On a windswept hill a three-hour drive from São Paulo, Brazilian architecture firm Arquipélago Arquitetos has completed the House in Cunha, a low-lying, contemporary home that is primarily built of locally sourced rammed earth. To protect the building from the cold, prevailing winds, the architects partly buried the structure into the earth and repurposed the excavated soil as construction material for the building walls. The thick, earthen walls and the building’s sunken position also provide the benefit of thermal mass to help maintain comfortable and stable interior temperatures year-round.

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elongated rammed earth home

The design for House in Cunha takes inspiration from the surrounding landscape and the region’s traditional culture for ceramic crafts. Set atop a hill, the building is oriented for optimal views of the Mantiqueira Mountains, while its low-lying profile and rammed earth construction help blend it into the landscape.

Related: Inspiring rammed earth hospital brings affordable care to rural Nepal

teal sofas around a small wood coffee table
person standing in living room facing a wall of glass

The main walls of the home were constructed of rammed earth via a building technique that allows for easy assembly and disassembly. “All the characteristics of hardness, thermal inertia, color, brightness and tactile quality are factors due to the physical and chemical characteristics of that specific soil,” the architects noted. In addition to rammed earth construction, architects also used a local pottery technique to create straw-colored bricks for the remaining walls.

bed facing a glass wall leading to a patio
two wood chairs on a wood deck

Despite its use of traditional materials and construction techniques, the House in Cunha features a minimalist and contemporary design. The main living areas face north to take advantage of winter sunlight and open up to an L-shaped outdoor deck sheltered by deep roof overhangs. Large windows bring panoramic views and ample natural light indoors, while a mix of timber surfaces and brightly colored furnishings help create a cozy and welcoming atmosphere. The home also includes three bedrooms and two baths; the bedrooms face the northwest and also open up to the outdoor deck.

+ Arquipélago Arquitetos

Photography by Federico Cairoli via Arquipélago Arquitetos

rammed earth home on a hill