Glass Wood House

For years, my dream was to live in a Swiss chalet or a Canadian log home. Then I discovered the clean and pure lines modern architecture but never quite forgot my love for warm and beautiful wood.

The inception of an architecture project is a time of doubt and exhileration: that blank page is awaiting any shape, form or style your mind can come up with.

In Mies van der Rohe’s words, less is more and minimalist design should be your guiding principle. However, when you juggle in your mind’s eye with all the architectural concepts that could apply to your house, more is less as explained in the book the Paradox of Choice.

You need clarity of goals and coherence of vision to iterate away from a nebula of half-formed images to a consistent idea of a house.

This aha! moment occurred to me when I discovered in Architectural Record an article about Kengo Kuma’s Glass Wood House. I was blown away by the ethereal design that achieves an unlikely fusion between materials that are seldom brought together in a house.

I immediately contacted our architect and together we worked on morphing the design of the initial Case Study House concept we had adopted to sketches inspired by the Glass Wood House.

Kengo Kuma’s design offered another intrinsic benefit: the generous roof overhangs were ideal to protect the house from the frequent and heavy rains of Antioquia.

All too often, modern architecture hasn’t been respectful of Mother Nature and was paid back with frustrating construction issues such as the rainwater leaks affecting the flat roof of Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye. We wanted a modern twist on a proven local building tradition, nicely exemplified by this finca in rural Antioquia:

Unfortunately, Kengo Kuma’s house was built in Connecticut, a region of very minor seismic activity compared to Antioquia. The renowned Japanese architect was free to select slender steel columns that were immediately rejected by our structural engineer as being incompatible with the requirements of the NSR10 norm.

After weeks of design efforts, we came up with a solution that consisted in using 15 cm x 15 cm steel columns where window glazing would make them visible, and 20 cm x 20 cm steel columns where they would be hidden within walls.

The risk of water leakage through the flat roof was addressed by turning it into a green roof which incidentally provides far better thermal insulation, more durability and allows us to harvest rainwater and re-use it in for irrigation and flushing toilets.

In the end, the rendering below shows our Glass Wood House atop Kengo Kuma’s. We hope we paid an appropriate tribute to the genius of Kuma by tropicalising his design in Medellin.

Perhaps this design is more in tune with the tradition of house building in Antioquia than a Canadian log home, in line with Kengo Kuma’s modern interpretation of classic Japanese architecture.

What do you think?

Originally published at on November 30, 2013

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