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Small Forest Cabin Designed and Built with Environmental Standards

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At only 135m2, the Ex House is a cabin retreat with just the basic needs, but that’s OK because, although it is located in a secluded section of a dense forest within the Somosierra Mountain Range in Castillejo de Mesleon, Segovia, Spain, the property is only 1km away from the N1 highway for a 1hr supply run to Madrid. The name “Ex House” was coined by the clients of Garciagerman Arquitectos as a reference to the leaving behind of urban routines. The name verbalizes the client’s wish to embrace nature while they distance themselves from the downtown Madrid lifestyle.

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Although Ex House sits within a dense forest, the architects where able to position it to take advantage of views South towards the granite Somosierra and La Pinilla peaks and North to the reddish sediment plains thereby presenting a landscape of geological transition.

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The building systems used incorporated high tech construction methods with a focus on sustainability towards both the processes and materials used. The choice of wood as a building material offers isolative qualities, ease of handling and waste reduction via the prefab process, but it is also a cultural and somatic choice. The prefab high strength cross laminated wood panels where modulated to fit within one truck drive from the Austrian factory and the ability to contain the materials to only one vehicle also lowered the construction footprint. Once on site 3 skilled workers where able to assemble the panels on site within a 5-day period. This helped reduce the complete construction time down to 3 months rather then the average 14 months.

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The home is built without earthworks and placed in the shade of a group of trees. Facades consist of 16cm wide toothed wooden planks made from local Valsain (Segovia) Pine which is an 16th century building tradition from the Austrian dynasty no longer in use. This combination of high tech prefabrication used in conjunction with ancient materials creates a background story perfect for the young couple to embrace their simpler life of wood heating, vegetable gardens and septic tank. Additional “green” choices the architects and clients adapted where the uses of 18cm mineral wool thermal insulation, triple gas filled anodized aluminum glazing +12+4mm and green roofs with a multiplayer cover.

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While the architects and their clients approached this tiny cabin from the view point of low impact and simplicity of lifestyle, the final design of the home still manages to present a facade of contemporary geometric appeal. The simple prefabricated steel entry stairwell powder coated in white is a bold modern choice as is the large void above it. These two features alone state that while the homeowners respect and nurture the land, they also want to do so in a stylish and sophisticated manner.

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A second stairwell within the home continues the white steel story, but here it is less of a statement against the white walls and floors of the abode. These expanses of white keep the wood walls from overwhelming the small space.

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The living zone of the cabin features a large a 4.5m window glazing creating one of two same sized view locations on opposite sides of the central square plan living area. While the views create a stunning panorama to the North, the double height stovepipe presents its own drama within the space.

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With the small size of the cabin and the expansive views, the homeowners chose to locate their dining table against the back of the couch so that whether lounging or eating, the views are always the focal point.

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The second of the two 4.5m glazings leads out to a second dining area, only this one is el fresco. Created within a void in the exterior facade, the deck presents a sheltered and protected place to enjoy the natural surroundings of the Pine forest.

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The deck leads out to the back garden where a hammock swings lazily amongst the trees. The setting is both peaceful and invigorating but if a more private moment is preferred, a pair of outdoor drapes can be pulled shut.

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Back inside the Ex House, the kitchen is a simple design of wood counter and backsplash, a long and low window and black walls. There is also a woven rug boasting one of the few colour splashes used in the cabin and this saturated hue showcases the homeowners fun side.

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Beside the counter is a beautiful wood fueled cooking stove. Due to the heat emanating from a wood fuelled stove, there needs to be clearance all around it and so the architect cleverly placed it into its own zone with a wall mounted shelf behind. Adding to the ambiance of this corner is the phrase “La Colombina, Herzlich willkommen bei uns zuhause bienvenidos a nuestra casa” stenciled on the vertical wood cladding behind it. Essentially it means “Welcome to our home”.

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The bathroom is as unconventional as the kitchen and features a vintage workbench for the vanity. The rustic appeal of the bench brings a sense of historic charm to the space, but modern convenience is not forgot when it coes to the walk in shower stall.

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All but the bedroom are located on the main level of the Ex House and the steel staircase located in the living room is the connector to that private zone. It also leads to a mezzanine with both its own window for outdoor gazing and a viewing station to the living area below.

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The cabin is definitely small, but the great outdoors is anything and since it is just a hop skip and jump away, the forest retreat is as big as you want it to be.

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Even looking up, the sense of unlimited space is profoundly evident.

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With the combination of high tech building processes applied to 16th century building materials in a natural forested retreat only an hours drive from Madrid, the architect’s clients can be comfortable knowing that Garciagerman Arquitectos creatively combined the old with the new while being respectful of the natural surroundings via sustainable building choices. Well done.
Garciagerman Arquitectos
Photography by Jorge Lopez Conde

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