Posts tagged with "Mexico":

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For Mexico City–based Fernanda Canales, uncertainty is part of architecture

The Architectural League of New York’s Emerging Voices award and lecture series highlights individuals and firms with distinct design “voices”, singling out those with the potential to go on to even greater heights. 2018 saw two rounds of judging; first by a panel of past Emerging Voices winners, and a second to pick the winners. The first-round jury included Virginia San Fratello, Sebastian Schmaling, Wonne Ickx, Lola Sheppard, Marcelo Spina, Carlos Jimenez, and Marlon Blackwell, as well as members of the second-round jury, Sunil Bald, Lisa Gray, Stella Betts, Jing Liu, Paul Makovsky, Tom Phifer, Chris Reed, and Billie Tsien. AN profiled all of the emerging voices firms in our February print issue. Mexico City-based Fernanda Canales will deliver her lecture on March 8th, 2018, at the SVA Theatre in Manhattan. After studying architecture at prestigious schools in Spain and Mexico, Fernanda Canales quickly discovered that the rigorous techniques she had learned had little relevance in the real world. Since starting her firm, in 2002, she has opted for a more flexible, thoughtful, personal approach. “Instead of relying on formal, definite solutions, I try to give informal, indeterminate strategies,” said Canales, who has no office, no employees, and spends most of her time on construction sites, morphing her projects through constant observation and feedback. “I realized that my preparations didn’t match the reality of what clients want, what workers can do, the limits of budgets, and the reality of everyday life,” she said. The Bruma House, located on a rural site about two hours from Mexico City, began as a fairly typical home for a couple and their two children. But once her construction team began work, Canales realized that the project needed to better adapt to its lush landscape and to a climate that swung dramatically from day to night. Now, no rooms are directly attached, so every space has at least two windows, allowing for maximum natural light. The building meanders its way through the site, maintaining existing trees and plant life in the process. Since starting her firm, Canales has also shifted her focus to highlight the intermediate, often-neglected spaces between public and private. These, she noted, often have greater impact on the users and those living around the projects. The Portales Dwelling, a multifamily apartment in Mexico City, diverges from the city’s typical housing blocks, with their closed stairs, shut-off alleys, and unimaginative envelopes. Portales opens up in every place it can, with large balconies in front, uncovered patios in back, open stairs in between, and roof terraces above. “It addresses the beautiful climate of Mexico City, instead of ignoring it,” said Canales, who added that the addition of green and open spaces helps the development better fit into its context, minimizing the usual scorn from neighbors. With the Elena Garro Cultural Center, also in Mexico City, Canales converted a long-abandoned private manor into a public amenity. The first step was removing a large wall between the home and sidewalk, reinforcing that all were welcome. To further show the public what was inside the cloistered historic house, Canales created a large glass-walled addition in front, framed in concrete, exposing books and other amenities, which are surrounded by a series of updated gardens and courtyards. To keep her work as simple as possible, Canales generally avoids complex new materials, working often with concrete, which she values for its affordability, durability, and ease of use. “I go for what workers know how to do. It’s the most practical solution,” she noted. Her reading rooms, built for the Mexican Ministry of Culture for use around the country, are modular concrete structures that function as meeting and recreational spaces. Their perforated facades, which create an effect that Canales calls “social lanterns,” allow them to be easily built (without glazing or other complications) and their interiors to be visible from the outside, making them safer. Her careful, socially oriented approach, Canales pointed out, is not new, and she’s long been studying Mexican social housing—particularly its boom times, like the 1920s and 1950s. She’s soon publishing a book, called Shared Structure, Private Spaces: Housing in Mexico (Actar Publishers). “I can’t imagine doing without thinking or thinking without doing,” she said. “It’s all important research.”
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Comunal: Taller de Arquitectura deploys vernacular construction in Mexico’s traditional communities

