When you think of a dream beach house you probably imagine panoramic windows giving on to an endless blue horizon. Perhaps you think of a timber terrace overlooking the azure sea and sandy beach below. You might think of a light, white architecture, perhaps — California cool or New England nautical timber. What you probably won’t think of is this.
Casa Zicatela, Ludwig Godefroy’s series of monolithic concrete cubes between the beach and the mountains in Oaxaca, Mexico, is sculptural, solid and massively impressive. Its architect claims the design was influenced by derelict concrete bunkers strewn around the Normandy beaches where he was born.
He wouldn’t be the first to be influenced by these. Theorist Paul Virilio wrote Bunker Archaeology in 1975 and the architecture of brutalism (notably Claude Parent’s) was profoundly affected by these super-solid, haunting second world war structures. Godefroy’s forms, however, are tempered by a series of references to Aztec pyramids, the stepped structures that crop up like topographical features throughout Mexico.
The country’s largely tropical climate means glass is redundant here. Spaces are left open or simply shuttered. The house is more like a compound of small courtyard structures, the space flowing between them. The landscaping within this walled, protected shell is clear and neat: grass interspersed with reflecting pools crossed by concrete bridges. The effect is of concrete cabanas — simple, shaded spaces that are perhaps more retreats than rooms.
The dark, unadorned concrete interiors are softened (a little) by furniture and fittings designed by another French expatriate, Emmanuel Picault. Chunky timber chairs and a massive table hewn from the trunk of a tree of impressive girth manage to mix a kind of cocktail of tropical modernism and crafted vernacular, their organic forms and material balancing the harsh boxiness of the buildings.
From the outside this is an almost comically forbidding building, a completely closed box that gives nothing away. Its interior appears eroded more than built, as if the spaces had been mined from the memories of a millennium of Mexican architecture and the sheer, monolithic mass of concrete. But the sharp sunlight creates powerful shadows that move across the surfaces, creating intriguing geometries of light and shade, warming and cooling, reflecting and absorbing.
There are moments when the building recalls the obsessive sculpting of Carlo Scarpa, others where it evokes Tadao Ando, but it is tougher and less compromising than either of these. An intriguing, robust and memorably striking structure that might last as long as those Normandy bunkers.
Photographs: Nin Solis