Metropolis magazine recently featured an article I penned about a home in the Andes Mountains of Ecuador designed by a pair of SCI-Arc graduates who now live and practice architecture in Quito. Aaron Leppanen and Gabriela Anker are not only founders and partners at Leppanen Anker Arquitectura, but are married to each other as well. Today, we’re running the feature in its entirety here:
By J. Michael Welton
Not every outcome from the pandemic was negative.
Case in point: Back in 2016, Veronica Burbano and her husband David hired architects Aaron Leppanen and Gabriela Anker to design a small getaway home in the Andes Mountains, an hour from their residence in Quito, Ecuador.
But the 2020 pandemic changed the project’s size and scope. “It started as a small weekend house for entertainment, and then COVID hit—and they decided to move out there permanently,” Leppanen says. “There are great views and space for their three kids to play.”
The architects’ final plans laid out a one-story, 5,000-square-foot home with three bedrooms and a whopping seven bathrooms. “Four are interior and three are outside,” he says. “One’s in a guest house with a laundry, bedroom, and full bath.”
The exterior baths are for guests; the couple routinely hosts large outdoor gatherings that require additional facilities. “There are parties until six or seven in the morning, whether it’s celebrating a baptism or a family get-together,” he says. “It’s important and influential in architectural design here, particularly for the outside.”
Anker’s a native of Quito but attended the University of Virginia’s School of Architecture before enrolling in graduate studies at SCI-Arc in Los Angeles. There she met Michigan native Leppanen. After graduating in 2006, they both practiced in L.A. until relocating to Quito in 2011, marrying in 2012, and setting up shop. “We were a small lab, but we were doing a 14-story building, a 30-story building, and a couple of houses,” Anker says. “People were willing to hear a different story about architecture.”
Especially Burbano, who is herself an interior designer in Quito. “I had seen their work and loved their unique style,” she says. “It’s very organic and clean— I felt we could be a great match.”
Her new home sits on a five-acre site, perched on the edge of a cliff overlooking a golf course 80 feet below. At an altitude of 10,000 feet, it’s surrounded by mountains— including the snow-capped Cotopaxi volcano that influenced the design. “The curvature of the roof mimics the volcanic cone, and opens up to the Andes Mountains,” Leppanen says.
To build that roof, Lennanen and Anker first worked with structural engineers in Ecuador, then others at Rubechi Wood Technology in Italy. “They specialize in the design and engineering of these structures,” Leppanen says. “They designed the size and connections for parametric construction.”
The primary material used for the walls and roof is XLam, a spruce cross-laminated timber produced by Wiehag Timber Construction in Austria. “There are 100-foot-long beams for the roof structure that were formed and fabricated [in Austria],” he says. “There are six long-formed, curved beams, and then 300 tertiary members.”
The undulating roof drops down to nine feet in places, then soars up to 18 feet for the views. “When we were testing the proportions of the curve, we were going back and forth between intimate and tall spaces,” Anker says. “We created a coziness with the roof that doesn’t feel unproportioned or oversized, even though it’s double height.”
Exterior walls are glazed and clad in local white stone that’s travertine-like and porous. Window frames are copper-plated, and handmade by a Ecuadoran artisan. Flooring, meanwhile, is local eucalyptus wood, along with small pebble stones flown in from Acapulco. “Their color is whiter than anything we could find locally,” Leppanen says.
It’s a contrast to the hues that move in and out of the house. “When you look out, it brings in the clouds and the amazing light,” Anker says. “You see red and yellow colors, even in the storms.”
Thanks to the pandemic, now her clients can experience them every day of the year.