Colombia’s Ballen House Explores Possibilities of Larger Living Spaces In Lush, Hilly Terrain

Ballen House in Retiro, Colombia
Published: 24 February 2022

Set in a dramatic, but picturesque natural environment, Ballen House in Retiro, Colombia presented the challenge of creating a large, spacious home on lush, hilly terrain.

The solution, presented by Oslo-based architecture practice LCLA Office and Colombia-based architect Clara Arango, was to design a house consisting of two separate structures, linked by a path and a large garden in a forest clearing.

“What could have been a single larger house, was developed as dispersed volumes positioned in the steep slope, each one situated in a unique way in relation to the topographic features of the beautiful site,” the architects said.

Ballen House in Retiro, Colombia

One structure is distinguished by a long retaining wall, the other, a square plan raised on a single concrete column. While each structure is clearly different, yet they all share concrete formwork and custom made stainless steel details.

The ambition for the house was simple: to create large living spaces, while capturing the views from every possible vista.

The site was originally a forest clearing used for cattle, so the project presented an opportunity to reconfigure the landscape by designing gardens to link the structures. Gardens in the slope are planted with species that on a first glimpse seem to be from a much higher climatic zone, including wild orchids, bromelias and other small plants with a similarity to high altitude plants.

Ballen House in Retiro, Colombia

“In a climate that is indeed cold and mountainous, this garden presents a different version of the tropics, intensifying the experience of a garden in the high altitude Andes,” the team says.

One volume of the house stands on 4 meters over the terrain on a single column, while the other is partially sunken to the ground, and is defined by a long retention wall. Both structures are designed to offer completely different atmospheres by combining opposite ways to relate to the slope and the carefully designed gardens.

“The experience of the houses differ in the way that the structural solutions create two different climates and relationships with the slope, one closer to the ground, and the other elevated and more open,” says the team.

Ballen House in Retiro, Colombia

“The gardens link both houses, and the same details and materials in outdoor areas are used indoors, which is part of the experiment in making the houses feel larger, as one of them is just 60 square meters and the other 75.”

Inside, while floor-to-ceiling glazed windows frame the surrounding forest, curtains, wood furniture, and concrete benches add minimalism to the interiors as a contrast to the stunning scenery outside.

As the two separate structures act as a single house, they are not an exercise in minimal living, but rather an experiment on how to satisfy the needs of a larger space by relying on the gardens as spaces that can complement the interiors.

Ballen House in Retiro, Colombia

LCLA Office was established to bridge the limits between architecture and landscape architecture. The studio is based in Oslo led by Colombian architect Luis Callejas and Swedish architect Charlotte Hansson.

LCLA office was awarded with the Architectural League of New York Prize for Young Architects in 2013 and selected as one of the world’s ten best young practices by the Iakov Chernikhov International Foundation in 2010.