The Architectural League of New York’s Emerging Voices award and lecture series highlights individuals and firms with distinct design “voices”, singling out those with the potential to go on to even greater heights. 2018 saw two rounds of judging; first by a panel of past Emerging Voices winners, and a second to pick the winners. The first-round jury included Virginia San Fratello, Sebastian Schmaling, Wonne Ickx, Lola Sheppard, Marcelo Spina, Carlos Jimenez, and Marlon Blackwell, as well as members of the second-round jury, Sunil Bald, Lisa Gray, Stella Betts, Jing Liu, Paul Makovsky, Tom Phifer, Chris Reed, and Billie Tsien. AN profiled all of the emerging voices firms in our February print issue. Comunal: Taller de Arquitectura founders Jesica Amescua and Mariana Ordóñez Grajales will deliver their lecture on March 15, 2018, at the SVA Theatre in Manhattan. Since establishing their practice in 2015, Mariana Ordóñez Grajales and Jesica Amescua, of Mexico City–based Comunal: Taller de Arquitectura, have continually worked to push the limits of their socially guided architectural practice and the architecture and building that result from it. The practice combines academically minded research with materials engineering and community-led participatory design and construction to generate new forms of vernacular architecture in rural communities. “Our work begins with a social feasibility study,” Ordóñez explained. “We analyze and understand the capacity, willingness, and degree of organization that a community has to face difficulties. Then, we carry out the processes of research, social management, participatory design methodology, and finally, construction itself.” For the architects, the true power of their profession lies in their ability to facilitate the culturally appropriate material improvement of these glossed-over rural communities, as evidenced by the firm’s work on a series of childbirth centers across Tenejapa Municipality, in the Mexican state of Chiapas. Comunal partnered with a group of local midwives to conceptualize a network of pitched clapboard structures that will help the delivery nurses formalize their practices and achieve their goal of eliminating infant and maternal mortality in the region. Through built projects and academic research, the office also works to stave off the modernizing—and standardizing—effects of market forces and government regulation, which can produce alienating, short-lived structures and can often disincentivize the use of trusted materials like bamboo and thatch. In a recent project, for Mexican social housing developer Infonavit, created in partnership with Mexico City-based architects Escobedo Soliz, Comunal helped create a courtyard home prototype built from these traditional materials. The vivendas are defined on one end by a home capped with a steeply raked roof that conceals a double-height interior volume containing a loft and the sleeping hammocks that are customary in the region. The courtyard complex is designed for passive ventilation and is erected out of running bonds of offset, buff-colored concrete block, with stone foundations. An indoor-outdoor kitchen sits opposite the lofted space, with a generous patio sandwiched in between. Amescua said, “Vernacular architecture poses a close link and a constant dialogue with the territory, where the symbiosis between it and the inhabitant becomes evident not only in the form and functioning of the architectural objects but in the way in which elements are grouped.” Working with traditional materials and construction techniques fueled Comunal’s approach for another social housing project, from 2013, with Unión de Cooperativas Tosepan Titataniske, a cooperative made up of indigenous communities in the state of Puebla. In this project, the designers pushed to incorporate bamboo construction in ways that would still allow regulators from the state to approve— and potentially fund—the project. For the development, Comunal and local partners developed a set of modular infill panels and roof trusses that sit on or between concrete-block walls and bamboo piers buttressed by intricate brickwork. The wall panels utilize bamboo and cementitious materials alternatively, depending on functional need, while the corrugated metal panel roof is designed to facilitate rainwater capture on site. Lessons gleaned from the project were implemented in a 2016 effort in the same area that utilizes a primary set of concrete posts and beams for structure instead of bamboo. The social housing project was recognized in November 2016 with a silver medal in Mexico’s National Housing Commission’s First National Rural Housing Contest and has led to new work with the organization.
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Luis Aldrete’s collaborative practice elevates the quotidian

