A "forest" of sweet gum trees grows through openings in the concrete slabs of this house in Morelia, Mexico, by Roof Arquitectos, providing an alternative to a central courtyard (+ movie).
Roof Arquitectos co-founders Rogelio Vallejo and Francisco Noriega designed the house for a plot opposite a park for client Julio Hernández and his son.
The architects wanted to base the design of Julio Hernández House on another residence in the city, which they arranged around a courtyard containing a cluster of oak trees.
"When we started developing this house, we wanted to explore the architectonic and sensorial possibilities offered by a patio, containing small, nestled forests, almost in the same way we did it in our last project," said Vallejo and Noriega.
But the client had other ideas. Hernández initially requested a single-storey 350-square-metre residence to maximise the footprint of the plot, leaving a remainder of just 50 square metres for private outdoor space.
"This unbalanced proportion between house and void did not allow for the desired influence of clear space throughout the house," said the architects.
They decided to divide their 50-square-metre allowance into 23 small plant beds, each containing a sweet gum tree. These are integrated into the house's concrete foundation slab and distributed along three of its facades.
Rectangular voids cut in the slab above, which is supported by rows of slender white columns, allow sunlight to filter through to ground level and also provide space for the trees to mature.
Once the house was complete and the planting in place, the client asked for an extra storey where he could practice yoga among the tree tops.
"This approach allowed us to explore possibilities that go beyond the contemplation of a patio and enable a way of living in a more immersive way that generates a distinct aesthetic," said Roof Arquitectos, which described the gum trees as a "small forest".
"The house itself was opened to the garden as a way to embrace the surrounding public space, by a direct link between the house and both the front street and the communal garden," added the studio.
Sliding glazing forms three of the house's facades, while an opaque slab forms the fourth. The architects based the density of the "forest" on the degree of transparency they wanted to achieve – either permitting or blocking views from the street and park.
Two bedrooms and bathrooms sit alongside an open-plan living space at ground level, and are partially separated from each other by a screen of trees.
The design of the upper floor mirrors the base, with voids in the roof slab corresponding with those in the floor plate below. It hosts two further bedrooms with en-suite bathrooms, as well as an open space to practice yoga in.
The top of the lower slab is covered in decking to form a terrace and glass balustrades surround the rectangular voids.
The difficulty of incorporating pockets of planting and trees into space-short dwellings and businesses has led architects to a develop a range of innovative solutions.
Vietnamese firm Vo Trong Nghia Architects planted trees on the roof top of its fragmented home in a densely populated neighbourhood of Ho Chi Minh City, while Japanese studio Hamada Design chose to frame foliage within a large light well in a beauty salon in the city of Koga.
More extreme interpretations of integrated greenery include a proposal by Kazakh architect Aibek Almassov to grow a huge fir tree within a tubular glasshouse.
Photography and video is by NOME filmes.