Picture Frame House


The house forms a gateway to a back-yard pleasure garden

The Picture Frame House is a two-story concrete, masonry and wood structure built into the side of a ravine in the Balinese countryside near the town of Ubud. It consists of a U-shaped volume containing private spaces (a studio and two bedroom suites) that is elevated above a more public and open lower level for lounging, cooking and dining. A small courtyard at the centre of the U that provides access to all spaces features a reflecting pool at its base in order to perform as a naturally cooling thermal chimney.


Central courtyard of the house. The upper level is enclosable while the lower level is mostly open

The house is approached via an entrance courtyard garden at the upper level, from which the central courtyard descends one story. A gallery winds around three edges of the central courtyard while a stair descends along a fourth edge. The two bedroom suites are situated at each side of the house such that the studio is suspended between them. The studio features large sliding doors that open toward the courtyard along one edge and toward the ravine on the other.


Exterior gallery to two bedroom suites and a transparent studio suspended in-between

The house’s ravine-facing façade features a large wooden ‘picture frame’ of sorts, intended to architecturally unite the elevated volume with the open, veranda-like lower level. As the house is passed through en route to a lavish back-yard pleasure garden where daily life takes place most of the year, the picture frame forms a gateway between this realm and the outside world.


The Picture Frame House during construction


Studio, looking toward ravine


Studio, looking toward front entrance court across central courtyard


One of two bedroom suites


Each bathroom contains a private outdoor patio with garden

The client is a builder and furniture maker who commissioned me to provide him with a basic conceptual design that he could adapt and refine to suit himself and his family. As such, the project is a typological design more than it is a detailed architectural design. The type can be described, in this case, as a semi-open U-shaped hillside house articulated around a central courtyard / cooling chimney.


Initial model study

Screen Shot 2016-08-05 at 12.01.12

(Satellite image courtesy Apple Maps)


Bridge over a lotus pond between house and back-yard pleasure garden



About Rafael Gomez-Moriana

I am an architect, writer and educator. rafagomo.com chronicles my architectural making, writing, teaching and curating activity, while criticalista.com is an archive of my writings as well as a platform for venting personal rants and observations. I studied architecture at the University of Waterloo (Canada) and at the Berlage Institute (the Netherlands). I direct the University of Calgary’s architecture term-abroad program in Barcelona, and have previously taught in the Metropolis Masters Program in Architecture and Urban Culture, CIEE Architecture and Design program, as well as at Carleton University and the University of Manitoba.


  1. Raphael – I love this house, its two faces, its picture frame – pitched roof. It appears simple, yet daily life in it, living, cooking, eating, sleeping, bathing must each be special and wonderful experiences. Congratulations! Christoph

  2. Rafael Gomez-Moriana

    Thanks Christoph. Looking forward to bathing under the stars there soon!

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