Passive House

Seignosse is located in the southwest of France, on the Côte d’Argent, a region known for its landscapes, its mild climate and the richness of its terroir. The project must be considered on this small-scale level as well as in terms of its broader history and its geography.

The Landes region has long been a sparsely populated area because it was hostile to humans. Until the 18th century it was a vast, inaccessible swamp, where local shepherds moved on stilts both to keep their feet out of the water and to watch their herd from afar. It is called the flat country because of the near-lack of topographical features, a characteristic explained by its geology.

The ground is formed by a shallow limestone plateau covered by sediment. The rock layer is impermeable, so rainwater flows very slowly to the ocean, forming these wetlands as a result. To overcome this, during the Age of Enlightenment the French state decided to manage the territory by planting suitable trees, initially cork oaks for use in the corking industry. This tree, which has a strong presence in the region, is of particular interest to us for the project.

A larger-scale program of land management was later embarked on through the planting of maritime pines and the establishment of the “dune cordon” all along the Atlantic coast in order to protect the forest from the ocean. It is the largest pine forest in Europe, as can be felt it in the perfect alignment of trees in this continuous man-made landscape.

This situation has developed some examples of vernacular architecture: half-timbered houses with pronounced eaves and a masonry plinth that responds to the climate of the region. Also, the huts of the gemmeurs, the people in charge of collecting resin from the pines, whose homes were made of large pine boards covered with resin to protect them.

We drew clear ideas from this analysis that formed the basis of our reflection and the design of the project.

The first step is to climb up to protect yourself from the water and to see further: think of a project on stilts.

From the positioning of the pines we retain a grid pattern, a consistency of design that allows the project to be punctuated in plan as well as in section, by the repetition of vertical elements reminiscent of the slenderness of the pine trunks.

We understand the characteristics of the climate by sheltering the façades with overhanging roofs, because there’s necessary to protect from both the rain and the sun that come and go with the wind. Build simple constructions, in harmony with the landscape.

We understand the entire site as part of a whole, a holistic vision of architecture which is entirely the result of its situation.

Starting with the landscape

We think of this project as an inhabited garden, a fusion between nature and architecture, which breaks down the boundaries between interior and exterior. A plot that can be used in its entirety, living according to the light and the seasons. Build a smart home that is easy to activate and requires little maintenance. A place that challenges preconceived ideas. We analyzed the plot under four sequences, each corresponding to a purpose: to use, to live, to enjoy, to watch.

The program is very clear, and defines a number of volumes that have special relationships between each other. The treatment of the landscape must unify the whole.

Construction then began to take shape: the independent guest house, the garage with its carport, the main house and its covered terraces, the swimming pool with its summer kitchen and finally the studio to the rear of the garden. They are judiciously distributed across the site according to their uses and orientation. Everything is connected by raised terraces, either covered or open air.

The Local Urban Plan imposes a built-up area of 30%, a setback from the street and neighbors, maximum heights, and raising the floor level by 30cm compared to the natural terrain. We have integrated these constraints into the project as assets in order to make it more discreet and to limit the inconveniences of the street as well as of the neighboring buildings.

The rectilinear hedge along the façade is maintained as a cultural relic: behind it grows a lush garden, made up of local species such as maritime pine and umbrella pine, holm oak and cork oak, broom and gorse, species that require little maintenance and consume little water. It is about creating a specific universe that evolves throughout the year, with large ferns that give it a tropical appearance while respecting endemic species. A nurturing landscape with several areas dedicated to the vegetable garden.

All the existing trees are preserved, while new ones are planted between the constructions, such as deciduous trees close to the façades in order to protect them in summer and let through light in winter. Much of the project is based on reversible screw foundations. This allows for a minimum impact on the ground and does not damage the roots by creating a refuge underneath for the local fauna. With the idea of a biophilic design, the project is committed to having a low impact on the site.

The project

While designing the project, we focused on the resources already present on site as well as the possibility of using materials from the demolition of the existing house.

Several elements stand out, such as the tiled roof which once came down can be used as coating for the access, a red tone that contrasts with the vegetation and allows vehicles to move around as if playing pétanque.

