Andreas house in Crete
by Thanos N. Stasinopoulos

View from street
Introduction This is a small house amid an olive grove near the southern coast of Crete. The brief was for a holiday base of a typical family of four, to be used mainly in summer with occasional short visits in winter. Given the limited use, the required investment should be kept low. Furthermore, ‘it would be nice to have it ready for our holidays next summer’ as Andreas, the client, requested in July 2000.
Timing And so it was: The design was a matter of three weeks, followed by a five-month lethargic process for the building permit. Construction started in February 2001 and less than four months later the 118 sqm house was ready [photos]. Andreas was happy that the cost was clearly less than average, and his family was even happier when they moved for holidays in their new house in June 2001.
Basic principles Andreas house was conceived as a living place rather than a built form: The diurnal use of space -inner & outdoor- has been seen as more vital than the visual attributes of the structure, avoiding the frequent -vision oriented- treatment of buildings as 2- or 3-D images with little attention to their function as 4-D life vessels’. An additional objective was to minimize the cost & speed up construction following a 'Simple Is Beautiful' rule.
Special attention was given on the relationship between spaces to endorse summer functions. This was combined with a purely rational assessment of each building element of the scheme according to its functional or structural merits and less to its aesthetics (actually, in the entire design there is almost no element without a functional or structural ‘raison d'ętre’).
Layout The design is fairly simple, with a diagrammatic layout of three zones in plan -the middle one being 5m high- and two zones in section, with sleeping quarters on the upper level.
Upper level plan Upper level
Lower level plan Lower level

[click on drawings for larger size, then use the 'Back' button]

The tradition A major aim of the design has been to follow genuinely the deep essence of traditional architecture, not just its visual semantics as it is frequently the case.
Undeniably, the key characteristic of vernacular buildings used to be an authentic simplicity coupled with ingenious truth, leaving little ground for nonsense.
Thus, for centuries, the typical Cretan house has been a plain rectangular block made of solid masonry walls & timber flat roofs, frequently supported by arches. The initial simple volume was eventually transformed into more complex forms through add-ons like verandas, stairs or party walls, and through later extensions.
Symmetry was a common rule of thumb, as in all vernacular cultures, distorted only for very good reasons.
Openings were small, not just because glass was an expensive rarity, but also in order to restrict excessive heat flow and to reduce the strain during earthquakes or human threats.
The mild climate allows outdoor living during most of the year, thus the extension of the inner space into courtyards formed an indispensable part of every house.
Typical Cretan house -from 'Greek Traditional Architecture: Crete', D. Filippidis ed., Melissa 1985
Blending past & present All these basic features have been integrated in the design of Andreas house. In fact, the inner layout emulates a Cretan archetype, the ‘wide-front arched house’ [see examples] where a large arch divides the gap between the two long facades and elevated quarters are added to the narrow sides.
The courtyards have been switched here to verandas, enclosed by perforated walls that give protection from the sun, the wind & peeking eyes, with an BBQ grill near the kitchen instead of the traditional oven; these semi-outdoor 'rooms with no ceiling' are expected to host much of the 'summertime easy living', day & night.
A balcony made of metal & timber covers part of the front veranda, offering an outdoor section with permanent shade & rain protection, as well as a high spot with a view to the sea over olive groves at a distance of 3km.
The structure The structure is the simplest possible, just 3+2 walls supporting the roof & inner balconies made of timber beams. Pointless features like idle balconies, complex volumes or useless ornaments have been completely avoided.
The roof is an upside-down type covered with gravel, contained in a parapet that is tilted outwards to reduce rainwater flow over the facades. 

