Elysium Caved Villas – The villas are located in Agia Pelagia, in Heraklion Crete and consist of 5 caved villas, each one with its own private pool. The villas are totally implemented in the landscape and provide a unique sensation of luxury. A horizontal slot, creates a void in the terrain and navigates the villas towards the view, while maintaining the organic form of the landscape with the reset of the existing topography. An artificial cave is created, a space below the level of the natural ground, with close communication with the earth, but with a great protection from it. In that way an unobstructed view towards the sea is achieved, while on the same time you have the feeling that you are protected inside the earth.
Architizer chatted with Lefteris Tsikandilakis of Lefteris Tsikandilakis + Architects Studio to learn more about this project
Architizer: What inspired the initial concept for your design?
Lefteris Tsikandilakis: Crete with its natural topography, its intense contrasts, the wild nature, and the sun have been the main inspiration for this study. Through a natural scenery, the caved villas seem to emerge from the ground, which is obvious from the selection of local materials, local vegetation and elements that mimic the cretan landscape, such as the water element that is present on all the villas. All those together offer a unique experience of functionality and usage, the immediate contact with the nature, always with respect to the surroundings. The combination of modern architecture and traditional elements, that implements in the environment, has as a goal the enhancement of the Greek scenery. Our main goal was to create a result that would be able to provide a local atmosphere filled with greek light.
What do you believe is the most unique or ‘standout’ component of the project?
The main standout component of the project is the treatment of the landscape. It reminds the cretan land and we have created also a timeless architecture that expresses the land, the rugged mountain, and the intense contrasts such as light-shadow, cold-heat, interior-exterior, open-closed. The main goal was to give a new approach of the traditional caved architecture that started in Santorini, with a bold geometry as a slice in the mountain, with 5 villas arranged along it, while vertical walls, water elements and local vegetation complete the picture. The above mentioned elements allow to the landscape to continue to flow and breathe, whereas the full-height window openings create a visual continuity of the interior and the exterior.
What was the greatest design challenge you faced during the project, and how did you navigate it?
The biggest challenge that we faced during the design was the need to create a dialogue between both, the user and the villas, and the user and their environment, with the least environmental footprint. This synthetic choice-challenge, created a clear orientation of the houses towards the view, by shifting their axis of development, which is the core of the five villas. At the same time, it gives them independence and privacy while allowing them to connect with each other, when the visitors wish. Thus, the sense of neighborhood is quite strong, with references to the distinct cretan culture.
How did the context of your project — environmental, social or cultural — influence your design?
The need to provide a new experience of your surroundings during your stay, was the main influence of our design. The visitor not only stays in the villa, but experiences it in al the ways and with all his senses. The interior areas function with the exterior, with the intention of creating a constant dialogue with the cretan climate and landscape. Our aim was the, the stay to the villas to be a journey back to roots, a reconnection with nature, with all senses to participate, with the people gathering all together to a minimalistic but luxurious space and rediscovering the meaning of hosting in harmony with nature and the seasons. This approach breaks away from the classic pattern of just designing with the goal to satisfy only the needs of the user, and offers something new, where architecture functions as an experience.
What drove the selection of materials used in the project?
The materials and the furniture used in both the interior and the exterior areas are fully compatible with the natural terrain. The stone, the wood, the earthy pallet, the vegetation and the smells that thrive in the area combine in harmony and represent Crete. Furthermore, they derive their colors from the landscape by following a relaxing color pallet. Similar to the exterior, the interior continues on a similar way, with the addition of furniture from European designers that provide a sense of luxury, without being pretentious. After all, our aim was the usage of materials that interact with the landscape and lead to a uniform result.
What is your favorite detail in the project and why?
The contact with the landscape has been studied in all its detail in Elysium Caved Suites. One unique detail is, that in the uncovered area of the plot various types of plants, bushes and trees will be planted, in order to match the environment but also the main aesthetic of the villas. A green-garden area is created, where the guests can wander and experience a different reality. In a prominent position of the plot, where you can have an overall view, a belvedere is placed with a barbecue and a seating area. There is the opportunity to organize themed evenings , and the tenants have the ability to gather all together to a space. It becomes obvious that beyond the personal space of each visitor these details have been created both on each villa, as well as to the total plot, in order to achieve a continuous and constant contact with nature.
How important was sustainability as a design criteria as you worked on this project?
We believe that the impact of architecture in the ecosystem should be as low as possible. The energy saving achieved in these constructions is their most important advantage. Inside the earth the temperature is stable, a fact that reduces the consumption of heating and cooling. The limited existence of exposed surfaces combined with the increased protection from the dust and radiation prevents the aging and cracking of the materials, and also reduces significantly the maintenance costs. Moreover, there is an economy to the materials used during the excavation process, which are then placed back to the buildings, the foundation and the planted roof. Through that, nothing is compromised from the quality of the natural environment, while on the meantime the building is totally implemented to the natural terrain.
How do you imagine this project influencing your work in the future?
Sustainability in architecture is the future and will influence from now on our total approach in all projects. In the face of climate change, top architects and designers reconsider the way we are currently building by using more local materials, reviving craftmanship and supporting building innovations. The eco-friendly, sustainable architecture can be found back in ancient civilizations. Years later, the meaning of sustainable architecture has evolved, and is now used as an answer to environmental crises. The buildings have been designed to adjust to ecosystems with minimal interventions, by using eco-friendly materials and renewable energy solutions. For us, it is vital, that the common understanding of human wellbeing, incorporates the planets wellbeing, and we believe that this project is the beginning for a new design approach.
3d rendering: TABARQ
For more on Elysium Caved Villas, please visit the in-depth project page on Architizer.