Villa de Leyva is a colonial gem several hours north of Bogotá. It was founded in the late 1500s as a retreat for the well-to-do and high-ranking officials. Because the town was not located on important shipping routes or near significant mineral deposits, the cobblestone town escaped the pressures of modernization.
Although Villa de Leyva has certainly been ‘discovered’, there is still more foot traffic than cars in the center of town. It is also possible to see a bridled donkey on a side street and know that it’s a working animal and not a photo prop.
One of the reasons Villa de Leyva is so beloved by tourists is because of its massive main square. At 14,000 square meters, it’s quite possibly the largest cobblestone plaza in South America. The white-washed buildings and churches surrounding the plaza were also beautifully preserved.
On the outskirts of town is an eccentric house named La Casa de Terracota. It was completed in 2012 by the Colombian architect Octavio Mendoza. In his own words, Casa Terracota is, “a project that transforms soil into habitable architecture, by simply using the supporting help of natural resources—e.g. the other three elements of nature (air, water and fire).”
Aside from the relatively low-cost of the construction process, there are several other benefits to using soil as a building material. The first benefit being the insulation properties of soil and the second being its harmonious relationship with nature. Imagine a house that could actually become stronger after being ‘cooked’ during a season of devastating wildfires.
While no one lives in the house, the rooms were furnished, wired with electricity, and the tiled bathrooms were connected to running water. I really liked how all of the textures in the house were imperfect and organic, but perhaps the nicest design element was the number of windows and skylights in the house. The warm afternoon light made the terracotta surfaces glow.
I’m not sure how durable terracotta homes are, but if one were available, I could see myself giving it a go. Especially in the desert- how wonderful to live without an AC bill!
About: Villa de Leyva
About: La Casa de Terracota