The Architectural League of New York’s Emerging Voices award and lecture series highlights individuals and firms with distinct design “voices”, singling out those with the potential to go on to even greater heights. 2018 saw two rounds of judging; first by a panel of past Emerging Voices winners, and a second to pick the winners. The first-round jury included Virginia San Fratello, Sebastian Schmaling, Wonne Ickx, Lola Sheppard, Marcelo Spina, Carlos Jimenez, and Marlon Blackwell, as well as members of the second-round jury, Sunil Bald, Lisa Gray, Stella Betts, Jing Liu, Paul Makovsky, Tom Phifer, Chris Reed, and Billie Tsien. AN profiled all of the emerging voices firms in our February print issue. Estudio de Arquitectura founder Luis Aldrete will deliver his lecture on March 22, 2018, at the SVA Theatre in Manhattan. Luis Aldrete’s Guadalajara, Mexico-based practice, founded in 2007, works across a variety of scales and types, from small public facilities to housing towers. “We like to work directly with those executing our designs to create what would otherwise be impossible,” architect Luis Aldrete explained, describing the hand-in-glove relationship his elemental practice has with the workers who build his projects. “What we can achieve using mostly our hands is incredible.” Because some builders do not know how to read and write, the architect will typically take a more proactive role in directing construction and coordinating tradespeople—and not just by spending extra time on-site. Aldrete synergizes his design sensibilities with what his workers can produce. “We don’t believe in detail drawings,” Aldrete said. “For us, [overwrought] construction details represent a type of over-design. Instead of producing complicated detailing, we like to focus on precision in construction.” The buildings Aldrete designs, like the series of poetically spare shelters in the Mexican state of Jalisco he designed in conjunction with Chinese artist Ai Weiwei and Mexican architect Tatiana Bilbao along the Pilgrim Route, are quick to show off that precision. The cooling shelters, long and wedge-shaped, are designed with solid adobe-colored concrete-block walls that dematerialize as they rise. They dot the pilgrimage route, offering respite from the heat while providing water and camping facilities. “Some people intellectualize architectural discourse too much,” Aldrete said. “We like working on quotidian concerns, like shade and rest, instead. The way one can provoke life in common spaces is inspiring.” The architect and his half-dozen or so employees have more than a handful of projects in the pipeline, including a trio of apartment towers slated for a rapidly urbanizing section of the otherwise flat city of Guadalajara, as well as several moody single-family homes and a series of social housing complexes across the region. These low-slung masonry complexes typically feature monolithic punched openings, structurally dependent massing, and pockets of interconnected and shared outdoor spaces. The 15-story concrete-frame towers, on the other hand, are more platonic in their forms and create a triangular courtyard between one another, leaving a large percentage of the site open for public spaces and gardens. The exoskeleton for each of the gridded towers creates shade for the units within, which are designed as spare and variously lit quarters. Like several of the firm’s projects, the 132-unit development is guided by a “love and passion for ruins,” as Aldrete said. “Some of our work looks like ruins, and we like that.”
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AGENCY uses deep research to push architectural boundaries

The Architectural League of New York’s Emerging Voices award and lecture series highlights individuals and firms with distinct design “voices”, singling out those with the potential to go on to even greater heights. 2018 saw two rounds of judging; first by a panel of past Emerging Voices winners, and a second to pick the winners. The first-round jury included Virginia San Fratello, Sebastian Schmaling, Wonne Ickx, Lola Sheppard, Marcelo Spina, Carlos Jimenez, and Marlon Blackwell, as well as members of the second-round jury, Sunil Bald, Lisa Gray, Stella Betts, Jing Liu, Paul Makovsky, Tom Phifer, Chris Reed, and Billie Tsien. AN originally profiled all of the emerging voices firms in our February print issue. AGENCY founders Ersela Kripa and Stephen Mueller will deliver their lecture on March 8, 2018, at the SVA Theatre in Manhattan. Ersela Kripa and Stephen Mueller started AGENCY to consider the margins of the world. “We use our architectural training to uncover the shrinking of individual agency in public space and the reduction of human rights or potential human rights violations,” Kripa said. Working out of El Paso, Texas, the pair deploys words, maps, wearables, and installations to uncover contradictions in liminal spaces like military training sites, refugee camps, and borders—especially the one between the United States and Mexico. The architects completed their first project as AGENCY in 2008. A decade later, the firm continues to be defined by deep research into contested urban spaces and humans’ relationships to environments, built and digital, that are increasingly designed to collect personal data and monitor people’s actions without their consent. Kripa and Mueller, both instructors at Texas Tech University College of Architecture – El Paso, wound up in the city after a research visit for their forthcoming book, Fronts: Security and the Developing World. They were studying military training environments, like Playas, New Mexico—a village of hundreds of empty homes the U.S. Department of Homeland Security uses for counter-terrorism training. Increasingly, these simulated spaces feature shantytowns and junkyards, informal typologies associated with the developing world. AGENCY, Mueller said, believes these are both a “preamble to where the U.S. military can engage in the future” as well as a reflection of state attitudes toward public space in the contemporary city. Along similar lines of inquiry, the duo writes "Border Dispatches," a series for AN that explores these and other expressions of militarism along the U.S.-Mexico border. These are worthy topics, but are they architecture? AGENCY believes its designs could not manifest without the deep research it conducts. “In our built work, we start with intensive research and problem identification, where we proactively uncover hidden or emerging realities that are just beneath the surface of contemporary urban space,” Mueller said. “We try to imagine a scenario that can be inflected by designed objects or spaces that have a discreet presence.” The approach is apparent in Selfie Wall – A Public Sphere for Private Data,¹ a subversion of the made-for-Instagram interiors that trend online. For El Paso’s annual art fair, Kripa and Mueller fashioned the ideal selfie sphere from 162 units of CNC-milled composite aluminum panels that diffuse soft LED light. The pair asked visitors to hashtag their photos from the installation so they could be collected and tracked. “People were very on board with hashtagging selfies so we could collect them,” Kripa said. “That was surprising.” AGENCY may remake Selfie Wall in Juarez, the Mexican city right across from El Paso, with an eye toward connecting people on both sides of the border. Design, they believe, can—and should—be deployed to control data, as well. For Delta Fabrics – Air Pollution Data Mapping,² a project executed during the 2017 Shenzhen Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism\Architecture, the pair walked the border between Hong Kong and Shenzhen with Arduino sensors to monitor air quality. The region’s air is cleaner than it was in the past, but it’s sometimes hard to tell what pollutants still linger, as the Chinese government often releases inaccurate data. To empower people with knowledge about the air they breathe, Kripa and Mueller are looking to mass-produce the sensors and distribute them to residents, who can then track air quality throughout their day. This should be a busy year for AGENCY. At home, Kripa and Mueller are working with a local entrepreneur to adaptively reuse a warehouse site, transforming it into a kitchen incubator and outdoor public market. Fronts is coming out this fall, and after that, the duo is scaling up the Delta Fabrics project. “We want to dive deeper into understanding how to democratize data so [people can] measure their own environment on their own, to take back agency a little bit,” Kripa said.

