While there are already a handful of architecture schools in Tijuana, renowned local architect Jorge Gracia was not happy with any of them. They did not, he believed, focus enough on theory or construction, they did not lend students enough of a global perspective, and they did not adequately prepare them for practice. So he did what any maverick architect would do: he decided to start his own.
If all goes according to plan, Gracia’s program, called the Escuela Libre de Arquitectura, would start this September. The school, which would begin with twenty students and eventually reach about 250, applied for accreditation in late February. It will get a response from the federal government at the end of May.
“We want students to see Tijuana as a lab for architecture,” said Gracia, who has built several inventive homes in the city and is well-known for his Hotel Endemico in Valle de Guadelupe, a wine region nearby. He has already begun teaching a one-month post-graduate course called Taller Arquitectura Practica inside a local gallery he designed.
The school would consist of a year of classroom learning, a year of apprenticing with international architects and builders, and a year of sharing and intensive local investigations. He hopes studios will be intimately linked to the city’s urban ills, laying out solutions for a city he badly wants to improve. “I want things to happen,” said Gracia. “When we build public buildings here nothing good comes of it. Teaching several generations of architects is the only way you can really make a difference.”
The school would be located adjacent to Gracia’s studio, on a once-seedy stretch of Avenue Revolucion, the city’s main thoroughfare. Gracia hopes to build a new building next door soon, similar to the raw steel structure he designed for the Culinary Arts School, another local academy.
He does not deny the idea that this could be Tijuana’s version of SCI-Arc. “I was thinking that was my ambition.” And in a place like Tijuana, where new galleries and facilities seem to open every day, it is very possible. “Tijuana grows very, very fast,” he said.