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July 28, 2015
A family home in Mexico flips the script on traditional layouts.
View of Casa U from the street in a Mexico City suburb

The house is built into the hillside but its top floor entrance is level with the street. The stone wall provides privacy while the garage and a pedestrian walkway—seen exact center, by the tree—bridge the gap.

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Pedestrian walkway and entrance to Casa U in a Mexico City suburb

Walking across the pedestrian walkway, residents first glimpse the vestibule leading to the main stairwell. Rectangular patterns mark the concrete garage’s exterior and create a visual rhythm for the 50 foot-long walk to the vestibule.

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Stairwell in Casa U in a Mexico City suburb

The stair’s ceiling, delicately inscribed with the grain of its wooden formwork, direct views toward the path below and the backyard beyond. The steps on each flight are carefully widened or shortened to change your pace; here they double as you walk, slowing your pace, playing with the perception of your surroundings, and reducing the sense you are descending. 

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Glass wall in the landing at Casa U in a Mexico City suburb

Thirty vertical feet of glass constantly face the stairwell, providing framed views of the sky, trees, and backyard. Materia Arquitectónica co-founder Gustavo Carmona describes it as an “interior façade” that blurs the barrier between interior and exterior. 

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First floor landing in the Casa U in a Mexico City suburb

Just as the stairs use movement to change how residents experience the space, the walls also provide a new and subtle awareness: concrete ridges—seen right—cast changing shadows that mark the passage of the sun. Features like these, in the words of Carmona, “manipulate your experience, bring [a] different consciousness,” and elevate your awareness of the space.

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First floor landing and stairs in the Casa U in a Mexico City suburb

At the base of the first floor landing, black recinto volcanic stones divide the first floor’s informal dining area from the living room. This floor also features a bedroom and kitchen while the floor above holds a master bedroom, master bath, two bedrooms, two bathrooms, an entertainment room, and patio. The stairs—which are all-oak—descend to a ground-floor playroom and outdoor deck

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Floor-to-ceiling windows at Casa U in a Mexico City suburb

Ample floor-to-ceiling windows mean residents rarely have to turn on lights during the day. The living room flooring, seen here, also features oak but in warmer tones. 

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View from the backyard of Casa U in a Mexico City suburb

The home's materials are organized vertically: white exteriors towards the lighter sky, dark recinto stone close the earth and the foundations, and a moderating concrete in between. 

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Hillside view of Casa U in a Mexico City suburb

A stone path leads from the backyard, up the hillside, and arrives at the streetside entryway. The rhythmic pattern of the concrete garage, as well as the pedestrian walkway, are front and center. The privacy of the living and sleeping areas, seen at the left through floor-to-ceiling windows, are shielded from public view by the hill and the stone wall.

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View of the hill and stone wall from Casa U

The architects designed a picturesque texture for the hillside that provides a stimulating visual landscape. The recinto stone—seen left—is rhythmically divided by small ridges that also mark the passage of time with their shadows.

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View of Casa U from the street in a Mexico City suburb

The house is built into the hillside but its top floor entrance is level with the street. The stone wall provides privacy while the garage and a pedestrian walkway—seen exact center, by the tree—bridge the gap.

Casa U

A family selected a difficult site—a steep hillside with 45° grade—for their new house in an affluent Mexico City suburb. While many nearby residents pay large sums to alter the landscape, the architecture firm Materia Arquitectónica had a radically different solution: place the main entrance atop the house and invert the ground floor-up progression of most homes. A unique stairwell would carefully shape how residents and visitors experience the house and surrounding landscape. Titled Casa U, the project also features a rich material palette of concrete, stone, and wood, all carefully considered to accentuate sunlight and the natural environment.

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