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¹ Selfie Wall – A Public Sphere for Private Data was commissioned by the El Paso Museums and Cultural Affairs Department

² Delta Fabrics – Air Pollution Data Mapping was a one-month residency in Shenzhen for New Cities Future Ruins with Future+ Aformal Academy and Handshake 302. The project was supported by Design Trust Hong Kong and Texas Tech College of Architecture as part of the 2017 Shenzhen Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism\Architecture

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Design Week Mexico dives into the history of Swiss design

A major theme throughout this year’s Design Week Mexico, held during the second week of October, was the connection between Mexico and Switzerland. Each year, Design Week chooses a different country to explore design and collaboration. The most prominent portion of this year’s international exchanges is the current exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art Mexico City, entitled 100 Years of Swiss Design. As the name would imply, the show gathers 250 objects produced in the past century, producing a survey of one of the world’s most influential design cultures. Included in the show are 210 originals, 21 reprints, 13 special editions and six reproductions, which are augmented by an additional 50 posters and 42 books. The content of the show has been collected from 27 collections of museums and galleries, private companies, and private collectors. The objects range from vegetable peelers and a tea pot to downhill skis and train station clocks. While many of the objects will be familiar, including chairs by Le Corbusier and knives designed by Max Bill for the Victorinox company, others show a different side of Swiss design. Strikingly, a number of heavily patterned pieces and brightly colored works break the typical image of austere Modern Swiss design. Yet any show about Swiss design would not be complete without the inclusion of the ubiquitous Swiss typefaces, Helvetica, Univers, and Frutiger. The show includes a large wall covered in the dozens of famous logos which have used these Modernist typefaces over the past half century. 100 Years of Swiss Design was originally exhibited at the Museum für Gestaltung in Zürich in 2014. This latest version of the show has been expanded with the inclusion of work that directly ties together the history of Swiss and Mexican design. Specifically, the show includes works of once–Bauhaus director, Hannes Meyer, who worked in Mexico as director of the Institute of Urban Planning and Planning of the National Polytechnic Institute and the Popular Graphic Workshop. Also included is the more recent work of Yves Béhar, who contributed to a project promoted by the Mexican Secretary of Public Education with eyeglass lens designs for students with vision problems. Adding to the cross-national collection is the work of Mexican designers who worked in Switzerland, including Uzyel Karp and Moisés Hernández. On view through February 25,2018, 100 Years of Swiss Design was curated by Francisco Torres, and is a collaboration between the Embassy of Switzerland in Mexico, Design Week Mexico, The Ministry of Culture, and the National Institute of Fine Arts, through the Museum of Modern Art.
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Design Week Mexico kicks off in a recovering Mexico City

