Posts tagged with "Mexico":

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How the Rio Grande creates geographical—and legal—loopholes

This article is the fifth in a series that originally appeared in AN’s July/August 2018 issue which focuses exclusively on Texas and was guest edited by AGENCY. The rest of the essays will be released in the coming days and examine architecture and practice across the southern border of the United States. The 1896 Heavyweight Championship in boxing was staged in an improbable location: on a sandbar in the middle of the Rio Grande River. Robert James Fitzsimmons knocked out Peter Maher in a fight that lasted 95 seconds and took advantage of the ambiguous administrative and enforcement conditions of the river boundary. Boxing, you see, was illegal in both Texas and Mexico at the time. After a series of territorial shifts and classic Texas wrangling, the fight promoters decided to stage the fight some 16 hours journey south of El Paso in a remote section of the river away from easy enforcement by Mexican police. In a fight attended by 182 people enclosed inside a canvas tarp fence, Fitzsimmons led with his left, and a minute-and-a-half later, “Maher measured his length on the floor.” And it is indeed this figurative floor, this once and future bed of the river where the fight was held, that was both the legal loophole that allowed this spectacle to take place as well as the ongoing challenge to bright-line models of international territoriality. In the contemporary media environment where border walls and military buildup occupy our imagination of the boundary, it is easy to forget that well over half of the length of this border is defined by the fluvial boundary of the Rio Bravo del Norte (Rio Grande). Article V of the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo reads, “The Boundary line between the two Republics shall commence in the Gulf of Mexico, three leagues from land, opposite the mouth of the Rio Grande…from thence, up the middle of that river, following the deepest channel…to the point where it strikes the Southern Boundary of New Mexico.” Yet, as this and the dozens of subsequent treaties, commissions, and surveys attest, this very definition of the boundary is subject to the fundamentally dynamic and unsettled nature of the Rio Grande River.   In general, water law recognizes two categories of boundary change brought about by the changing forces of water: one gradual and slow, the other abrupt and discontinuous. The first, known as accretion, is defined as the gradual and imperceptible deposition of material along the bank of a body of water and the lands formed by this process. Its inverse, reliction, is the gradual uncovering of land caused by the recession of a body of water. In both of these cases, the morphology of ownership maps onto the morphology of the river—with alluvial accretions or relictions belonging to the owners of the coterminous land. The second category, known as avulsion, is defined as the sudden and rapid change of a channel of a boundary stream. Such wholesale shifts in the river channel are quite common in rivers such as the Rio Grande that experience wide fluctuations in flow across the year, where oxbows and meanders are cut off regularly during the spring freshets. In these cases, the changes brought about by such large shifts do not easily map onto adjacent property and ownership structures, resulting in the potential for pockets of alternating ownership—and in the case of the Rio Grande, of citizenship—existing across the river boundary. At the heart of these attempts to tame the river through surveyed lines and legal words is a fundamental irreconcilability of language and landscape—an irretrievable misfit between the map and the territory. Writing in his 1857 Report on the United States and Mexican Boundary Survey, surveyor general Major William H. Emory highlights this gap when he explains: “The [river] does not always run in the same bed; whenever it changes, the boundary must change, and no survey nor anything else can keep it from changing. A survey of that river, therefore, as it fixes nothing, determines nothing, is of minor importance. It forms of itself a more apparent and enduring monument of the boundary than any that can be made by art.” Against Major Emory’s advice, the International Water and Boundary Commission set out in the early 20th century to “rectify”—or straighten—the natural meanders of the Rio Grande in a futile attempt to make the world out there approximate the bright-lines of boundary law. These so-called Banco Conventions, named after the riverbanks cut away by river avulsion, carried the additional political dimension of citizenship: where those who opted to remain on their original land could either preserve title and rights of citizenship of the county to which said banco formerly belonged or acquire the nationality of the country to which the territory would belong in the future. Yet the engineer’s channelization of the Rio Grande could no more make the river act like the surveyor's line on the plat than it could erase the fundamentally dynamic and relational qualities of being and belonging that mark this border region. Language and law, boundaries and territory, citizenship and rights—these are only a few of the fundamental correspondences that the fluvial geomorphology of the Rio Grande River both narrate and problematize. Jesse Vogler is an artist and architect based in Tbilisi and St. Louis and is an assistant professor of landscape architecture at Washington University in St. Louis.
