Ricardo Gómara House in Playa Brava

Source: Leandro VillalbaArchitect: Ricardo GómaraPhotography: Leandro VillalbaCamera: Medium format Hasselblad 501 cameraText: Pablo CanénLocation: Playa Brava, Punta del Este, UruguayYear: 1982
Date: January 25, 2024 Category: Classic, Texts

This single-family house, built in 1982, is a work of the Argentine architect Ricardo Gomara, located in one of the most sought-after areas of Punta del Este, Uruguay’s main seaside resort city. Located on the seafront at stop 20 of Playa Brava, this house illustrates a boom period in the architecture of holiday homes for the upper classes in Argentina. Its construction coincides with the real estate boom of the late 1970s and early 1980s, which found a sharp break in the economic crisis of 1982. At that time, the de facto government, with a marked fiscal deficit and large losses of reserves, abandoned the tabular regime, causing the dollar to shoot up precipitously. Likewise, the change from an exclusive tourism model to a massive sun and beach tourism model was consolidated, to a great extent, in that real estate bubble. It was in those years when the coastal skyline of Punta del Este was developed with a set of new towers, which would initiate a process of granting regulatory exceptions for developments of increasing scales.

It is important to clarify that our commentary on this house is synthetic and fully disciplinary. We have very little information about the commission and almost no knowledge about the family context and the relationship between the technician and the client. We do, however, have the extraordinary architectural photoreport made by Leandro Villalba using analog techniques.We have not had access to the plans of the building either, so that our appreciations arise from the perception mediated by the photographic lens

We seek to trace a speculative genealogy for a simple reason: the strength of the house’s volumetry and the excellent resolution of its details make it an exceptional case within the national architectural panorama of the eighties. At times, the house manifests the pulse of John Lautner’s residences, which, like his master Frank Lloyd Wright, sustained large horizontal planes that framed the vastness of the landscape with sufficient remoteness to turn it into an almost metaphysical experience. This resource of transposing transcendentalist thought to architecture was widely used in residences located in suburban settings. Particularly, the Wrightian persistence can be seen most clearly in another of Gomara’s residences, the Summerwind House at the tip of the peninsula.

Also appearing here is the intermittent presence of Paul Rudolph, an American disciple of Walter Gropius, who actually embraced the brutalist aesthetic popularized in the 1960s by Reyner Banham. The sectional power of the relationship areas of the house are perfectly imaginable in its immersive perspectival cuts, which tried, in a two-dimensional piece, to restore the possibility of spatial experience, without losing technical rigor. One can also detect, in the plastic expressiveness of the concrete, a reference to the late Le Corbusier, or to the brutalist aspect of Japanese architecture of the metabolist generation. This sensibility is visible in the collective housing universe of Punta del Este, as in the Arrecife building (1974) by Gómez Platero and López Rey.

Although we could also mention some houses of this same duo, such as the Poyoroc House and the Sonpura House (1960), photographed by the American Julius Shulman in 1967. In those years, the lessons of the Californian Case Study Houses could be glimpsed. At a design level, and also at the level of their hedonistic domestic atmospheres.

Indeed, Gomara’s house, when viewed from a floor plan, has an organization that seems to gather some of these lessons from an architecture that is open —from within— to the landscape. The articulation of large surfaces through the presence of cores creates a fluid flow across the plane. The strength of the outdoor platforms lies in anointing them as a frank expansion of the generous internal spaces. While these traces are diffuse, to this imprint of generous terraces is added the weight of the mass brought by the formal resources. It’s important to note that in Punta del Este itself, Flores Flores uses resources in the Casa Poseidón (1979), in Laguna del Diario, that resonate with some tactics of architect Gomara, although their direct links are unknown. In that case, the resources derive more from a modern reinterpretation of Mediterranean traditions.

At the same time, it would be unfair not to acknowledge the strength that several creators of Argentine modernity had carried out at that time, like Mario Roberto Álvarez, who along with the Uruguayan Raúl Sichero built the Casa Espacio in Punta del Este in the same year, 1982. From Mario Roberto Alvarez, we could also mention Casa Schneider (1977) in San Isidro as a more specific citation. However, more generally, the expressive force of exposed concrete in the works of Clorindo Testa in the 1960s could be part of a constellation of influences. A more daring question remains open, about the possible influences of the São Paulo school of the 1970s, which in some private residences finds a possible resonance.

These lines, and this sort of thinking out loud, aim to try a reconstruction of threads through observation. This is nothing more than an attempt to open some questions for further study.

In this sense, we highlight the material value and the resolution of details of the dwelling. The quality of execution speaks of a work that was surely closely overseen by its creator. The workmanship of the built-in furniture, carpentry, ironwork, and concrete treatment is refined. As in the Loosian strategy, the contrast between an austere exterior and a discreetly rich interior in finishes and fixed furnishings speaks of a commitment to reserve and a pursuit of exceptionalism.

In these properties, the so-called caretakers and the work staff who have safeguarded the evolution of these constructions for decades are of notable and irreplaceable value. These individuals often know best how the house has evolved and what critical points exist in its performance. This material approach to the works of modern architecture in our context is of emerging value. In a time of growing recognition of regional and national modern heritage, it seems essential to delve deeper into records of lesser-known architectures and to know with assertiveness and precision what care processes we can apply to them.

M.Sc. Architect Pablo Canén. Teacher and researcher at FADU, Udelar.

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