Energy-efficient Wooden Houses Are Also Earthquake Safe
In Argentina, an innovative housing project has married good design with energy efficiency, earthquake resilience and the use of local materials and labour.
The happy mix of efficient modern design with affordable local materials and labour can be seen in three row houses designed and built by Buenos Aires-based Estudio BABO in the El Once neighbourhood in Villa La Angostura, Patagonia, southern Argentina.
The wooden houses are built in a Norwegian style. Estudio BABO, founded in 2007, discovered that the Scandinavian country’s housing traditions were well suited to the particular needs of the region and the local government.
The local government imposed a number of planning guidelines and restrictions that needed to be met to receive planning permission. This included creating row houses that had to be made of wood, a plentiful local resource, be earthquake-safe since the region is seismically active, and be able to withstand the heavy rains common to the region.
Looking around for the right guidance to tackle this brief, Estudio BABO discovered SINTEF, Norway’s leading disseminator of research-based knowledge to the construction industry. Norway has many wooden houses and environmental conditions and challenges similar to those of Patagonia, though its precipitation tends to fall as rain rather than snow.
The black-painted houses look typically Norwegian, with a tasteful and clean design that does not clash with the forested surroundings. An air chamber has been created inside the walls, allowing for constant ventilation of the wood, which prevents the wood from rotting and extends the life of the house. With the high rainfall in the region, wood is at risk of rotting if allowed to become damp. The air cavity also insulates the house, providing significant energy savings while keeping the interior warm and comfortable.
Adding to the energy efficiency of the design, the windows are double glazed and heat is circulated through the floor, an efficient way to heat a house because heat rises.
To keep costs down and the project simple, the palette used for the houses is simple but attractive: black, white, wood and metal. The local wood is cypress and is painted black. The interior walls are all white and the floors are made from black granite on the ground floor and cypress wood parquet on the upper floor. “Despite the profusion of wood as a material in the south of Argentina, the lack of specialized knowledge and of a specialized industry narrows its uses to isolated structural elements and interior and exterior finishes,” said one of the architects, Marit Haugen Stabell. – (November 2012)
The row houses.
Architectural renderings of the three houses.
The atrium with skylight.
Architectural floor plans.
The staircase of a house.
The front of a house.