This week, the 9th iteration of Design Week Mexico (DWM) will kick off in Mexico City. As Mexico’s premier design and architecture event, the city will be filled with installations, gallery openings, lectures, and exhibition openings. This year’s festival will focus on the work of contemporary designers from all over Mexico, along with work from the Guest Country of Switzerland and the Guest State of Puebla. Originally scheduled for the first week of October, the festival was delayed by one week due to a devastating earthquake. On September 19 a 7.1-magnitude earthquake shook central Mexico. Its epicenter was just 34 miles southwest of the city of Puebla, in Design Week Mexico’s guest state of Puebla. The earthquake caused widespread damage throughout the Puebla and Mexico City region, and ultimately killed 370 people. Striking just a week after another deadly earthquake struck southern Mexico, include DWM’s 2015 Guest State Chiapas, the focus of all of Mexico for the past month has been squarely on recovery. While the recovery and mourning continues, Mexico City is ready to welcome international guest for Design Week. Taking place throughout the city, the festival will fill multiple art and design institutions, including the Museo de Arte Moderno and the gardens of Museo Tamayo. The Museo de Arte Moderno will play host to 100 Years of Swiss Design, a show first shown in 2014 at the Museum für Gestaltung in Zurich. The DWM version of the show will expand to include the shared histories of Mexico and Switzerland, and will also mark the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the countries. The Museo Tamayo will be the city of the Tamayo Project, a major architectural pavilion akin to London’s Serpentine Pavilion. This year’s project was designed by Mexico City-based Materia. Opening during Design Week, the pavilion will be open in the museum’s gardens, Bosque de Chapultepec, through the spring of 2018. Design Week Mexico will also be running concurrently with Expo Design Week, the city's major commercial fair. The two events have collaborated with a number of design institutions and corporations to put together a series of talks about the industry in Mexico. Expo Design Week itself will bring upwards of 140 Mexican and international designers together. This year’s event also marks the designation of Mexico City as the 2018 World Design Capital. The biennial honor, issued by the World Design Organization, recognizes cities that use design for economic, social, cultural, and environmental development. Currently Taipei, Taiwan, holds the title. Mexico City is the first city in the Americas to named World Design Capital. Design Week Mexico will run from October 11 through October 15, throughout Mexico City. The Architect's Newspaper will be in Mexico City the whole week covering the events.
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ZHA designs gridded condo complex in Mexico’s Yucatán


Zaha Hadid Architects has unveiled renderings for a striking mega-development in Yucatán, Mexico. Images for the Alai development feature a collection of sculptural towers decorated with ancient Mayan architecture-inspired motifs. The project comes on the heels of surging population increases for the region, which has doubled in its number of inhabitants in recent years. It features intensive landscape remediation strategies aimed at restoring native habitats surrounding the forthcoming complex. Those naturally landscaped areas will be crisscrossed by a series of wooden paths, paseos, and walking trails designed to minimize adverse impacts on the habitat. The towers themselves feature sinuous latticework along their balcony-studded facades. The development is the latest Mexico-based project for ZHA and builds on a growing trend of global architecture firms pursuing massive projects in the country. New York City-based SHoP, for example, is currently at work on a large, multi-tower project in Tijuana, Mexico called Bajalta. [intertstitial] For more information on Alai, see the ZHA website.
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Gabriela Carrillo wins Architect of the Year Award; and Rozana Montiel awarded the Moira Gemmill Prize for Emerging Architecture

Mexican architects Gabriela Carrillo and Rozana Montiel have been given the Architect of the Year Award and Moira Gemmill Prize for Emerging Architecture, respectively, for 2017. Both competitions are run by the UK sister publications The Architectural Review and The Architects’ Journal. In a similar vein to RCR Arquitectes winning this year's Pritzker Prize, both women were commended for their local work.

Carrillo, co-founder of Taller Mauricio Rocha + Gabriela Carrillo, was noted for her design of the Criminal Courts for Oral trials in Pátzcuaro, Michoacán in Mexico. Here flexible spaces work in accordance with tight security and aid judicial transparency. Meanwhile, Montiel, founder of Rozana Montiel Estudio de Arquitectura, was praised for her work in local communities that has produced the Veracruz Cancha sports court, the San Pablo Xalpa Unidad Habitacional housing unit, and Tepoztlan House, all of which are in Mexico too.

