Culture / Travel

How a Writer Built a Fully Sustainable, Glass Hideaway in the Mexican Desert

Built by Prashant Ashoka, Casa Etérea Is Available for Travelers Looking For a Quiet Retreat

BY Steven Hempel // 01.08.21

As the pandemic continues, people are searching for hideaways to book — small hotels and homes with a strong design aesthetic and minimal contact with others. Among them is Casa Etérea, 20 miles outside San Miguel de Allende. It lies among the peaks of the Los Picachos mountain range, at more than 8,000 feet in altitude, surrounded by steep canyons, dry scrub, deciduous forests, and oak woodlands. It is the love child of Singaporean-born writer and photographer Prashant Ashoka, who envisioned building a secluded writer’s retreat that would serve as inspiration and allow visitors to connect with nature in a place of quiet and stillness.

The fact that the 800-square-foot, fully sustainable glass-clad modernist sculpture sits quietly on the slopes is a marvel of design and perseverance. Set among rugged terrain, it’s accessible only via a four-wheel drive vehicle. To build Casa Etérea — which translates to “ethereal” — Ashoka and his team had to overcome the terrain that makes the destination so special. With neither electricity nor roads to access the site, everything had to be built specifically for the project. Yet it is this setting — amongst native white-tail deer, mountain lions, hawks, and rattlesnakes — that makes it so appealing.

Almost like a sliver of glass, Casa Etérea rises from the mountainside, its exterior blending seamlessly with its surroundings while absorbing and reflecting the constantly changing light. To protect native birds, a special patterned ultraviolet coating was designed for the exterior glass panels to make them reflective to humans yet visible to birds. In keeping its promise of sustainability and a small environmental footprint, the dwelling is powered entirely from solar energy. And, it’s the sun that helps create a near-constant state of transformation, with the reflective panels changing appearance dramatically as day moves to night.

Casa Eterea (Photo by Prashant Ashoka)
Furnishings at Casa Etérea include a statement copper bathtub beside the bed. (Photo by Prashant Ashoka)

Taking inspiration from famed Mexican modernist architect Luis Barragán, particularly his use of low forms and right angles, Ashoka incorporated light and shadow into the design so they appear to be structural elements. His open-planned concept merges two rectilinear volumes that create a V-shaped intersection — similar to the staggering ravine visible from the exposed glass shower while the central living space and bedroom make use of floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors to frame vistas of the towering cliffs. These connect with a decked patio and pool area shaded by olive and pomegranate trees. Inside, exposed ceiling beams and concrete walls celebrate the construction process, while a material palate of jute, leather, wood, and stone continues the natural aesthetic. Furnishings include a statement copper bathtub beside the bed and vintage Chinese pottery that all add to the layered experience.

When asked what it means to him to realize such an inspirational project, Ashoka explained it best: “The challenge of building on such a rugged landscape was truly a life-changing experience. I hope for guests to experience a strong connection to nature, and to find stillness while contemplating our role as stewards in the preservation of our natural ecosystems.”

Casa Etérea is available to book for us to two people through Instagram @casa_eterea; $358 per night, with a two-day minimum.

FERN FREEMAN

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