Angular glass walls frame close-ups of a mature tree at the center of the Chestnut House in Vale Flor, Portugal, designed by local architect João Mendes Ribeiro.
Clad in black-painted wood and lined with plywood panels, the residence was designed by Ribeiro as an “elegant shelter” in the rural landscape.
Chestnut House is one of five projects shortlisted in the small building category of Dezeen Awards 2022.
According to the architect, the idea for its design started “from the idea of the place”.
“The reference to ‘genius loci’ sums up the design starting point: the location and the great century-old chestnut tree,” said Ribeiro.
“The main idea of the project was to shift interest from the architectural object to the place and site, so that the context is the starting point of the project.”
Within the volume of 25 square meters, a living area, kitchen and sleeping area all occupy one room arranged around a central free-standing fireplace.
Along the eastern edge, the walls of this space are turned inwards to embrace the existing chestnut tree, which now stands between the house and a wooden deck terrace.
Full-height windows frame a view of the tree’s trunk in the living area, creating a close connection between the interior and the landscape that will change throughout the year.
“The geometry [of the home] is broken and strained by the tree trunk and its branches, opening the building to the tree canopy,” said Ribeiro.
“Throughout the year, the house reveals the changes of the seasons and weather,” added the architect. “It is the changing play of nature that determines the life of the inhabitant.”
At the southern end of the Chestnut House, a wooden ladder leads to a small mezzanine level that offers space for an additional bed, while a bathroom is to the north.
A sloping butterfly-style roof rises on either side of the house, where large windows illuminate the bathroom and provide the mezzanine area with expansive views of the landscape.
Chestnut House is built with a timber structure, lined with oriented strand board (OSB) and cork panels for thermal and acoustic insulation.
Interior walls, ceilings and furniture are all finished with plywood paneling that brings a “warm and welcoming” atmosphere to the interior, while minimal fixtures help focus attention on the outdoors.
Many architects try to reduce their impact on natural sites by incorporating existing trees into their designs. In Brazil, Luciano Basso created a raised concrete house around a pine tree, while in Australia, Alexander Symes designed an extension with a terrace that sits in a tree canopy.
The photography is by José Campos.