As winner of the Moira Gemmill Prize for Emerging Architecture, Montiel will take home $12,200. The prize money was established to honor the late Moira Gemmill, former director of design at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. The money will be used to support Montiel's professional work. 

"All architecture is political. We can read in daily spaces the political priorities of our society," said Montiel in a press release. "Architecture has the power to shape civic behavior because, more than laying bricks, it lays the founding principles of public and social exchanges."

Christine Murray, founder of Women in Architecture and editor-in-chief of The Architectural Review and The Architects’ Journal commented: "The judges were impressed with Gabriela Carrillo’s ability to design flexible spaces, and work with light and shadow to such compelling effect. And they were inspired by Rozana Montiel’s sensitive and perceptive approach to community buildings."

The Women in Architecture Awards also revealed two other winners earlier this year. Denise Scott Brown won the 2017 Jane Drew Prize and the Ada Louise Huxtable award went to artist Rachel Whitebread.

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This Mexican city turned an abandoned rail yard into a 86,000-square-foot museum and arts campus

When asked why he installed his latest public intervention at the Museo Espacio in Aguascalientes, Mexico, French artist Daniel Buren simply said, “Because I was invited.” But it is not difficult to see what makes the Museo Espacio and the larger Macro Espacio para la Cultura y las Artes (MECA) campus desirable for an international artist. Over the past five years the local government has been quietly developing one of the most intriguingly designed arts destinations in North America.

Many municipalities profess a dedication to the arts, but the government of the state of Aguascalientes, with assistance from Mexico’s federal government, has successfully implemented an ambitious master plan that transforms a century old rail yard into MECA, a world-class destination and center for the arts.

Carlos Lozano de la Torre, the governor of Aguascalientes, always viewed the revitalization of the rail yard as a cultural imperative. Established by an American railroad company in 1898, the 200-acre property was shut down by the government in 1991, effectively leaving Aguascalientes without any viable industry. Recognizing an opportunity for “regeneration through culture,” Governor de la Torre assembled a homegrown team including architect José Luis Jiménez García and Aguascalientes Cultural Institute director Dulce María Rivas Godoy to develop a master plan to stealthily transform the industrial structures into modern containers for the arts and connect the campus to the other established arts institutions in the small urban center.

Museo Espacio, one of the first buildings to open, is a generous 86,000-square-foot, intentionally barebones contemporary platform for international artists to display large-scale works of art. The former wood warehouse was revitalized with simple materials that nod to the building’s industrial history—polished concrete, steel, and glass—all seamlessly integrated into the long, wide bays often favored by conceptual artists. Rail tracks weave through the building and the site maintaining the balance between old and new. A custom metal screen wraps the exterior with monumental openings on either end.

In January, Museum Espacio opened with a site-specific installation by Jannis Kounellis, followed by a site-specific intervention by Buren, who has a long-standing relationship with Mexico. Buren’s work, titled Como un juego de nino, fills over 64,000 square feet, creating an exaggerated colorful playground on one side that is mirrored by one devoid of color on the other. Buren, who likes “to work with different spaces as much as possible,” found “the transformation of this space very original. It is very simple, and is so sophisticated in many aspects. They took a lot of care [with the structure], so you have this connection between a very straight, modern view of architecture inside and the shape of an old manufacturing outside. The connection of both is very successful.”

While the Museo Espacio and the master plan were conceived of over five years ago, it was built in a quick five months, which is inconceivable in the United States. Construction is complete on new offices for Grupo Modelo, an archaeology museum, and a concert hall. All of the buildings on the campus were designed by an in-house design team at the Secretary of Infrastructure and Communications (SICOM) offices headed by Jiménez García, director of projects and secretary of infrastructure and communications. Governor de la Torre hopes MECA will inspire other cities in Mexico and beyond to not just revitalize local resources, but to use native talent to do it. “It was something that was broken’ for a long time it was a place that nobody went, and now we have people from all over the world visiting,” he said. “They always ask, ‘Who did this?’ and we tell them, ‘Our own people.’”

