Text by Katie Gerfen,
When the client for Casa BLM in Brasília, Brazil, first approached local firm Atria about designing his residence, there was no talk of kitchen appliances or the number of bathrooms. Instead, principal Gustavo Costa recalls,“He said, ‘What I need is a library, but with a house around it.’ ” At the next meeting, the client came armed with books from his 6,000-volume collection. “He brought books on the Bauhaus, Gropius, Le Corbusier,” Costa says. “He was looking for a house with ‘roots in Modernism.’ ”
Surprisingly, given Brasília’s roots as a model Modernist capital, classic Modernism is a stylistic departure for the city’s South Lake neighborhood, where the client had inherited a 2,500-square-meter plot (part of a larger parcel divided among three brothers). Most houses here date back to the 1970s, and are of a Frank Lloyd Wright–inspired style, Costa says. But for Casa BLM a different approach was critical.
“We normally use natural materials in our work—ones that will get old in a good way,” Costa says. To that end, his team clad the all-important library in Cor-Ten steel panels, which lend a quilted texture to the rectilinear volume at the front of the site. The panels are 60 percent perforated to admit daylight while filtering glare that could fade the books.
The house is organized with public spaces toward the street. An L-shaped path leads visitors around the side of the library to a courtyard behind. Instead of being greeted by a traditional front door, visitors can walk directly into the living room via a sliding wall of glass. An open kitchen and dining area round out the public space, where the client regularly entertains. The rear of the house has three bedrooms with en suite baths and an entertainment room for the family, all organized around a second, more private courtyard.
With the exception of the library volume, the house is built from pink-toned bricks, custom-designed and manufactured to measure 35 centimeters long by 6 centimeters high and deep. Unusually, the clay was not baked, but pressed in a hydraulic machine and dried. Each brick had a waterproof coating applied to account for the resultingly higher-than-standard porosity of the material. Masons arranged the bricks in a loose running-bond pattern to give the walls texture, complementing the waxed board-formed finish of the concrete-slab roof.
Atria doubled as general contractor on the house, allowing the team to carefully monitor the execution of all finishes and details. “It’s a turnkey way of working,” Costa says. The client’s openmindedness was equally valuable as the firm experimented with materials and processes. “In Brazil, sometimes we have this type of client,” the architect says, “but it is not always easy to find them.”