By jimena Martignoni
The Educational Farm is a thematic and food production-oriented small project situated in the arid regions of the hills of Cordoba, in the geographical centre of Argentina. As part of a larger complex specially built to respond to the high demand from tourists, typical of the hills circuit of this province, the site was thought out with the specific objective of offering a natural place where visitors could experience the most emblematic farm activities and local food manufacturing. In addition, all food products of this farm would provide for the entire site and, in this manner, would meet a clear sustainable approach for a site with recreational objectives.
The project covers an area of 9,650 m2 roughly shaped as an almost perfect square. Physically limited to the South by a steep slope planted with large trees, to the East with an existing orchard, to the North by one of the main internal streets, and to the West by a pasture area, the site is presented as a natural clearing only interrupted by old native trees and with a soft grading that descends from South to North and from East to West.
These existing conditions were incorporated into the project in order to maintain the natural structure of the site. The access was placed on the street, to the North, and the place’s perimeter was subtly defined with a continuous linear 50 cm-high stone piece which, while following the naturally descending slopes, creates a series of subtle steps.
The presence of these steps was part of the designers’ decision to create a water-carrying element within the site. Fed by a water tank and a pump, the stone piece acts as a water channel or “acequia” that adds an attractive (visual and audile) effect to this particularly arid place; the constant murmur of the falling water and the sun’s reflections on the water surface all generate a new diversion for the senses as well as a special ambiance of tranquility. When kids visit the place, the sound of water seems to help to calm their usual vibrant behavior.
“We wanted to incorporate water as an element that the place lacks” said Monica Bertolino, “because people enjoy it even when it’s a delicate presence…”
This acequia was entirely built by local workmen specializing in stone constructions, the stone used to construct it was extracted from the site’s surroundings. This element helps to define a vernacular design and also alludes to the natural stone formations that frame the region’s roads. However, the site offers a fine balance between this pastoral image and one that relates to the most representative elements of architecture and engineering.
In order to respond to the functional program of the project that requested a place for animals and another for bread making and food production, the designers proposed two different rectangular pavilions positioned perpendicular to each other. The larger, which is meant to accommodate livestock and other farm animals, is placed adjacent to the natural slope on the South side of the site and parallel to the accessing street; the smaller one, which provides the cooking infrastructure, edges the existing orchard.
Both pavilions respond to the same design principles of a free plan and structural systems exposed to view. Concrete main beams and columns make up two independent modules, which have in common the particular attribute of letting nature grow through them. Either visually, because the absence of walls lets close and distant vistas appear as part of the architectural composition, or physically, because the absence of solid roofs lets branches and entire trees reach out for light and go through them, all pretending to be part of a single composition.
In the pavilion for animals, where it was essential to close the space for evident safety reasons, the designers created some wooden and wire fences that want to recreate the typical concept of a livestock corral; they’re innovative yet plain designs. Ships, goats, baby cows, and some large bird species such as peacocks share a single semi-roofed structure which doesn’t compete with the natural setting. In the bread making and cooking pavilion the designers placed just some vertical glass surfaces in order to maintain clean and hygienic conditions.
Next to this last pavilion, there are two sets of mud ovens: one set for bread baking and the other for jam making. Altogether, the grey hue of the concrete - of every one of the structural elements and also the mud ovens – finely contrasts with the green tones of the foliage and generates a color combination which helps to define the expected integration between buildings and plants. This integration, however, was achieved not only by means of color but also through the respectful dialogue established between the shapes of architecture and those of nature; the roof beams, whose length varies while overhanging out of the structure, emulate tree branches that grow and extend dissimilarly. The usual need of precision or exactness of structural engineering pieces gives way to nature’s unpredictable rules.
This play of elements and dissimilar pieces was also intentionally laid out to create shade and sunlight reflections throughout the area; branches and concrete beams seem to overlap and interlock to shape light and shade networks onto the ground.
The design of the fence that was built along three of the sides of the site’s perimeter (the North side which coincides with the access presents a more formal layout) also complies with that same concept of using sunlight as an aesthetic element that can be easily incorporated into the plan; in this case, the sunbeams that go through the sticks - with which the fence was built - are projected onto the stone surface of the acequia that develops right next to it. Built with bough pieces and sticks found on the site, this fence offers another reference to the vernacular character of the project and the area in which it’s enclosed.
The central space, towards which open up the two pavilions, was left as an untouched space where a few existing clusters of native trees such as prosopis or mesquite tree and schinus molles or peppertree species provide large shady spots.
The furniture of the bread making-pavilion, composed of fine rectangular tables, was specially designed by Carlos Barrado and built with wood scraps from the construction site. These tables were built with the specific objective of providing a surface for bread kneading and the design responds to a clear recycling process-based concept.
The wood that was utilized for the construction of the tables was supplied by discarded cuts of parquetry or floorboard in the site; the pieces and the manner in which they were engaged are intentionally exposed to view, thus emphasizing the idea of reutilization of existing materials. Made up of one horizontal plane and two vertical bearing ones, these tables display an eye-catching reddish tone typical of the prosopis wood with which they were built.
The simple yet accurate image of this didactic farm and the structurally-based yet bucolic design concept with which it was outlined end up in a remarkable integration of use of raw materials and finishing techniques, form and function and, above all, landscape and architecture.
Client: Sindicato Petroleros de Córdoba
Designers: Architects Mónica Bertolino y Carlos Barrado
Team: Architect Rovaretti
Total size: 9.650 m2