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As remittances flow to Mexico, a new architectural style blooms

This article is the third in a series that originally appeared in AN's July/August 2018 issue which focuses exclusively on Texas and was guest edited by AGENCY. The rest of the essays will be released in the coming days and examine architecture and practice across the southern border of the United States. In discussions of the U.S.-Mexico border region, what often gets lost is a full exploration of the geographic and social networks produced by the lives that span it. Taking in the meaning of the U.S.-Mexico boundary, the largest migration corridor in the world, requires an understanding of both ends of the journey as well as what lies in between. One way to do this is to follow the money—in this case, migrant dollars earned in various locations throughout the U.S. that are channeled back to households in Mexico. The economic term for this capital flow is remittances, typically used by political scientists, demographers, and NGOs that investigate how and if remittances alleviate poverty in receiving regions. I follow this capital flow to its material conclusions as manifested in migrant hometowns. The “remittance house,” a term I use to describe houses built in Mexico by workers performing unskilled or semiskilled wage labor (or migrants “from below”) in the U.S., reveals Mexican pueblos as distant hinterlands of American cities and as critical nodes in our understanding of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands at large. I first became interested in the remittance house through the stories of my co-workers, Mexican male migrants who lived and worked in Berkeley, California, while investing a portion of their earnings into new homes in Guanajuato, Mexico. The Central Bajío state of Guanajuato and its neighboring state of Jalisco have historically high rates of both emigration and remitting. Economist Paul S. Taylor documented migrants using dollars to build or remodel homes in Jalisco as early as the 1930s. Jalisco is an epicenter of remittance construction that includes homes as well as communally funded public projects like rodeo arenas and cultural centers. Today, Mexico ranks as the world’s fourth-largest remittance economy after China, India, and the Philippines, receiving approximately $20 billion dollars annually, and new construction financed by remittance dollars is evident across Mexico’s 32 states. Formally and materially, the remittance house has become a source of curiosity both for people who live in Mexican towns as well as for those peering in from afar. This has to do with the houses' heavily articulated facades that present a dizzying array of representational strategies. Fluted columns, zigzagging concrete cornices, and repetitive pediment-shaped window frames grace facades topped with false fronts that represent gable roofs or brick battlements. These eclectic arrangements clash with the built fabric of small towns composed of adobe or fired brick buildings with teja tiled roofs—towns once marked by uniformity and homogeneity. In the remittance house, architectural style carries great symbolic weight, as design ideas are pulled from various corners of migrant experiences and journeys. Homes with recessed yards, metal fences, carports, and picture windows are referred to as “estilo Californiano,” or “California style.” Yet they are hybrid forms, where the image of wooden stick-frame construction is translated into local masonry traditions, supported by migrants’ desire to have homes “built to last.” New migrant homes have created a maelstrom of commentary throughout small towns. A local architect in Jalisco described the migrant building style as “garigoleado,” or excessively adorned, pointing out a lack of rhythm, proportion, and pattern in the use of generic classical ornamentation, while some neighbors described migrant homes as distinctly modern. Whatever their stylistic attribute, the homes, as defined by artist Walterio Iraheta, are autorretratos—or self-portraits—of their makers. They are a material transformation of the built environment directly linked to the interior world of the self. But the remittance house is not primarily an opportunity for migrants’ personal expressions; it is the material manifestation of the specific political and social conditions under which contemporary social mobility and immobility for migrants takes place. Structural inequality, an absence of access to legal documentation in the U.S., and diminishing opportunities for economic and social mobility in the U.S. and Mexico have produced the spaces in which the remittance house becomes a viable, albeit imperfect, option. To understand these newly constructed homes as imperfect is to ask about the costs and consequences of binational building from below, building a dream home in one place while living and working in another. In order to remit, nuclear families are often separated or fragmented across geographies. For example, mothers and daughters live in a remittance house in Mexico, while fathers and sons work in and send money from the U.S. Meanwhile, elderly parents live in a home built with dollars on a street mostly abandoned or empty due to what neighbors refer to as “the floating population” abroad. Families split by gender or generation incur social and psychological costs as bodies are replaced by dollars, and living at a distance from one’s immediate family is normalized. The project of building a remittance house—of attempting to secure and invest in a future for one’s family—is also susceptible to the complexities of living life as a migrant in the U.S. Both documented and undocumented migrants might lose their jobs, build new relationships in the U.S. while attempting to maintain marriages or relationships in Mexico, become responsible for their ill parents in Mexico, or become ill themselves. Undocumented migrants are especially vulnerable as they live under the terror of apprehension, incarceration, and deportation, and are generally unable to return home without incurring great risk. For any number of reasons, homes may be incomplete or abandoned altogether. Ultimately, the remittance house teaches non-migrants important lessons. They are evidence of migrants’ strengths, the discipline required to achieve personal goals. They are evidence of complex social patterns and costs for families fragmented by global capital, and for whom remitting has become a way of life. Scaling up, they are also evidence of the Mexican and U.S. governments’ unwillingness to enact binational protections and opportunities for a flexible and exploited labor force that the U.S. economy has depended on for over 100 years. Understanding the remittance house in its messy complexity can cultivate the public’s awareness of the extended and complicated spaces that “migrants” are enmeshed in and co-constituting. If Mexican migrants in the U.S. were collectively supported, the term “remittance house” would become obsolete. With the capacity to choose where to live and work, and with the ability to travel, those who built homes in Mexico would join the millions of elite Americans and Mexicans who have second homes or vacation homes. For now, the remittance house captivates, and its meaning reverberates within Mexico and across the Rio Grande.
