Casa Detif is a modern Chilean house on stilts
The red house on stilts offers a modern take on Chilean tradition
Chilean firm Guillermo Acuña Arquitectos Asociados (GAAA) reaches new heights with Casa Detif, a contemporary cabin on stilts on the island of Chiloé
Guillermo Acuña is fascinated by the traditional typology of stilt houses found in southern Chile. His Santiago-based company, Guillermo Acuña Arquitectos Asociados (GAAA), has long focused on creating contemporary iterations of this genre. It “expresses the possibilities of the orders of the vegetable kingdom and of the traditional construction in wood and fibers, which manifests the impressive geography of Chile”, says Acuña.
The studio’s latest take on this design ethos is Casa Detif, named after its idyllic location in the far east of the town of Detif, on the island of Chiloé in the southern region of Los Lagos. Chiloé, derived from the native Mapuche word chillwe, or “place of the seagulls,” is best reached by boat or light aircraft. The island faces the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Chiloe Sea and the Andes Mountains from the south to the east. The house sits in a natural clearing in the middle of the woods on sloping ground, part of the diverse landscape of the Chiloé Archipelago of hills, bays and estuaries. The uneven topography allows for stunning, uninterrupted sea views, with frequent sightings of whales and dolphins.
The stilt house sits in a natural glade on sloping ground and offers stunning sea views, with frequent sightings of whales and dolphins
Against this striking natural backdrop, the house is rightly engulfed in the foliage of tall Chilean myrtles. Their greenery contrasts with the painted red pine beams that form the exterior framework of the structure. A series of diagonal beams – “symbolic of the typical Chilean bellflower” – protect the house from falling branches. According to the architects, the elevated structure “refers to the palafitos of Chiloé”, the island’s typical wooden houses on stilts, built by local fishermen and farmers to resist flooding and coastal erosion. Famously, these traditional houses are transported around the island as part of the custom of ‘la minga de tiradura de casas’, which sees locals coming together to physically move a house (either by placing it on a sled pulled by oxen or on a raft towed by boat) to a new location.
Supported by the pilotis is an ornate patio that wraps around the interior, itself organized around a central courtyard. The ground floor features an open-plan living room and kitchen, while the first floor houses the bedrooms and bathrooms, with all furniture designed and upholstered by the studio. The layout of the interior spaces follows the vertical layers of the surrounding trees, with carefully planned lighting to achieve a dynamic effect. The foundation and the ground floor are aligned with the height of the tree trunks, where the air is often humid and the light brighter during the day; the first floor matches the neighboring foliage, which filters the sunlight and creates an overall softer atmosphere.
The living room has large walls of glass and exposed pine beams
The layering and weaving of the wooden elements allow “the house to become a forest”, explains Blanca Valdes, architect of GAAA. This forest within the forest, where light streaks through beams and branches, was inspired in part by the thaumatrope, a 19th-century optical toy that predated the invention of cinema. The design speaks of Acuña’s fascination with “a piece of landscape, a trapped ray of light, an unusual reflection circumscribed to the indoor-outdoor duality, striped shadows that allow us to see between the spaces of its openings”.
Building in this fairly remote setting was one of the challenges of the project. “There are no roads to get to the site, so we used the smallest trucks possible to transport the materials,” explain the architects. “In the south of Chile, it rains a lot, so there was also a small window of time to build.” Small sections of pine wood from nearby forests were used to create modular panels for easier on-site assembly. Pre-cut using CNC machines, the pieces were ready to be assembled by the studio’s frequent collaborators, a family of three carpenters who followed GAAA’s step-by-step construction manual.
The slanted red frame is inspired by the shape of the Lapageria rosea, or bellflower, Chile’s national flower
GAAA recently partnered with Fundación Reforestemos, a charity focused on reforestation. “With every project we build with wood, we calculate how many trees have been used for the project and, on the same site as the house, we plan to plant the same [number of] native trees,” says Valdes. Casa Detif highlights a model of sustainable design and is a fine example of deeply site-specific architecture that moves away from traditional building methods. §
The staircase bathed in light. Local pine wood was used to create modular panels for easier on-site assembly