Part of the masonry can be reused after crushing as concrete rubble needed for the main house. The glazing can be sent to a recycling center to be repurposed as insulation material like that currently used under the slab of the house. The rest of the materials would be donated to recycling associations we regularly work with.

The construction system and the materials used provide the basis for understanding the project. All the building façades are clad in cork, a locally sourced, rot-proof material. The roof line of all the volumes forms a single slope. The corrugated sheet steel roofs evoke the image of surf huts and reflect the surrounding landscape. Rainwater is collected in cisterns in order to water the garden and can potentially be reused for the toilets and washing machine.

The family house is composed of three walls made of low-carbon recycled concrete, and is insulated from the outside with a thick layer of wood fiber. Its southern facade is completely glazed, protected by large eaves which are supported by pre-grayed wooden posts to guarantee stability over time. The annexes are all in wooden framework, raised above the ground with the screw piles. Thanks to the repetition of the elements, much of it can be prefabricated, including the guest house which can be ready for use before the rest.

In order to meet passive house criteria, we have organized all the constructions into rectangular and compact plans. The certification is based only on the main house, which meets all the demands and the PHPP calculation: less than 15 kWh/m2/year, extremely well-insulated, airtight, with a very good double-flow ventilation system and generous, yet controlled solar gain.

We have enhanced comfort in summer thanks to cross-sections that promote natural ventilation, the thermal inertia of the concrete walls and floors which retain coolness, and the implementation of elegant exterior blackout systems on all exposed windows.

We intend this project to be sober and discreet, to be an intelligent, minimalist architecture, both simple and contemporary, where beauty resides as much in the volumes as in the details.


IUA Ignacio Urquiza Arquitectos in collaboration with a6a y APDA Ana Paula de Alba

Seignosse, France, 2021

306 sqm

Casa en El Torón

El Torón Reserve is located on the coast of Oaxaca, at the southernmost point of the Mexican Pacific coastline and a few kilometers from Mazunte, between Mermejita and Ventanilla beaches. It is a protected 30-hectare area characterized by mixed vegetation and rugged topography, with steep cliffs and hilltops creating hard-to-reach spots and a unique natural beauty.

The House in El Torón is the first to be designed within this reserve, and its conception emerged from two premises that enabled us to question and rethink the idea of a house on the coast. The first was to show maximum respect for the site, and the second was to seek to understand and learn from the vernacular and contemporary architecture of the region, which represents so many years of accumulated wisdom and experience, and tends to offer unmatched functionality.



Since the 1970s, architects like Marco Aldaco, Mario Lazo, Diego Villaseñor and José Yturbe presented a ‘new architecture of the sea’ without doors or windows that encouraged a close relationship with nature and at the same time transferred the gestures employed in traditional coastal architecture to large-scale projects: the use of palm roofs, local materials, cross ventilation, light-colored floors, are some of the design strategies that today we take for granted, as well as the knowledge we need to apply to any beach-based design. This makes rethinking coastal habitation difficult: but questioning the principles and its future is a task that falls to our generations, which must seek balance in development and evolution, while considering the interaction between the global and the local.

In a few months in 2020 we witnessed uncontrolled growth in the number of developments implemented along the coasts of Mexico. The exploitation of communal or ejido lands and their conversion into private property—for holiday home or weekend house developments—is not something that can be carried out in a healthy and ordered manner in the next few years. That is why it is the responsibility of architects and designers—not to mention the developers—to proceed in a coherent manner. The future of the coast depends on us, and we must ensure that the landscape and its flora and fauna are treated with care and responsibility. It is necessary to implement ideas of architecture and urban design with regenerative aims in mind. This means making sites better places and seeking to preserve their values: not only maintaining their current state but restoring them to what they once were, leaving them in a better condition than we find them today.

Regrettably, we are witnessing a failure of coastal urban design, based on a harmful model of division into micro-lots that seeks the greatest profit but only serves to transform the landscape, damaging the ecology. Instead of seeking to understand these zones, the same model is followed as in urban areas. Meanwhile, the architectural projects are unsuitable, hasty and disconnected from the time and place where they are built.

