The Architectural League’s 30th annual Emerging Voices Award brings a focus to creative practices that will influence the direction of architecture. Each of the eight firms will deliver a lecture at the Cooper Union’s Rose Auditorium at 41 Cooper Square in Manhattan. The next lecture takes place on Friday, March 30 at 7:00 p.m. when Arquitectura 911 and Atelier TAG will present their work.
Mexico City, Mexico
Mexico City–based Arquitectura 911sc is on a mission to bring back social engagement to cities. Partners Jose Castillo Oléa and Saidee Springall del Villar founded the firm in 2002 to explore “how an architectural practice can bridge the gap between design and the city,” said Castillo Oléa. “We’re obsessed with this connection between architecture and social engagement.”
Both architects studied at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, under Rafael Moneo and Rem Koolhaas, where they gained an interest in “reinventing a rapport between architecture and the city,” according to Castillo Oléa. Back in Mexico City, the firm grew from small interior projects to large-scale theaters, housing, and institutional projects.
One of their largest is now under construction at the University of Guadalajara: a 344,000-square-foot performing arts center in a rapidly growing part of the city that uses a social core to knit together three distinct theaters for experimental and commercial performances. “Social spaces are working as a glue,” Castillo Oléa said. The three theater volumes are arranged around an elevated “public square” to create a sense of drama at the crossroads of the university. Using richly textured concrete and glass, the overall composition creates a distinct skyline across the campus through a visually straightforward aesthetic.
More in keeping with the firm’s ambition to effect urban change through architecture, Arquitectura 911sc approached one of Mexico’s largest residential developers with an idea for a dense social housing block in Mexico City. Castillo Oléa said the developer, known more for low-density town homes, eventually accepted their urban concept, and the resulting five-story ARA Iztacalco now houses 738 units organized around interior courtyards and above a level of retail, making it one of the densest projects in Mexico City. With its dramatic financial success, the project demonstrated that high-density urban housing can sell faster than its low-density counterparts. ARA Iztacalco won the National Housing Award in 2011, lending political recognition to a new urban model that works.
By actively engaging clients and the government, Arquitectura 911sc plans to demonstrate how architecture can reclaim its social relevance. “We try to see ourselves moving from the sidelines and informing politics,” Castillo Oléa said. “We think the battles for sustainability will be played out in cities. In a place like Mexico, how we build our cities offers a chance for architecture to become more relevant.”