João Mendes Ribeiro designs Chestnut House as “an elegant shelter”

Angled glass walls frame close-up views 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 dwelling is designed by Ribeiro as an “elegant refuge” in the rural landscape.

João Mendes Ribeiro designed a house around a chestnut tree

Chestnut House is one of five projects shortlisted in the small building category of the Dezeen Awards 2022.

According to the architect, the idea of ​​its design started “from the idea of ​​the place”.

Black exterior of Chestnut House by João Mendes Ribeiro
The Portuguese house is shortlisted for the Dezeen Awards 2022

“The reference to the ‘genius loci’ sums up the starting point of the design: the place and the large century-old chestnut tree,” Ribeiro said.

“The main idea of ​​the project was to shift the interest from the architectural object to the place and the site, so that the context is the starting point of the project.”

Chestnut tree outside the small Portuguese house
Chestnut House is clad in black painted wood

Inside the 25 square meter volume, a living area, kitchen and sleeping area all occupy one room arranged around a freestanding central fireplace.

Along the eastern edge, the walls of this space have been sloped inwards to hug the existing chestnut tree, which now stands between the house and a wooden deck.

Wooden terrace of Chestnut House by João Mendes Ribeiro
A wooden terrace has outside

Floor-to-ceiling windows frame a view of the tree trunk in the living room, creating a close connection between the interior and the landscape that will change throughout the year.

“Geometry [of the home] is broken and stretched by the tree trunk and its branches, opening the building up to the tree canopy,” Ribeiro said.

“The house reveals the changing seasons and weather throughout the year,” added the architect. “It is the changing game of nature that determines the life of the inhabitant.”

At the south end of the Chestnut House, a wooden ladder leads to a small mezzanine with space for an additional bed, while to the north is a bathroom.

House interior lined with plywood by João Mendes Ribeiro
Angled glass walls frame close-up views of the tree

A butterfly-style sloping roof rises at each end of the house, where large windows illuminate the bathroom and provide the loft with sweeping views of the landscape.

Chestnut House was constructed using a timber frame, lined with oriented strand board (OSB) and cork board for thermal and acoustic insulation.

Mezzanine bedroom of Chestnut House in Portugal
There is a bed on a small mezzanine

The interior walls, ceilings and furniture are all finished with plywood panels which bring a “warm and welcoming” atmosphere inside, while minimal fittings help draw attention to the outdoors.

Many architects seek to minimize their impact on natural sites by incorporating existing trees into their designs. In Brazil, Luciano Basso created an elevated concrete house around a pine tree while in Australia, Alexander Symes designed an extension with a terrace perched in the canopy of a tree.

The photograph is from José Campos.

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