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Greenhouse for Plants and Humans in El Carmen, Peru


El Carmen, Ica, Peru

February 2023


Laura Salazar-Altobelli (Co-Director, Project Architect)


Pablo Sequero (Co-Director, Publishing), Juan Medina (Co-Director)


Laura Altobelli and Eduardo Salazar


Ivan Salinero


The greenhouse came about during the pandemic, in the context of Peru, where strict limitations were enforced and most of the population was kept behind doors. The clients are a couple who found refuge in their orchard, contact with the outdoors, and in the care and cultivation of fruit trees. They decided to expand their range of cultivation and thus the necessity of a greenhouse emerged where pests could be kept at bay, irrigation could be systematized, and chemical deterrents would not be used. Additionally, there was the desire to create an exterior living space where they could spend the day in fresh air and in proximity to their plants. As the architect, it meant the adjacency of programs could be productive to imagine the dualism between domestic rituals and the practical routines of plant care.
The goal of the project is to reduce the carbon footprint of its construction through life-cycle strategies including the salvaging of discarded or overstock materials, which are locally sourced. The base of floors, walls, and chimney are constructed as a monolithic socle, impermeable to time. The material is “ladrillo recocho,” meaning overcooked, which is a repurposed clinker brick, salvaged over months from discarded stock at local brick kilns.
The assembly of the elemental, diaphanous metal structure above suggests a transmutability in its lightness. Its humble scale allows for sourcing from the offcuts of agricultural infrastructure nearby. It is a greenhouse now, but it might be disassembled and take on a different life in the future.


The Peruvian desert, along the Pacific coast, is interrupted by lush agricultural valleys sprouting from the rivers that descend from the Andes. This patchwork of green is sustained by a network of canals that extend like branches from the riverbed. The Greenhouse for Plants and Humans is situated within this landscape on a small road between El Carmen, home to one of the largest Afro-Peruvian communities, and the San Jose Hacienda, a historical plantation. The project responds to a shift from this agricultural landscape of production and exploitation to incoming pressures of urbanization, in which domestic and productive environments overlap.

The context of the project is one of scarce resources, both natural and social, and requires their efficient management. While the greenhouse intends to establish a close relationship of care and subsistence between its inhabitants (humans and edible plants), the land is recognized as the continuation of the broader ecosystems of the desert. Native species such as the Huarango or Pacay tree whose natural arid habitat is under threat grow here, serving to add a microhabitat to the network for local fauna.

The architecture of the greenhouse looks toward the roadside vernacular of its surroundings as a dictionary of shapes and attitudes about in-between spaces and hybrid constructs. The typological character of the add-on emerges as the veranda, awning, or overbuild – a bit unsteady but necessary – as strategies of shading, ventilation, daylighting, and modulation.


Two adjacent bodies are perfectly asymmetrical twins: half a greenhouse and half an outdoor living room. This programmatic friction encourages symbiosis between two dissimilar functions. The fruit goes to the table; the hands clean the leaves. As the greenhouse is inhabited, the cultivation of plants is something that connects its caretakers to their broader community. It is the basis upon which they share resources and invite others to gather and participate in harvest.

The greenhouse performs through modest means, stripped down to the essential characteristics of a space that allows life to thrive within it. Situated in a mild subtropical desert, the permeable mesh that encloses the greenhouse protects plants such as berries, peppers, herbs, tomatoes and other fruits against pests. The translucent enclosure extends to cover the outdoor living room and folds down into an awning to protect the outdoor terrace from strong morning light. A thermal curtain modulates the sun, lowering indoor temperatures.

Any number of permutations could take place in which these adjacent spaces take on other functions or merge with each other as one. Over the course of a day it can be a seedling nursery, a pruning station, a kitchen, a dining room, a work space, a camping site, and more. This deliberately undefined character is transferred, unexpectedly, to the atmosphere of the project. Its character changes over the course of the day: Sharper in the central hours, vaporous and intertwined with the environment in the hours when the sun is low.

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