It was when our client approached us to design an off-grid home for his property on the East Cape road to famous surf breaks that the beginnings of Casa Sal were born. The location and the views are as good as can get for a remote spot that was only recently made accessible by a paved road—three years ago, access was via a typical Baja desert dirt road. Not only was the distance and the lack of essential infrastructure a challenge, but finding the right materials and sustainable systems to build and operate the house would test our creativity and resourcefulness, too.
Our initial approach was to incorporate rammed earth walls into the most important spaces of the house, and use a second material— which is concrete— to express the other massing elements. Rammed earth walls are thermally insulating walls that also bring warmth and moisture to the otherwise dry desert scape in which the house is built. The natural texture on the main walls contrasts with the polished floors, cement walls, and poured-in-place T-shape slabs located over the great room. We wanted to explore the great room as an open palapa, which is commonly found in coastal mainland architecture. The light and cross ventilation come from the clerestory windows and patios that are located in every corner of the house, creating a passive design flow. Because our clients wanted to have indoor comfort, we equipped every room with air conditioning and ensured that the fresh coastal breeze and sounds of nearby waves would travel through the space thanks to the flow of the space. And to further enjoy the natural beauty that surrounds the house, the design travels from inside to outside, creating a seamless transition from a comfortable interior space to a Mediterranean-Baja landscape.
Because of the remote nature of the single-story four-bedroom off-grid home, attention to equipment was necessary. The operation of the house relies on 48 solar panels on the central flat roof, inverters, lithium batteries, and a propane generator to assist the solar system during higher consumption or on cloudy days. To educate the guest on off-grid technology, the solar panels were exposed on the edge of the great room slab to be easily seen upon arrival, and the solar battery room is clearly visible through a glass door next to the entry powder room. Other equipment, which is concealed, consists of a waste treatment plant, a large underground cistern for potable water (which has to be trucked in), a propane gas tank to heat up water, the stove, and jacuzzi, and an added cistern for treated water to use for landscape irrigation. As our first solar project, we were forced by nature and costs to better understand the importance of and use efficiency in design and function.
From the beginning to the end, we wanted to create an example of contemporary architecture in Baja California, using horizontal lines, large shaded indoor-outdoor spaces, and local materials to build a simple, yet extraordinary house.