutral colour that contrasts well with the much brighter interiors. The transformation that takes place when guests enter into the colourfully accented interior after witnessing these darker neutrals establishes a sense of modern sophistication.
The final huge priority in transforming this house was to create a better relationship between the dwelling (even in its interior spaces) and the outside world, blending indoor and outdoor experiences. The first step towards this was taken when a glass wall made from floor to ceiling sliding doors was installed in the warm but shaded back of the house, allowing the living room to be opened onto a patio full of fresh breezes.
The final (and perhaps most pleasant) effort in creating a better relationship between the house and its surrounding outdoor area is the small courtyard to one side, near the garden. It sits in an indentation of the home’s wall, which affords it some privacy, and enjoys the shade of a small green tree. Rather than green lawns like the rest of the yard, this place is more of a serene rock garden.
Photos by Pablo Casals Aguirre