The Zula House was designed for a couple with three children. The two-story house is 300 sq. meters, and sits on a 500 sq.m. plot; its rectangular shape takes up most of the site.
Our conceptual goal in this project was to create a home that would feel like a retreat; one that would evoke the experience of a never-ending vacation, reflecting the family’s casual, laid-back lifestyle. We envisioned open, spacious rooms eliciting this sense of freedom. Designing these spaces in a narrow lot, bounded on both sides by houses, with no access to scenic viewpoints, posed a challenge that led us to the idea of designing the house around a dynamic common space: a hybrid living area that could adapt itself to all seasons, unraveling the boundaries between interior space and the outdoors—a Zula.
In Arabic, a zula is an informal communal space in which to “hang out”: a place where one can relax, slow down, and enjoy the slow passing of time. It is a space that inspires a disengagement from the frantic pace of the world and encourages realignment with nature. We designed the Zula as the heart of this home, around which everything else revolves. In good weather it serves as an informal outdoors area, shaded by its roof; but when heating or air conditioning is needed, it can be closed off and annexed to the house’s interior spaces.
In order to create the Zula, we replaced two of the house’s exterior walls with a system of sliding wooden slats, and added two interior glass walls to protect the indoor spaces from the outdoors when needed. In accordance with the weather and the desired level of intimacy, the slats can be opened or closed, connecting the Zula to the garden or, alternatively, to the interior living areas. The Zula’s details reflect its hybridity: its flooring is a natural continuation of the outdoor deck's dark wood planks, while the protection from the elements provided by the slats allows it to be furnished as an interior room.
The house is designed as a simple rectangular shape, whose uniqueness is found in its irregularly sloped roof, which creates two placid long facades and two dynamic short ones, where the mass can be seen to be divided into three “slices". The interior layout derives its logic from the roof, and is accordingly divided into three slices: a high-ceilinged double-story slice, which functions as the core of the home, flanked on either side by two-story slices.
The central slice incorporates, at one end, the airy stairway linking the two floors; at the other, it includes the kitchen and dining area. These are linked by large, industrial-style modular metal shelves that span both stories, housing the family library and serving as the backbone of the house. A massive iron ladder hung on a rail enables access to the highest shelves. The library wall metamorphoses into the wooden cupboards of the kitchen, and includes a hidden door to the pantry. This element can be seen from everywhere in the house; the tall vertical windows of the two short facades emphasize this space and allow natural light to flood in.
The slices situated on either side of the central area are divided into more intimate rooms: one includes the entrance foyer, with a guest room on one side and a family room and the pantry on the other; above these lies the master unit. The second slice includes the interior living room and the Zula, above which sits the children’s rooms.
The second floor is accessed by an iron stairway with wooden footboards, which leads to the bridge that links all elements of the house together. The children’s rooms open off of the bridge’s long side, and at its end lies the master bedroom, which includes an interior space for the bed as well as a private, roofed balcony. Between these two spaces is a glass-walled bathroom, whose transparency allows for the merging of indoors and outdoors. The outermost glass wall can be closed with shutters, for full privacy and darkness when desired.