“My father said it was in my blood because my grandfather was an architect in Bilbao,” architect Tatiana Bilbao said. But two years spent as a researcher in Mexico City’s Urban Housing and Development Department was a dampening experience. “It was very bureaucratic and I could see that it was not the way to get things done.”
And yet she had learned a lot there about how cities outside Mexico work, even traveling to China to witness the lightning speed of development in Shanghai. “Planning in Mexico is different from anywhere else; it is always reactive,” said Bilbao, adding that she became even more committed to exploring the relationships between spaces, context, and society.
In 2004, she opened a private office along with a separate research studio, MXDF (collaborating with 2009 Emerging Voice Derek Dellekamp and this year’s Michel Rojkind), to continue exploring issues about innovative approaches to urban development. Work in her own practice soon attracted attention for such projects as her collaboration on a beach house with artist Gabriel Orozco and a pavilion for the Jinhua Architecture Park in China commissioned by the artist Ai Wei Wei, both with elemental forms and sophisticated plans.
More recently, Bilbao’s private office has been able to take advantage of research and connections made through MXDF, where collaborations with universities, government offices, and students are common. The Biotechnological Park Building, a private university building at the Tecnológico de Monterey Campus Culiacán, provided such an opportunity. The building is conceived as an incubator bringing together students and innovative corporations for cross-fertilization of new ideas. The five-story building is stacked and skewed but also organically planned so that academic research carried out on the ground floor can make its way to the business entrepreneurs at the top. In addition, design elements on each floor—from the photovoltaic film on the fifth-floor glass to the brise soleil on the second floor made of tubes circulating with water—represent a different sustainable system essential to the whole.
At the Irapuato Music Hall and Sports Center in Guanajuato, Bilbao took a vernacular idea—the village outdoor arena used for everything from cockfights to music concerts—and transformed it into a yearlong civic space. The drum-shaped, 107,000-square-foot building mimics the shape of its central element, the stage, surrounded by tight rings of bench seating. Bilbao then wrapped the brick exterior (no glass was needed, as the climate is so mild) in more loosely sloped ramps that provide circulation, but more importantly are lined with terraces, restaurants, and bars open year-round whether or not the arena is scheduled with events.
Bilbao said, “I wanted to add spontaneous uses to the programmatic ones, so it would become a place people can really use.”