The compact shape has a low Surface-to-Volume ratio, thus decreasing the envelope size of the enclosed space and also easing the thermal strain.
The structure
Materials Beyond the esteem for the traditional spatial & structural concepts, the building components were selected considering contemporary resources, far from faking the vernacular: 
  The external walls are made of large Ytong blocks 30cm thick to accelerate construction, topped with concrete beams for extra strength against earthquakes.
  The roof is insulated with 7cm of Roofmate to protect from solar load.
  Inner walls are made of gypsum boards, similar to the old partitions made of plaster on wooden strips.
  Plastic rolling shutters are attached to the aluminum openings to provide full shading & ventilation.
  The veranda walls are made of exposed cement blocks.
  The shaded parking lot acknowledges the fact that cars have replaced horses.
2-in-1 The construction speed -unusual for a country where typically the erection of a house of that size takes almost a year- was mainly due to the deliberate minimalism of the design and the application of a ‘2-in-1’ approach, i.e. utilizing building components in a dual function thus saving time & money too. This cost & time cutting method has been employed in several manners:
  The walls are not just in-fills in a concrete frame but load bearing, made of insulating blocks.
  The lightweight timber roof minimizes earthquake stress to the entire structure, providing at the same time a decorative ceiling too.
  Cloth cabinets are also used as inner partitions.
  The openings have been set up for cross ventilation in all rooms avoiding the need for mechanical cooling.
Environmental tradition Vernacular architecture has always been a ‘sustainable’ one -it could not be otherwise, since it is only in recent times that man can somehow bypass nature through technology.
Vernacular dwellings were cleverly made so to interact with the natural conditions by themselves, as their occupants were trying to cop with the positive & negative aspects of the environment in a cost effective manner without waste, assisted only by their ingenuity & understanding of natural laws & patterns.
Therefore, if we truly want to express our appreciation for tradition today, the hollow imitation of old forms -costly & useless- is far from the point, since those forms have been a product of structural or environmental necessity rather than of pure 'artistic' or symbolic choice.
How ‘traditional’ are contemporary concrete vaults in Santorini where air-conditioning compensates for the lack of insulation? And how ‘vernacular’ are swimming pools with fresh water on dry islands, where water has been for ages -and still is- a scarce life source?
In contrast to th
at t
ravesty, adaptation to the environmental conditions in a passive manner is a valuable lesson from the past architecture, and also an excellent manifestation of our comprehension & esteem for the vernacular virtues, much more sincere than pseudo 'arches' or polyurethane 'beams'.
That view is thoroughly expressed in Andreas house. In addition to the layout & structural principles related directly to past archetypes materialized through contemporary resources, there are two more aspects that link the building with its cultural & natural environment: Insolation & ventilation.
Solar control Crete is a sunny place, in fact too sunny; solar radiation in summer is very intense, reaching a daily sum of 7.8 kWh/m2 on horizontal in July, thus making solar control a vital necessity to reduce discomfort. Besides the light colour of the envelope, solar input is reduced by additional measures:
  While doors to the verandas are wide in order to facilitate in-out contact, windows are small to reduce solar load without any negative side effects on view & daylight.
  The inner space is protected by extra insulation, offering a U-value considerably lower than the regulations limits (walls 0.35 instead of 0.7, roof  0.4 instead of 0.5 W/m2K). Additionally, an amount of daily heat is absorbed by the solid wall mass, like in old masonry walls.
  The two verandas -at opposite orientation- are shaded by the main volume & the perforated walls either in the morning or in the afternoon, thus allowing outdoor activities all day long. Layers of cane & climbers will soon enhance shading, both in the verandas & the parking lot.
Shadows on August 15
& April 27
09:00 12:00 15:00




Ventilation Air-conditioning has become quite fashionable in Greek homes recently, increasing pressure on the national power grid; in order to avoid such a unit -or even ceiling fans- there is special provision to remove heat from the interior & create draft by natural ventilation:
Two pairs of openings at the top of the four elevations promote the extraction of warm air accumulated at the upper part of the main volume, according to the wind direction or the pressure difference between the shaded & sunlit sides.
Additionally, each room has at least two windows facing each other for local cross ventilation [see plan].
Similarly, the veranda enclosure is perforated in order to offer protection without blocking ventilation. 
Results The first reports from Andreas family clearly show that the combination of insulation & ventilation does work, offering comfort even with quite high ambient temperatures.
[click on thumbnails below for larger size in a new window]
A few photos of the project
click for larger size click for larger size click for larger size click for larger size
The construction at early stage (Feb. 21) The house almost completed (May 19) View towards the kitchen (May 19) View along the long axis (May 19)
Typical Cretan 'wide-front arched houses'
click for larger size click for larger size (from 'Greek Traditional Architecture: Crete', D. Filippidis ed., Melissa 1985)



TNS main page  

Web layout by TNS with MS FrontPage 2000 for 1024x768 24-bit colour display.
Page posted 16.07.01

counting since 18.7.01