MONTERREY – Looks can be deceiving, and at first glance, Casa Caja by the Mexican outfit S-AR could be confused for a humble weekend retreat of a modernist-minded millionaire. A certain roughness, soon dispels this image, but the true nature of the project is all the more interesting.

Standing on a standard, 7 by 15 metre building plot in General Zuazua, a suburb of Monterrey – one of Mexico’s wealthiest cities – the house belongs to a low-income family. ‘Construction workers constitute a very vulnerable sector in our society because of the instability of the trade. They are constantly on the move from one building site to another, making it almost impossible to save money or apply for a loan through the government’s housing programme,’ the architects inform us.

Supported by Comunidad Vivex, a non-profit organisation founded by S-AR, the design and building process becomes a social act. From the beginning, the future inhabitants were involved: first through consultations with the architects and later by building the house themselves. ‘Not only does this significantly reduce the costs, it’s also a didactic process: by building their home, the construction workers learn new skills, enhancing their future prospects,’ the architects explain.

The house itself is poetically straightforward: the first floor contains a living space and a kitchen with large areas of glazing looking out onto the patio, and on the upper story, a large landing divides two private, en-suite rooms. The humble concrete brick is the material of choice, and the architects made sure to adhere to its modular dimensions throughout. Even so, because of the irregular nature of donations, as well as the fact that the owner could only work on the site one day a week, the process took three years from start to finish.  

Photos Alejandro Cartagena