In light of this, how can we improve the way things are done? What can architecture do to help change this dynamic? What values must future beach house projects embody?

It’s clear that public policies to ensure appropriate land-use planning for these zones must be strengthened. However, where such planning does not yet exist, we believe it is necessary to act in a manner coherent with the context, while thinking about the common good. If we intervene in these spaces it should be with slow, tranquil architecture that takes care of and protects our environment. An architecture that, for once, places the surroundings before the user.


The Project

For the House in El Torón we imagined a lightweight architecture that questions the scale, the physical relationship between the building and its surroundings, and the use of a number of elements such as palm roofs. An architecture where we imagined living only on terraces or on a coastal palisade. An architecture that “touched” the site as little as possible and, where it did, that was as careful and respectful as it could be.

The construction employed only local materials; certified tropical wood for the structure, door and window frames, local stone—mostly from the excavation itself—for the foundations and containment walls, and stucco and clay from the local area that require little maintenance. The structural system combined timber and concrete to create frames with 4.8-meter modules bearing lightweight slabs in each of the volumes. These are covered with the chippings from the stonework, endowing them with a thermal quality that, together with the frame design, minimizes the energy required to cool the rooms.

No large machinery was used in the construction process, with all the materials being brought in using an ATV and a trailer, following narrow pre-existing tracks. The perimeter landscape was cordoned off during the works and 80% of the vegetation that was located under the footprint of the buildings was replanted in the immediate surroundings.

The project program is divided into three principal modules, designed separately and independent from each other. The first contains the common areas on the upper floor, and the master bedroom and a studio on the lower floor. The second houses the guest bedrooms, while the third module is a small two-floor volume with two bedrooms on the lower floor and common areas on the upper floor.

After being laid out on the site, these modules were connected by plazas, walkways and open paths to enable fluid circulation around the compound. The plan of the whole complex was the result of this process, and was the final project drawing completed.

Dividing the program this way enabled us to position the different volumes on the site more freely, while working with independent volumes meant we could control the scale of the house, leaving the existing vegetation intact and providing each space with the necessary privacy and unique viewpoints.

The result is a series of intermittent spaces: interiors, exteriors and roofed outdoor spaces that merge with the landscape and enable the architecture to disappear in an ambiguous relationship of natural and artificial within a continuous panorama of unaltered spaces.


Mazunte, Oaxaca, 2020

850 sqm

Photographs: Onnis Luque

Website IUA

Our new site presents our work through carefully selected photographs, drawings and texts that together display our way of understanding and doing architecture.  We share a selection of the projects that we have undertaken over the last 12 years, organized into three principal blocks that dynamically reveal the evolution of our work:


The first block displays the projects that are currently underway and those that we have developed from 2019 to the present.


The second block presents three significant moments in the transition to the studio where we are now based, illustrating the conclusion of the first stage of our career and the beginning of the new one: The Emerging Voices award given by the Architectural League of New York in 2019, the publication of the monograph Ensayos. El proceso arquitectónico de 2008-2018 and the exhibition of the same name.


The third block summarizes the Archive 2008-2018, a careful selection of the most interesting and representative projects designed by Ignacio Urquiza and his team in the first studio.


We use this website as a tool for recording processes, as an ongoing logbook for our work that is in constant transformation: it includes the studio’s new projects and through them the evolution of our thinking and how we produce architecture.

The constantly changing and dynamic content ascribes equal importance to the three principal elements and tools we employ in our design process: drawing, image and text, organized into triptychs that permit a complex reading of the projects.



As architects, we are devoted to drawing. We convey ideas, proposals and solutions through drawings, which when interpreted by different people come to take material form in works of architecture. Our interest in drawing is committed and meticulous: we use it to express the spatial relationships we explore with each project and its relationship with the user.



A fundamental tool throughout our entire design process, we use images as a reference and source of inspiration, as a means of exploring what we have researched, and as a record of the development of our ideas.




Words are the archive of knowledge and the foundation of our ideas.


Designed by Priscila Vanneuville and developed by the Laboratorio de Conciencia Digital, our new site presents our work through carefully selected photographs, drawings and texts that together display our way of understanding and doing architecture.