A Glass Home within the Mexican Desert
At dusk, the house appears as a phosphorescent box, the mirrored panels of which reflect the light of the sky and the ocher colors of the mountain, which will soon disappear like a mirage when night falls. Casa Etérea – located above San Miguel de Allende on the rugged slopes of the extinct Palo Huérfano volcano, part of the Los Picachos metropolitan area in central Mexico, is both an architectural showpiece and a site-specific art installation that was built to inspire awe. The 800 square meter apartment is a masterpiece of sustainable technology that uses solar energy and collected rainwater. It has a bird-friendly glass facade (with a striped UV-reflective coating) – even if it creates the effect of a seemingly endless landscape.
Prashant Ashoka, the owner and designer of Casa Etérea, first came up with the idea for a glass house on his first trip to the country in summer 2017. He had worked as a writer and photographer in Singapore, but was forced to move to San Miguel de Allende because of its beauty and reputation as a travel destination for artists, including prominent figures of the beat generation such as Neal Cassady and Jack in the 1960s Kerouac to the visitors. The facade, he says, is both transitional and symbolic: “It’s a metamorphosis, similar to my transformation trip to Mexico.” Determined to build a secluded writer’s retreat, Ashoka ended up buying two acres of wilderness – just 20 minutes from downtown San Miguel de Allende – with no water pipes or electricity. “I knew it was my time to create something of my own,” he says. “And I had always dreamed of escaping into nature, of living on a mountain or a beach. But I’ve decided to take a romantic notion that a lot of people flirt with and make it my reality. “
When designing his retreat, Ashoka referred to the work of the 20th century Mexican architect Luis Barragán and his long-time collaborator, the sculptor-painter Mathias Goéritz – in particular to their explorations of form, light and shadow. Although Barragán preferred to work with cubes, Ashoka decided to angle the two main components of his retreat to 120 degrees to mimic his favorite mountain feature: a V-shaped canyon – visible from the garden of the house – with a rushing waterfall during the rainy season . Without hiring an architectural firm, and instead relying on local engineers and carpenters, Ashoka built the bones of the house out of volcanic rock collected on the mountainside. “The idea was to be completely isolated and without the distraction other than the wilderness that surrounds you,” says Ashoka. Overall, it took almost three years to complete.
Inside, the house can be inspired from near and far and combines Mexican craft culture with Ashoka’s Southeast Asian roots. He worked with local Namuh furniture studio to accentuate the interiors with goods like the two Balinese burlap lamps hanging over either side of the bed and the vintage Shanghai earthenware vase on the bedside table. The kitchen has an open layout that favors elemental materials – there are exposed wooden ceiling beams, concrete walls, and floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors that offer views of towering cliffs. The porcelain countertops are offset of blackened walnut cabinets and topped with antique jade vases (which once served as grain bins for Chinese sailors) from Sabah on the Malaysian island of Borneo. Walnut bar stools rest on a cream and blue-green Turkish oushak rug. And on an adjacent wall is a black and white photo of Mexican charros or cowboys by documentary photographer Nicole Franco, taken in 2004.
In the living area, the gaze is drawn to a gray Romanian buffalo leather sofa and a table made of reclaimed oak, which stands over an Indian jute rug made in Jaipur. A red brick fireplace separates the room from the sleeping area, which is accentuated by found objects including A brass telescope from the La Lagunilla vintage market in Mexico City, oversized woven baskets from Shaanxi Province, China, and anthracite-colored Tibetan wool carpets.
Although Casa Etérea has many impressive features, Ashoka says that “the house was born out of the bathroom,” which has the structure’s only interior wall, a brick and concrete Partition wall with rose gold spots. Behind it is a large, handcrafted sloping-back copper bathtub with a hammered finish that Ashoka designed and then commissioned to craft artisans in Santa Clara de Cobre, Michoacán state.
It’s easy to slow down here and observe the subtle details of the natural world. Ashoka loves to do just that when he leaves his main house in downtown San Miguel de Allende for Casa Etérea. He likes to hike from the mountainside to the volcano’s caldera, a three-hour hike that takes him through river beds, oak forests, and wide upland plains. “When the sun comes up,” he says, “she paints the rocks on top of the mountain a shade of red. There is so much beauty here, especially the wildlife. “He spotted a wide variety of animals, from mountain lions and bobcats to redtails Hawks and woodpeckers. He also loves a local gecko who likes to sunbathe on the deck near the house’s plunge pool. surrounded by desert cacti and rosemary and lavender bushes. Elsewhere on the property, Ashoka planted fertile olive, pomegranate, and citrus trees.
From next month Casa Etérea can be rented via the property’s Instagram. Guests can experience bespoke adventures led by residents of the local Alcocer community. These include horseback riding with Ashoka’s neighbors, a herdsman, or a guided hike with a botanist. Most of all, Ashoka hopes that visitors will take the time to marvel at the tranquil landscape. “Long-distance homes are so powerful,” he says. “They have the power to turn you inward.”