Caribbean Sea, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
’I always use the natural material of the country where I work,’ says French architect Savin Couelle, who practices architecture in Turin and along the Costa Smeralda of Sardinia. ‘Since I adapt to the country where I work, in the Dominican Republic, I designed a Dominican house.’
The Caribbean beach house he designed near Santo Domingo is for three generations of the family of Mr and Mrs Nathan Moore. While the exteriors and plan reflect the order and regional features of the Dominican vernacular, the interiors convey the organic, sculptural quality for which the French architect is known.
‘I design houses to correspond to the climate and at the same time to correspond with the client’s desires and needs,’ Couelle says. The Moores knew his houses on the Costa Smeralda and wanted a similar beach house, but Couelle felt that his design should respond to the local vernacular. ‘As a Dominican house, it is set flat and continuous to the ground, and – like open pavilions – it is completely transparent, so that the wind flows through the house. Since there was a big green lawn to the sea and a group of houses nearby, I didn’t want to marry the house primarily with the land or only with the village of houses,’ the architect observes.
Couelle initially spent a week getting to know the island, seeing the formidable stone ruins of Spanish forts and learning the traditions of the Spanish settlers, who built breezy pavilions with the assistance of shipbuilders. With these traditions in mind, he decided to raise the ground level of the house in order to relate it to a nearby palm forest and the ocean.
An outer wall of coral with an iron gate forms the entrance to the front garden, and the door beyond is rendered in typical Spanish fashion of wrought-iron and glass. The entrance is part of a higher pavilion with a roof-top terrace. To one side of it is a wing containing the master bedroom suite and, to the other side, further bedrooms and servants’ rooms.
On the ocean side of the house, terraces run along the three pavilion facades below tiled roofs, and a swimming pool and lap pool create a smooth transition to the Caribbean. Polished coral blocks set between the pools provide space for sunning.
The walls of the house are built of two layers of quarried coral, forming interior living areas with lofty ceilings and open archways. Arched openings to the terraces are enclosed by natural-stained louvred doors. Couelle detailed the interiors with brickwork and wooden doors patterned in the Spanish manner. Some ceilings are supported by beams of’pancho prieto , a native hardwood logged decades ago for an unfinished railroad. The dining area features a beamed ceiling of a rare wood which was once exported to Spain for building caravels.
Ships are alluded to throughout the house, which Couelle has compared to a boat at anchor. The architect even created a child’s room with a loft reached by a ship’s ladder. While each bedroom has a patio for showering, sunning or eating, the master bedroom features broad arched openings to view the pools, the lawn, an adjoining golf-course and the ocean. ‘I like to plant houses in the ground,’ Couelle explains. ‘My dream is to relate a house to the land and to the water view.’