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This three-sided concrete skyscraper can withstand earthquakes and stand for 2,500 years

In 1985 Mexico City suffered a devastating earthquake. Occurring in the early morning on September 19, the quake took the lives of more than 5,000 people. The earthquake's vibrations of the lakebed sediments beneath the city also destabilized its skyscrapers. Such was the devastation that one nine-story tower collapsed, its piles ripped from the ground. New building codes were implemented after the disaster and now Mexican architecture practice L. Benjamin Romano Arquitectos (LBRA), working alongside working alongside engineering firm Arup’s New York office, has produced an earthquake-resistant skyscraper designed to last 2,500 years.

Rising to 57-stories, Arup conceived pre-tensioned double-V hangers to brace the facade. According to a press release, in practice the skyscraper—named Torre Reforma (Tower Reform)—has an "inherent tendency to twist when subjected to lateral loads and wind" and "earthquake forces." While creating a signature aesthetic for the building, the hangers also provide visual reassurance of the its structural qualities.

Materiality was a key component of the design process for the tower. Arup said that the finish of the concrete was "critical"; the firm evaluated numerous design mixes. Their final choice resulted in a smooth surface, free from honeycombing or other flaws. Poured in increments of 27 inches, the finish highlights the color variations that are commonplace in similar types of pours.

In addition to its tectonics, the building's circulatory aspects were another area of focus. With a triangular floor-plan, LBRA strayed away from using the central core that's norm in skyscrapers. At Torre Reforma, the elevators and egress stairways are contained in the apex of the triangle. Long-span pyramidal floor trusses facilitate concealing the building's services. These trusses also enable dramatic column-free interiors and sweeping views of the city and the nearby Chapultepec Park.

Additionally, Torre Reforma is a pre-certified as a LEED Platinum Core and Shell project, as it makes use of various water conservation systems and a combination of automated and passive ventilation systems to moderate temperature.

"Arup has been indispensable in helping to transform my architectural vision into an efficient and buildable structure," said Benjamin Romano, Principal of LBRA, in a press release. "They have provided innovative solutions to the complex seismic issues in Mexico City and have been instrumental in helping the bidding contractors understand that Torre Reforma is not more complex than standard vertical construction; it just applies traditional construction methods, that contractors are already familiar with, in a new and different way."

Tabitha Tavolaro, Associate Principal at Arup and project manager for Torre Reforma, added, “Building tall structures in Mexico City often means working in constrained conditions. Challenges can include small or irregular sites, coordinating diverse teams, and, of course, seismic hazards. In this project, we partnered with LBRA to create robust solutions that bring value to the client as well as the community.”

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A new book surveys little-known modern Mexican architecture

Edward R. Burian, an architect and professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio, has produced an informative survey on a subject not well known to a general audience. Although northern Mexico is a large, well-populated region, to many Americans it still conjures images of a largely empty, dusty land of vaqueros or the setting for Pancho Villa’s daring exploits. Its situation as a place of contemporary cultural production in the Mexican national imagination is even more limited. There, cultural discourse is dominated by the capital, Mexico City, in a manner much more profound than equivalent United States centers like New York and Los Angeles. Architecture of this region, which spans the states of Tamaulipas, Nuevo León, Coahuila, Chihuahua, Durango, Sonora, Sinaloa, and Baja California Norte and Sur has been almost completely excluded from systematic study in its own country. The continued neglect makes this book, the first written in English or Spanish on the subject, valuable as a groundbreaking effort to draw attention to a historically under-recognized region.

The book is organized state by state, starting in Tamaulipas on the Gulf Coast and ending with Baja California Norte and Sur. Each chapter begins with a brief overview of each state’s geography and history and then proceeds, city by city, to describe significant works of architecture and urban design. These descriptions are short in the manner of an architectural guide. About a third of the buildings are illustrated with a mixture of new and historic photographs. There are some extremely detailed maps of the central portions of the larger cities, but no architectural floor plans are included.

There is a great variation of geography and climate across the region. The easternmost section is flat and humid, with abundant rainfall and semitropical vegetation. As one progresses west, the land becomes hillier and more arid with isolated oasis-like microclimates. Toward the Pacific Coast, vegetation is again lush (a word the author likes to repeat), while just across the Gulf of California, the Baja California Peninsula is desert. However, despite these climatic variations, nearly all the buildings included in the book are made of brick, concrete, or stone and as the author frequently writes, have “wall-dominant” exterior elevations. Climatic adaptation seems to be accommodated by porches, changes in wall thickness, and fenestration patterns. (Here, plans would have helped to show more specifically how buildings physically varied from region to region.)