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How the Rio Grande came to separate the U.S. and Mexico

This article is the fourth in a series that originally appeared in AN's July/August 2018 issue which focuses exclusively on Texas and was guest edited by AGENCY. The rest of the essays will be released in the coming days and examine architecture and practice across the southern border of the United States. In the border metropolis of El Paso-Ciudad Juárez, the power relations of international negotiation are not only performed through the apparatus of control over the movement of bodies, but are also embodied in a concrete architecture that exposes the calculus of separation and asymmetrical infrastructural development between the two countries. In the borderland, the control of water—as territory, commodity, and reproductive agent—produces its physical spaces. While the shared waters of the river and the underground aquifers contribute to the reproductive capacity of land within the desert climate, the infrastructures of water supply and sanitation are material evidence of the socio-spatial injustices and imbalances that structure and reproduce social relations within the border cities. Negotiation The geopolitical history of the river as a border and of the partitioning of its waters is inscribed within the built environment as a thick constructed zone. The international border between the United States and Mexico was defined by the 1848 and 1884 Treaties, which delineated that the border follow the Rio Grande (Rio Bravo del Norte) from El Paso to the Gulf of Mexico. This rendered the border an unstable condition, as its line needed to be redefined by the International Boundary Commission each time floods caused the river to relocate. A treaty in 1933 attempted to “fix” the river by engineering it into a constructed channel. However, this location left several hundred acres of disputed Mexican territory to the north of the river—the result of a violent change in course in 1864. The 1963 Chamizal Agreement relocated the river and the international boundary once again, moving the Rio Grande back to its 1852 survey location. In this highly publicized moment of international diplomacy, the disputed land was “returned” to Mexico, and a new channel was constructed to reroute the Rio Grande north so that both river and international border aligned. The division between the two countries was now emphasized, further asserted by the open lands of the former riverbed on the Juárez side and a new elevated border highway on the U.S. side of the channel. Management The colonization of the U.S. would not have been possible without the massive campaign of dam projects in the early 20th century that commodified the waters of the West and irrigated the farms and settlements of homesteaders. Four dams manage and distribute the Rio Grande waters in the El Paso-Juárez region: Elephant Butte, Caballo, American Diversion, and the International Diversion Dam. Water is distributed according to the 1944 Water Treaty, drawn up when the population of Juárez was less than one-tenth its current size. In 1965, the binational Border Industrialization Program enabled maquiladoras, foreign-owned manufacturing plants, to be located within Mexico’s border zones, and to move materials and products with reduced tariffs and trade barriers. This propelled an influx of new residents who arrived to work in the Juárez border zone maquilas. The treaty, which retains the majority of the river water in the U.S., has not been revised since and contains no provisions for sharing the rapidly depleting Mesilla and Hueco Bolson aquifer waters, which traverse the binational region underground. The division of the river water produces politically charged urban spaces. The U.S. Franklin Canal materializes as a physical barrier within the U.S. border zone, flowing deeply and rapidly in a concrete channel alongside the Rio Grande. In Juárez, the diverted water flows along the Acequia Madre, which takes a diagonal course, traversing some of the city’s main public spaces. This once green irrigation channel and common space is now largely neglected and has deteriorated into a toxic line of sewage and trash. Biopolitics Water is not only scarce in the desert city of Juárez—it is also dangerous. The paper worlds of politics materialize as realities on the ground and in the tissues of bodies. Due to the explosive population growth of Juárez, large portions of the city have been rapidly and often informally constructed, typically without proper municipal sewage or drinking water services. The residents of these informal settlements, known as colonias, rely primarily on truck-supplied water, which has a much higher likelihood of being contaminated and results in high rates of water-borne diseases. Only about a third of the city’s sewage is actually treated.  Some colonias have additionally encroached on the city’s drainage gullies and arroyos, putting residents at further risk during flash flood events. In July 2010, the United Nations General Assembly “explicitly recognized the right to clean drinking water and sanitation as essential to the realization of all human rights.” If this mandate is taken seriously by the binational region of El Paso-Ciudad Juárez, new treaties and agreements will need to be negotiated that address not only the scarcity and distribution of its shared waters, but also the shared responsibility of water rights to citizens on both sides of the border. What remains to be seen is not only what shape these take in terms of political agreements, but also how they will reshape the physical urban spaces of the paired cities.
