Yoik of Taygetus by Z-level Architecture
This amazing retreat located on the eastern slopes of Mount Taygetus in Greece, has been recently completed by Z-level Architecture.
The building is located in a Byzantine settlement on the eastern slopes of Mount Taygetus, at the edge of the Anakolon canyon, looking over the plain of Laconia. In order to climb the canyon, you pass between giant rock formations and near running water to come face to face with the majesty of Mount Taygetus in the distance. The surrounding area is one of outstanding natural beauty and forms part of the Natura 2000 Network.
I knew the area very well, even before undertaking the project. The inhabitants, who love music, had hosted our percussion group on many occasions, to take part in musical activities, seminars and traditional carnival disguises.
This link is what gave the house its name, Yoik of Taygetus, which refers to this very distinctive musical form performed by the Sami people in the region of Northern Europe. Each yoik is a sound, a song, a most personal expression dedicated to a person, an animal or a landscape. The yoik expresses its reference in a spiritual manner, using the sounds of nature.
Just as a yoik imprints the aura of humans and things onto the immaterial world of music, thus this house transports something of the soul of this mountain region into the material, contemporary world, utilizing vernacular forms and natural materials.
The plot contained a ruined stone building with an arched roof and a yard: a “katoi” used to house animals. The overall solution for the residence proposes a new layer of habitation above the level of the ruin, symbolizing progress and creating new historical stratification in the succession of the village’s temporal and spatial layers of existence.
The building was constructed below road level, so that its lower height makes a more gentle impact on the environment. A walker, crossing the path before the house does not lose sight of the overall view of the landscape and the mountain range.
The house owner sought a winter sanctuary, whose size could be “modified”, so he could use it either alone or, in other instances, accompanied by family and friends. This gave rise to a modular construction with three distinct segments, which can be isolated or unified at will: the “liakoto” sun porch or solar: the entrance to the house; the “makrynari” or long room, which is the main space in the building; and the “domatia”, the space for the two bedrooms and the bathrooms.
The entrance space hovers over the old yard. A “bridge” open on both sides with small inset windows or “tzamilikia” makes reference to traditional solars or sun porches, joining the two parts of the house and visually linking the two points of the horizon, east and west, leaving the gaze to pass over and through this towards the plain, in order not to interrupt the continuity of the landscape.
The daytime area stretches along the length of the residence on the south-western side of the main entrance, at ninety degrees to the canyon. The south-eastern aspect is open to the view and looks downhill, into the canyon and the mountains that frame it. The single glass surface brings light and warmth into the house during the winter months, as the daylight hours are few and sunset comes early under the heavy shadow of Mount Taygetus.
The north-western aspect is stone and forms a unified low wall facing the road, with the mountain mass behind it. This anchors the metal frames that support the pent style roof, which slopes in only one direction. Using as its reference point the traditional “hanging” balconies, the frames terminate in leaning metal columns, to support the balcony that runs along the length of the building and into the interior of the house.
The interior of the stone side develops into a system that encloses the equipment for all the ways the space is used: as a kitchen, library, sitting room, sleeping loft. The construction extends through to the exterior, with an outdoor kitchen, providing a sense of continuity and the flow of one space into another. The glass side has a single bench running in front of the windows which extends, using the same rationale, to create the covered outdoor eating area. Three steps down there is an outdoor seating area around a fire pit, as well as an eating area under the shade of the trees. This central space, along with the bathroom, can be isolated to create a space that is independent of the remaining residence
To the north-east of the central entrance there are two bedrooms and the bathrooms. This space, which was placed over the initial stone building and follows its outline, constitutes a distinct, independent, composite construct, that does not rest on the older building. The outside is clad in wood planks, in the way of many houses in the village. The interior has a metal construction lays out the space, the lofts, bathrooms and bedrooms. The intent of this addition is to extend upwards and be distinct, visually and construction-wise from the existing building, as a contemporary light construction soaring over the heavier stone ruin.
The original building is maintained and viewed as an interesting element from the past, a lingering memory imprint. There are no interventions besides the requisite support work in the spirit of restoration rather than domestic use. Access is through an outdoor staircase, as the building does not join the remaining residence functionally, implying its different identity and origins.
We chose a combination of traditional and contemporary materials. The weight bearing construction of the ground floor is partly stone, partly ytong blocks (autoclaved aerated concrete) and partly metal frame, covered by polyurethane panels supported by a metal frame. The floors are self-levelling monochromes, the interior wood is marine-grade plywood with beech veneers, while the exterior is clad in larch wood.
The building has a small energy footprint, as appropriate heat insulation materials were utilized throughout, as well as heat pumps, automation and passive solar systems. Its orientation on the plot, and the raised floor level, that creates a closed air zone between the natural ground and the residence, improved its thermal characteristics considerably.
Yoik of Taygetus was built by small local contractors.
Photography courtesy of Z-level Architecture