Monterrey, the major city of Nuevo León and Mexico’s third largest, seems to have the most vibrant contemporary architectural culture of all the cities in the book. Founded in 1596, it became a major city after World War II when its industrial capacity dramatically increased. Some outstanding early projects include Enrique de la Mora y Palomar’s parabolic-vaulted Iglesia La Purísima (1940–1946), one of the first modern churches in the country, and his 1942 master plan for the newly-created Instituto Tecnológico de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey (Monterrey “Tech”). This plan, as well as many of the early buildings, recalls those of the better-known Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México in Mexico City that were inaugurated about 10 years later.

Monterrey architect Rodolfo Barragán Schwarz, who studied under Paul Rudolph at Yale in the early 1960s, is a notable figure. His postwar modern designs fused American and Mexican sensibilities in unusual and compelling ways. In the past two decades, local architects including Cecilia Rangel and James Mayeux, Agustín Landa Vértiz, Alexandre Lenoir, and Gilberto Rodríguez, have produced work that holds its own against that of the many Mexico City and foreign architects also designing projects in Monterrey.

As a pioneering work, however, the book is rough around the edges. Its format is halfway between a traditional architectural guide and a textbook. Although the buildings’ names are highlighted in bold text, their addresses are not given, and only a small handful are marked on the infrequent city maps, making them difficult for visitors to locate. Also, the book, which measures approximately 9-by-12-inches, is awkwardly sized for a traveler to carry conveniently. Finally, the maps of the states showing the locations of the cities appear to be cropped from a larger map and are all but useless for navigation. A model the author and publishers might have consulted is the outstanding Buildings of the United States series, which covers an equally wide-ranging area and is very rigorously organized.

However, these complaints become quibbles when considering the massive amount of work and dedication that the author almost single-handedly expended to gather the information for this book. He should be commended for setting up—in a very deliberate and conscious way—a larger discussion about the architecture and culture of our southern neighbor.

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Toyo Ito-designed Mexican museum for baroque art opens

Japanese architect Toyo Ito has unveiled the International Museum of the Baroque (MIB) located in the Mexican city of Puebla, Southeast of Mexico City. As stated in its name, the museum is dedicated to the Baroque movement which began in 17th Century Rome. In a contrast to the intricate details and grandeur commonly associated with the movement, Ito instead employs a sculpted and flowing, all-white, 10-inch thick pre-cast concrete forms that evoke the scale and tension that was also synonymous with the Baroque period. A prominent feature throughout the building, the Corbusier-esque concrete slabs were realized with Ito's firm working alongside specialist precast concrete firm Danstek from Mexico. Externally, the precast walls exhibit a a bush-hammered texture while on the inside, where the concrete was cast in situ, a much smoother surface is used. "In the MIB we try to break and dissolve the cold and rigid order to achieve fluid spaces," says Ito's firm in a press release. "We hope that when people move from one room to another, they experience a baroque space." Indeed, circulation in the building revolves around a light-filled dome. Light, thanks to the coloration of the concrete creates a spacious and calm environment and was an important element in the museum's design. "In baroque art, light symbolizes a revelation from god opposing the darkness of ambivalence," the firm adds. "In this project, light also acquires a special meaning." Rising to 65 feet, the two-level museum houses a curving staircase in the main atrium, a 300-seat auditorium, and exhibition halls for both permanent and temporary installations. Some of those spaces can merge to form larger rooms. Also included in the main atrium are large undulating seating areas that reflect the surrounding water, designed by Ito's compatriot Kazuko Fujie Atelier. The design brief handed to Ito stipulated that the building, due to its location, should be sensitive of its natural surroundings. The MIB sits on a plane of water amid the Metropolitan EcoPark of Puebla; over the last for years the park has run programs examining the relationship between humans and nature. Echoing this, the museum's terraces provide visitors views across the park while the museum itself makes use of the areas steady climate to cool itself and lower its energy consumption. "Citizens can wander around this pleasant park while deepening their understanding of the environment," the architects explain. "We want to create a similar relationship to nature in the museum. The idea of a museum with light wells and fluid spaces that exhibit baroque art, emphasizing the dialogue between nature and man is complemented by a technological proposal."