Design Diary

A personal review of design creations.

Chuburná House


By a turquoise beach close to Chuburná (Yucatan, Mexico), Cabrera Arqs have completed a stunning concrete home.

The shape seems simple: a large box of polished concrete whose apparent cold material contrasts with the heat on this predominant dune overlooking the beach… 


Thanks to the luminosity of its windows, light penetrates the house in a subtle and controlled manner, allowing the ground floor areas to have a unique atmosphere and invite relaxation, reading and meditation. In the upper part the window becomes an instrument of visual communication as it offers a contemplative tool with the immensity of the sea.

The interior has a fairly simple decoration, the taste for Yucatecan crafts, the colours and textures and the architecture of the house make it an ideal architectural space to relax and disconnect from the world. Thinking that the most important thing is space and light, Cabrera Arqs have opted for neutral gray colours of polished concrete, both in floors and walls and the white colour as a light screen on the soffits of the house. This makes a very integral contrast with the wood that appears everywhere, in details, furniture and doors.


The living room, the dining room, the kitchen and the terrace are a single space that has a small double height that integrates spatially the ground floor as the top floor and serves as a space and filter distributor to put overhead light of some grooves in the ceiling superior of the atrium.


Next to it, and without any separation, is the dining area. Its simplicity lies with the glass that surrounds the space and allows the hosts and guests to see the beach and the sea while eating.


In front, and without any separation, is the pool. Ultimate luxury to look at the coast from home.


In the kitchen, a concrete bar virtually divides the space with the dining room with the use of pasta floor tapes give it a special design touch.


In the upper part and around the double height a distributor hall is developed where it connects with a study that turns into an alcove with a view to the south, and also the circulation generates a very useful workspace for the owners.


The rooms follow the same decorative style, simple and natural, with shortage of furniture, large presence of wood, large windows to put the landscape inside the house.


Finally, its habitable rooftop works as a viewpoint in this fantastic place and as a detail of integration the land in the beach area is delimited with a very typical “albarrada” of the rural area of the state of Yucatan.


Pictures by Tamara Uribe.

The OldMeetsNew House


In Tra Vinh, a city full of fresh air, hospitality and rustic charm, Block Architects have completed a contemporary house that fits in its traditional environment.

The Vietnamese city of Tra Vinh is not heavily urbanised and retains plenty of traditional pagodas and residential areas. Generations of the Vietnamese, Chinese and Khmer residing here have built a particular cross-cultural life.


Before planning the house, Block Architects wondered how the new one would interact and harmonise with the surroundings, especially the buildings nearby, so that they could form a harmonious combination without dimming the spirit and individuality of the house itself, which serves as a shelter and a home to which the whole family would be attached.

Bricks form an outermost cover to protect the whole house. Also, they can filter the inner microclimate. Buffers such as lobbies, porches and voids are reasonably arranged to circulate fresh air. The floor plan draws its inspiration from traditional three-part country houses, which include three main areas in the heart and two bedrooms on either side. These areas lie parallel to the adjacent empty land in order to harness natural wind and light.


This contemporary house contains some reminders of traditional architecture, so that it looks fresh and pleasingly harmonious with the landscape.


Seen from above, the house looks like two small pure white blocks contrasting with its separate brick shell. That is the architects ‘metaphor for the relation between the old and the new, the private and the common, and the family's generations. More importantly, it is very family values which shelter and motivate the architects. 

Pictures by Quangdam.

Saint George Hotel: Toronto’s untold story


In the heart of Toronto’s Annex neighbourhood, the Saint George Hotel mixes local heritage with a tasteful contemporary flavour.

The interior design of the Saint George Hotel communicates a narrative of local pride, diverse heritage and contemporary culture to create a hotel experience that celebrates Toronto’s layered history and sensibilities. The 14-story hotel integrates elements of Toronto’s culture and personality, giving guests a distinct sense of place. The experience of being a guest in their own well-appointed apartment. With 188 guest rooms and suites, a fitness centre, meeting and event space, the property provides unique guest accommodations within a neighbourhood setting.


Guests initial experience with the hotel comes via an exterior black wood awning at the main entry, giving the hotel street presence and welcoming guests for their stay. The lighting is a subtle nod to the iconic marquee signs that once occupied the neighbourhood.

The most visually striking element on the exterior is the 10-storey high hand-painted mural on the west-facing facade of the building. Mason Studio commissioned well-known street artist BirdO to create a surreal geometric bird that continues the narrative of the interior experience to the exterior.

Upon entry, the reception area features a marble desk framed with wooden arches, back dropped by a hand painted mural of a misty Toronto-inspired scene. Adjacent to reception is a guest lounge, designed to feel like a living room. The space is a collection of bespoke furniture, artwork, lighting and objects, many crafted by local makers that continue to tell the story of local culture and design.  


Arches are used throughout the hotel as a physical indicator of moving from one experience to another. They visually guide guests throughout the space while paying homage to Toronto’s diverse architectural style and eras.


A 40-sqm lounge situated on the main floor, just outside the meeting room is realised in darker, more saturated tones to convey a feeling of intimacy. A custom bar and beverage area offer the opportunity for guests to relax before entering the meeting room.


On the guestroom levels, a collection of original, small vintage black-and-white photographs from a couple’s vacation to Toronto appear at each guest entry. These images tell an intimate story of early post-war vacationers discovering the city.

The suites are a continuation of the nostalgic nod to the layered heritage of the neighbourhood. The rooms are designed with a residential approach by housing a collection of art and custom designed furniture and lighting that is seemingly collected over time.

Every element in the suites is carefully designed to provide guests with an experience parallel to a well-appointed apartment in the neighbourhood, offering guests with an alternative to more traditional hotel accommodations.


Photography: Naomi Finlay

The Ring House

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On a remote location on the Southern coast of Crete, the Ring House by decaArchitecture is a collection of exceptional features and assets.

Back in 2012, the Athens-based decaArchitecture designed the master plan for a three-building compound in Agia Galini, a village by the Libyan Sea, a little less than 70km away from Heraklion.


Although named the Ring House, the ground plan is more of a "V" but with rounded tip and is not unveiling its secret straight away. But, it becomes clearer in the view: the slope on which the building lies closes the ring. While the rounded tip of the "V" is directed downhill towards the sea, the hilltop in the back of the house limits the space between the two building legs to a closed inner courtyard. 


Two concrete beams follow the topography of the hill to define the outline of the house. The ring is articulated by these concrete beams. It provides protected shaded areas, well-ventilated interiors, surfaces for solar collection panels and protects an inner garden planted with varieties of citrus trees and edible plants. Altogether the house and its garden are designed to form a temperate microclimate, an oasis within an intensely beautiful but physically demanding environment.

At a broader scale, the house is a landscape preservation effort. In the past, the topography had been severely scarred by the random and informal carving of roads. The excavation material extracted during the house’s construction, was used to recover the original morphology of the land.

Furthermore, a thorough survey of the native flora was done in order to understand the predominant biotopes in the different slopes in the plot. During the spring, prior to construction, seeds were collected on site and cultivated in a greenhouse to grow more seeds. These were then sowed over the road scars for the regeneration of the flora.


Pictures by decaArchitecture and George Messaritakis.