QUEBREDILLAS HOUSE / PUERTO RICO
CLIENT: Eric and Nanette Brill
SITE: Volcanic rock cliff overlooking ocean, facing into near constant stiff onshore breeze, sprinkled with native vegetation in soil pools and cracks in the rock
PROGRAM: Single-family residence
SIZE: 2,000 sq. ft.
COMPLETION: Fall 2000 (design)
NOTES: Cast-in-place concrete construction throughout, bearing directly on volcanic rock, imported aluminum sliding glass door system and adjustable wing-mounted, horizontal-axis wind turbine assemblies
PROJECT TEXT: J,P:A designed this vacation home and future year-round residence in Quebradillas, Puerto Rico, for a young retired couple and their three children. Located on approximately three and a half unspoiled acres atop the volcanic rock cliff that runs along much of the northern coast of the island, the house has been sited to provide spectacular ocean views, while mitigating the effects of the ever-present northerly winds and annual hurricanes. The form of the house is a simple, low-slung horizontal slab that “breaks” the force of the hurricanes by facing the ocean exposure at an angle rather than head on. To further reduce its profile against the breeze without losing its striking vantage, the house backs into the sloping site so that its roof is level with the adjacent ground.
The main approach to the house is from uphill; the visitor swoops down onto the roof/deck along a variety of footpaths through the brush (or down the ramping driveway to the main level directly). This roof provides a platform from which to gaze out over the plain of the ocean—a carrier deck that clears space in the jungle for the horizon to land. From the roof/deck two sets of stairs, reversed to the view, lead down to an outdoor hallway along the back of the bar where the structure meets the hillside. This passageway provides views through the rooms, sandwiched between two layers of sliding glass doors, out across the pool deck and over the ocean. The arrival sequence follows a classic pattern of alternating compression and release experiences but does not tease the visitor with the view itself. The view is presented directly: as if in deference to its power, the house itself is very simple and straightforward, a linked series of alcoves off the organizing horizon.
To a certain extent the house is seen as an outpost, and while not completely self-sufficient, it enjoys a number of features designed to reduce its dependence on the island’s power grid. Taking advantage of the nearly constant wind from the north are two adjustable wing-mounted, horizontal-axis wind turbine assemblies projecting from the upper deck. Additionally, rainwater is captured on the deck surfaces and conveyed to storage cisterns beneath the living spaces. A system of vents in the floor, roof, and rear sliding-door wall provide for tune-able ventilation effects, and underfloor rock storage surrounding the cisterns supplies the system with cooling.
In addition to the cranked siting, the house and its gear take other measures to brave the yearly hurricanes, as well as provide for security when the family is not in residence. The lower walkways and decks along the sliding door facade, for example, are hinged to rotate up and act as storm shutters, protecting the glazing as well as locking the house up tight. Also, the wind turbines and wings fold down to stow into the deck surface like airplane flaps. The satellite dish is protected behind the mass of the building and the high gain radio “whip” antenna is designed to rotate horizontal when necessary.
Local capabilities dictate that the structure be predominately cast-in-place concrete; the wind turbine, bathroom, and sliding-door wall assemblies will be shipped in from California and Germany. Interior finishes are sealed or waxed concrete, local veneer plywood, stainless steel, and plaster.