Like to slip off your work gear and gaze into a fire on weekends? Pritzker Prize-winner Architect Alejandro Aravena hollowed the gigantic tilted volume of this brutal beach home along the Pacific Ocean in Chile to form a ‘place for a fire’ (rather than a formal fireplace). The Interiors of the home channel modernist principles about the flow of space and indoor and outdoor living. Its floor-to-ceiling glass walls capture sweeping views of the striking landscape and the Pacific Ocean. 

Aravena, the founder of Chilean architectural practice Elemental, designed this ‘primitive’ weekend getaway for a rugged site in Los Vilos, 250 kilometres north of Santiago. 

An Ochoalcubo Project in Dramatic Surrounds

Architect Aravena set up his practice Alejandro Aravena Architects in 1994 and Elemental in 2011; the firm is best known for pioneering social housing work. “We saw the site and the fact of being a weekend house as an opportunity to explore a certain primitiveness,” the Chilean studio said in a description. Leading Chilean and Japanese architectural firms including Aravena, Smiljan Radic, Toyo Ito, and Sou Fujimoto were asked to create a series of ground-breaking designs on the coast of Ocho Quebradas.

“The geography was so brutal, that only a strong and manly set of elements was appropriate,” Elemental stated. “We accepted this project on the condition that it would be only us deciding in which direction to push the boundaries,” they added. Drawing on the bracing surroundings of the home’s coastline plot, where, as Aravena wrote in his book, “The Pacific Ocean here is not pacific at all; the water is white due to the violence while meeting the earth.” 

The simple, monolithic structure of Ocho Quebradas, the cubical building of the UC Innovation Center – Anacleto Angelini, and a seesaw-like viewing platform in Mexico are among Aravena’s masterpieces. 

Casa Ochoquebradas by Alejandro Aravena: Concrete Volumes - Sheet1
The Structure_Credits: Pinterest

Concrete Takes Centre Stage

When in 2013, Aravena was hired to design a vacation home for a Chilean property developer, he made one, astute assumption. “If during the week a guy has to wear a tie, it is very likely that on weekends he wears shorts and walks barefoot,” the Pritzker laureate wrote in his book. The radical beach house is a part of the Ochoalcubo project – a pioneering ‘architectural laboratory’ led by entrepreneur and architecture enthusiast Eduardo Godoy. The dramatic concrete structure is a simple construction comprising three massive poured concrete volumes of varying sizes and arrangements that are stacked one against the other. 

A horizontal concrete volume cantilevers off the edge of the sloped site, the construction is topped off with a large window to the view and a cozy wine stellar. Towering behind it is a vertical volume that houses additional guest bedrooms and a terrace. The third volume is hollowed inside to form an opening for a circular fire pit below, and tilted to rest against the vertical volume. Inside the home, the opening punctures down to the floor level of the volume underneath to make space for the open fire, with glazing wrapped around it.

Casa Ochoquebradas by Alejandro Aravena: Concrete Volumes - Sheet2
The Tilted Volume_Credits: Dezeen

Inside the Home

“We used the void on the other side of the table – the absence of a client – as an alibi to eliminate the conventions of domestic living, exploring instead the more irreducible dimensions of life.” Keeping that inner, barefoot caveman as their model, Aravena decided to build a home that was at once modern and prehistoric. “We chose to move back towards the archaic, not as a nostalgic escape but as a natural filter against the clichés of innovation,” Elemental stated. 

Grey-colored wood that goes well with the concrete also forms a series of shutters that fronts the taller structure, as well as partitions inside the 289-square-meter hilltop home. The kitchen cabinets feature pale, weathered wood, paired with a beautiful white marble dining table. The glazed fire pit forms the partition of the kitchen from the lounge. 

The lounge area is furnished with an L-shaped sofa and bold artwork that offers a pop of color. Sliding wooden shutters partition the living area from the adjoining bedroom. Also on this level, a spiral cement stairway is tucked into a nook to lead up the vertical volume and provides a contrast to another wooden stairway in the residence. 

The Interiors_Credits: Dezeen

Primitivism and Fundamentals

Each level and room in the property follow in the minimal aesthetic, the home blends with the surrounding landscape and has an ancient feel, as though it’s been there forever. “In an era when the hunger for novelty is threatening to make architecture immediately obsolete, we looked for timelessness,” Elemental stated. “We expect these pieces to age as a stone, acquiring some of the brutality of the place but still being gentle for people to enjoy nature and life in general,” they added. 

Its boulder-like façade and simple composition take inspiration from the notion of ‘primitivism’ and the fundamentals of architecture. “A weekend house is ultimately a kind of retreat where people allowed themselves to suspend the conventions of life and go back to a more essential living”.


Sowmya is an architectural journalist and writer. In this column, Sowmya takes you through stories on eco-architecture, biophilic design, and green buildings from across the globe.

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