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David Adjaye realizes a ruby-red museum in San Antonio, Texas

In 2007 the late artist and philanthropist Linda Pace—of Pace jarred salsa fame—had a vision of a ruby-tinted arts city come to her in a dream. The city, as Pace dreamed it, would become a rough outline for the 14,000-square-foot Adjaye Associates–designed museum complex that will house her foundation’s art collection in San Antonio. Pace passed away in 2007; more than ten years later, her vision is being brought to life bit by bit, an endeavor that is currently in full swing ahead of the building’s projected 2019 opening date. The $16 million dream is being translated into reality by architect David Adjaye and an international network of local architects, contractors, and fabricators who have made plans for a precast concrete panel citadel situated on the Texas plain. There, folded concrete surfaces and expanses of brut walls will house the 800 or so artworks collected by Pace and her namesake foundation. The pink complex is built out of a special concrete and aggregate mix crafted by fabricators across the border in Mexico that will result in a gleaming, rosy edifice. As explained by Mike McGlone, principal at Alamo Architects, the executive architect for the project, most colored concrete starts out in either gray, beige, or white tones, with pigments added incrementally to tint the mixture to the desired color. But ruby red pigment is a particularly difficult hue to achieve. For one, pigment can only be added little by little, resulting in a blended appearance that can appear muddled when combined with cement’s natural coloring. The process is made more difficult by the inherent structural requirements of the materials involved—the more pigment is added, the less resilient the final product—so while Pace’s dream called for a vibrant, beet juice–colored edifice, tests using traditional methods yielded less spectacular results. That was the case until designers began looking south of the border, where concrete fabricators Pretecsa can produce concrete panels made with red rock aggregate and red sand taken from local quarries. There, instead of starting with beige or gray bases, the fabricators begin with white concrete and add colored materials and tints to change the hue of the mix from inside-out. The fabricators include materials such as recycled red glass and mica in the mix to boost coloration, while also creating a glittering finished surface that will reflect sunlight throughout the day. Adjaye’s designs call for a collection of open galleries topped by a pair of sculptural light cannons that will bring light into the building. The complex will make use of several different concrete panel types, including rough surfaces that will line the upper sections of the building to better reflect the sun. Lower sections will be smooth to the touch, with a three-sided forecourt wrapping a sculpture terrace that features sandblasted surfaces. The folded concrete panel structure will also use cementitious panels along its roof, a system that will be supported below by a secondary weather-proof roofing system located directly below the outermost concrete layer. The complex is expected to be completed in late 2018 and will open to the public in 2019.
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Frida Escobedo’s Serpentine Pavilion opens in London

The 2018 Serpentine Pavilion in Kensington Gardens, London, is now complete, and Mexico City-based Frida Escobedo’s open-air installation wears its references to residential Mexican architecture on its lattice. Escobedo, the youngest architect to take on the project and the first woman to do so since 2000, took cues from London’s historical materiality to reinterpret features more commonly found in Mexico’s domestic architecture. The pavilion uses a modern reinterpretation of the celosia (a perforated wall that lets in light and air) built from cement roofing tiles, to enclose a concrete courtyard. From the final photos, it appears that stacking the roof tiles have also given the walls a rolling, knit-like quality. The interplay between light and shadow and its use in denoting the passage of time, such as sunlight filtering through the darkly-tiled walls, had a major influence on Escobedo’s design. “The design for the Serpentine Pavilion 2018 is a meeting of material and historical inspirations inseparable from the city of London itself and an idea which has been central to our practice from the beginning: the expression of time in architecture through inventive use of everyday materials and simple forms,” said Escodebo in a statement. “For the Serpentine Pavilion, we have added the materials of light and shadow, reflection and refraction, turning the building into a timepiece that charts the passage of the day.” Inside, a curved canopy decked out in mirror panels hangs over the structure to both shade and reflect visitors, while a slice of shallow water on the ground reflects the scene overhead. Guests are invited to wade into the pool and cool off while their movements are echoed on the canopy above. Visitors can experience a “new” pavilion every day, as the sun’s daily movement should theoretically create a new lighting condition every day of the summer. The Serpentine Pavilion is located on the grounds of the Serpentine Gallery and will open to the public on June 15, then run through October 7, 2018. The pavilion will host a café for the duration, and will be used to stage Park Nights, the gallery's experimental and interdisciplinary art and architecture lectures and performances on certain Friday evenings.
