Casa Etérea

Words By Sheila Lam

There’s something mystical about being in the desert. The seemingly barren land disguises its wealth of life for those bold enough to adventure it. Part-guesthouse part-art installation designed as an off-grid retreat, Casa Etérea is a treasure to be found downslope of the extinct volcano Palo Huérfano overlooking San Miguel de Allende – nicknamed Pueblo Magico  or “magic town,” a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Guanajuato, Central Mexico. A literal mirror of its surroundings, Casa Etérea, appears as a radiant panorama. A visual trickery of the eye that you’re delighted to fall fool for.

In 2017, Mexico-based Singaporean writer and designer Prashant Ashoka envisioned the architectural spectacle after being drawn to San Miguel de Allende and its reputation as a cultural destination for artists. After securing two acres of land, he knew that it was his time to create something of his own. Wanting a secluded retreat, the abode stands as a self-sustaining structure requiring no electricity or water lines; instead, using rainwater harvesting and solar power. With such little light pollution in the area, stargazing at Casa Etérea is especially cosmic. The structure naturally regulates temperature in the semi-arid desert climate by utilizing site orientation, efficient ventilation, and insulated glass. A first of its kind, it also employs UV-coating technology to make its mirrored facade visible to birds. As a community-run project that empowers and engages local residents, 6 families reside nearby, forming a close-knit international community.

When conceptualizing his retreat, Ashoka referred to the works of famed Mexican architect Luis Barragán and his artist colleague Matthias Goéritz, known for their form, light, and shadow explorations. Casa Etérea lays an imaginative open-planned concept. Two rectilinear volumes merge at a 120-degree V-shape, mirroring their surroundings again by drawing a likeness to the zigzagging ravine visible from the exposed glass shower. The house was built using volcanic rock from the mountain range to leave the material landscape unchanged. It took nearly three years to complete. Ashoka partnered with interior design firm Namuh to create a functional environment to withstand the desert's harsh conditions without sacrificing its quiet luxury and draws inspiration from Mexican and Southeast Asian cultures, assembling various custom pieces made from different materials. Blackened walnut cabinets, exposed wooden beams, and polished concrete are intermixed with antique jade vases once used by Chinese sailors, a brass telescope, and black-and-white photographs by Nicole Franco.

During the day, various animals from the rich biodiversity that frequent the area can be seen, like hawks, foxes, white-tailed deer, bobcats, and mountain lions. Guests can even book customized trips led by local residents, such as horseback riding or a guided hike with a botanist. Ashoka hopes that guests will take the time to appreciate the area’s natural beauty through this available program. But ensconced in nature, much of this can be enjoyed at the leisure of a long bath too. A lustrous deep-set copper tub stands free against the open bathroom. A large unobstructed glass pane exhibits nature to you and vice versa. Further blurring the lines between interior and exterior, the bedroom opens to connect with a deck and patio area, steps away from the solar-heated pool surrounded by olive and pomegranate trees, tall wild grass, and prickly but adorable cacti. A “theatre to nature,” Casa Etérea indeed drops the luxury of amenity into the wilds of the desert.

Casa Etérea is located on the slopes of the extinct volcano Palo Huérfano, only 8km (5miles) from the UNESCO World Heritage Site of San Miguel de Allende.


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