This collection of small structures in the mountains two hours west of Mexico City incorporates permaculture principles to establish a holistic, integrated relationship between people and place. Located in Temascaltepec, Mexico, the retreat consists of a main residence (1,200 SF), a detached art studio (206 SF), and a bathhouse (172 SF). Here, as in the surrounding region of Central Mexico, water has become an increasingly precious resource as temperatures rise and populations increase. Although the region sees a robust rainy season, rainwater harvesting is not common; instead, pumping in water from distant watersheds is standard practice. Rain Harvest Home takes a different tack, proposing an integrated approach to designing regeneratively with water.
Working in tandem with the local climate, where winters are extremely dry but the rest of the year is wet and rainy, the design team set out to restore the site’s microclimate which had become eroded over time. Rain Harvest Home’s trio of buildings each collect rainwater to integrate with an above- and below-ground reservoir system that purifies and stores rainwater to supply 100% of the home’s water year-round.
- The on-site water treatment system is completely self-contained and primarily gravity-fed, containing five cisterns that provide potable and treated water.
- A chemical-free blackwater treatment system treats all wastewater on site, returning it to the site’s water cycle as greywater for use in toilets, and to irrigate the on-site orchard.
- Walking trails connect the various spaces and buildings on site, while also serving as bioswales that conduct rainwater to the home’s reservoirs and help prevent site erosion.
- A 10-kW photovoltaic array powers all three of the buildings.
- Bio-agriculture gardens and an orchard on site are designed around syntropic agriculture principles to create a healthy, self-contained food system. Conceived as a collection of buildings in the landscape, each structure gives over significant area to covered outdoor space for a seamless connection between interior and exterior. The main residence takes the form of a pavilion that allows for outdoor use year-round, with over two-thirds of the building footprint dedicated to covered exterior space. While the main house is oriented towards horizontal views out to the landscape in all four directions, the nearby stand-alone bathhouse inverts this relationship by orienting towards sky above and water below. Offering a poetic dialogue with the experiential qualities of water, the bathhouse supports four bathing activities: hot bath, sauna, steam shower, and washroom. The rooms encircle a cold plunge pool at the center and open to the sky. All three of the structures share a tectonic vocabulary of recinto volcanic clad stone foundations and vegetated roofs. Rain Harvest Home offers a model for designing regeneratively with water. Not only does the design help restore the microclimate of the site, but it stands as a testament to the potential of rainwater harvesting for off-grid, self-contained water systems that eliminate reliance on municipal water sources. At the same time, the element of water contributes to the overall spatial and experiential quality of the project, reconnecting people with their environment by engaging the senses. More than any other element, conserving and improving the quality of water as a precious resource has the potential to dramatically improve the health and sustainability of built environments in Mexico, and beyond.