Ever since the firm was first founded, Tectoniques has been developing a dry construction technique which it implements in a variety of forms, primarily using wood solutions. In order to further this expertise, the architects regularly explore new experimental avenues, sometimes in forms diametrically opposed to their usual projects, on a smaller scale to enhance their work to develop relationships between construction methods and architectural expression.
This was the case for the P. House built of cast-in-situ concrete, a standard method which contrasts with the architects’ usual practices. The result is a telluric house which emerges from the ground, following the steep slope of the ground, making use of the surrounding matter, throughout the depth, using a traditional building technique.
The owner of a large house in Saint-Cyr-au-Mont-d’Or dating from the end of the 19th century wanted a change of scene. He therefore had a contemporary villa built on the same plot of land overlooking the Monts du Lyonnais hills, next to the existing house, and has recently moved in.
A telluric house
As a counterpoint to the existing house which is built level to the road, the new building blends into the slope of the land. It does not stand out and is not visible from the street. It appears to become the inverted “twin” of the existing building, emerging from the land and the earth. This apparent “disappearance” is actually accompanied by a strong materiality. It is singular both in shape and texture.
The geometry is simple and raw, it forms a large rectangular parallelepiped hollowed out with two terraces. It is uncompromising with no decorative concessions. Its aesthetic beauty is derived from its sobriety. This austerity accentuates its dense, massive nature. Its rugged, rustic appearance completes this and asserts the telluric minerality of the whole construction.
Anchored in the ground, this house is an iceberg with a buried underground volume which is larger than the visible volumes. This configuration required special foundations and civil engineering work to position 8-metre high soldier piles to retain the hill behind the wall. The reconstituted terrain is ultimately held up as high as possible, passing very close to the windows.
Despite this excavation operation, the building remains very open to the surrounding landscapes with beautiful views on all floors and from the terraces which project even further afield. There is an inverse proportionality between the excavation and burial strategy and the atmosphere created inside the building.
The P. House was built using traditional techniques. The concrete was developed with the firm Lafarge. It is white concrete dyed with ochre dyes, it uses coarse aggregate, less water and is vibrated manually with the aim of obtaining a thick, imperfect end result. Traditional timber formwork 50 cm high is laid in successive vertical layers around the entire perimeter of the house. Steel pins were used by choice in order to pattern the concrete with small dots of rust when the splice plates were removed. These small marks delicately pattern the concrete and reconstitute the history of this construction.
The in-situ casting made the process long, laborious and labour-intensive. Nothing is standard: the thickness of the shell, the mass of concrete used, the time required.
A staircase home
The house is deployed across four platforms. From top to bottom, each level is dedicated to a specific use: parking, the master bedroom, the children’s bedrooms, the living spaces and utilities.
A large staircase connects them with three straight flights of stairs. The first, the longest, is external. The next two are internal. The staircase creates a passage from the street to the garden, via the entire house. It opens up views and a pathway which takes in all the spaces throughout the height and breadth of the building.
The planted terraces inserted into the two intermediate levels give the impression from specific angles that they are level with the garden, whereas the “real” garden is actually on the lower level, extending out from the ground floor of the house. The main living area is furthest away from the entrance and the parking spaces on the roof. At first glance, when viewed from the street, the house does not even appear to exist. The staircase is first and foremost a voyage of discovery, along the spine and into the heart of the house.
Rugged on the outside, soft on the inside
The combination of very starkly different materials is one of the defining characteristics of this project. The house is built from rustic, thick, textured concrete which appears to have emerged directly from the earth. The colour is reminiscent of the golden stone of the Beaujolais which gave the Monts d’Or (the golden hills) their name.
This brutalism is offset by an interior that is extremely sophisticated and warm, using noble materials implemented with care and attention. The materials used in the interiors are limited in number and precious in nature. The raw concrete is still present but is accompanied by oak timber used for the woodwork and flooring, bleached spruce for the ceilings and crafted steel for all the metalwork and locks. From a structural perspective, the house is supported by the two facades and large interior shell.
The atmosphere of the interior is light, clean and spacious. The large windows cover the whole of the west facade. The project makes the most of the site where it is built and capitalises on the slope leading towards the valley. The windows have a distinctive design system: two sections side by side separately manage the views and lighting or provide natural ventilation. The larger section is glazed and only opens vertically to avoid taking up space. The smaller section, fitted with a wooden shutter, opens into the depth of the wall.
House in Saint-Cyr-au-Mont-d’Or
Total floor area: 226 m2
Cost of works: not provided
Architects: Tectoniques Architectes
Engineers: Tectoniques Ingénieurs
Landscaping: Sandrine Ligonnet
Photographs: Jérôme Ricolleau (photos royalty-free)
Masonry: SC Bat
Swimming pool: RPC