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How architects can engage critically with the idea of the border wall

How should architects respond to the call to design a border wall? Architect and educator Ronald Rael recently released Borderwall as Architecture: A Manifesto for the US-Mexico Boundary as an answer. Borderwall as Architecture is a collection of proposals, counterproposals, speculations, and research findings that encourage a critical engagement with border conditions. The findings were generated through his research studios with students and collected on a blog of the same name. The book couldn’t come at a better time or with a greater sense of urgency thanks to President Donald Trump’s insistence during his presidential campaign to have Mexico pay for a wall and the resulting rapid-fire progression of actual wall-building proposals. For historical context, it was just a month into the Trump presidency when Homeland Security issued a Prequalification Request for Border Wall Prototypes on the Federal Business Opportunities website. This was quickly followed by the Department of Homeland Security’s Procurement Innovation Lab, which issued a new Request for Information (RFI) pertaining to the proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall. The RFI’s stated purpose was to “solicit ideas from industry and other partners for the more comprehensive long-term strategy related to the border wall.” Six months later, these prototypes are being built along the border east of San Diego while the funding battles continue in Congress. Rael’s richly illustrated collection shows the ways in which the borderlands condition the U.S.-Mexico divide, how border fences function and how they are often subverted. Borderwall as Architecture collects stories of jump ramps, catapults, and tunneling machines; methods of getting over, under, and around existing controls. There are environmentally restorative proposals, like a green wall of indigenous cacti, a wall that generates solar power, and one that effectively channels and collects water. There are artistic and culture proposals too: from a “Theatre Wall,” “Climbing Wall,” “Sport Wall,” “Burrito Wall,” and “Birthing Wall” to outright hilarious ideas such as the “human cannonball,” which would shoot a person over a section of border wall, passport in hand. In many ways, Rael’s Borderwall proves to be a guide to outside-the-box thinking spatially as well as politically about the border. The border is a microcosm of political and social issues. From the economic impacts of migration and trade to questions of nationalism and identity, it is a place where fears and aspirations are projected from afar. The reality of life in the borderlands looks very different than its image. Where one stands relative to a wall—i.e., “Which side are you on?”—says a lot about the politically charged moment that Americans, both in Mexico and the U.S., find themselves in. What does it say about our moment when, on the one hand, the federal government is collecting “speculative” design proposals, and on the other President Trump is currently saying things like “We are thinking about building a wall as a solar wall. So it creates energy. And pays for itself”? The bidding process is so fraught that even Engineering News Record reports that large contractors were skittish in putting in their bids, and many of the successful bidders have been revealed to been under criminal investigation. In this context, Borderwall as Architecture becomes a critical toolbox, challenging readers with speculative proposals, informing with realpolitik discussions, and engaging guest writers such as Teddy Cruz and Michael Dear to encourage architects to think expansively about the southern border and imagine better solutions. Borderwall as Architecture: A Manifesto for the US-Mexico Boundary University of California Press $21.91
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Michel Rojkind on his raw and powerful Foro Boca concert hall in Veracruz

The Foro Boca concert hall opened to the public December 1, 2017 in Boca del Río, Veracruz, Mexico, with a concert by the Boca del Rio Philharmonic Orchestra featuring acclaimed violinist Joshua Bell. Designed by Rojkind Arquitectos, the remarkable building is the central piece of a city in transformation. Iker Gil of MAS Studio and Julie Michiels of Perkins + Will spoke with architect Michel Rojkind to discuss the main aspects of the building. The Architect’s Newspaper: Can you talk about how you became involved in Foro Boca and how it related to the larger urban challenges in Boca del Río? Michel Rojkind: Miguel Ángel Yunes Márquez, the then-mayor of Boca del Río, started the Boca del Río Philharmonic Orchestra in 2014, and that has since become the heart of the cultural life in the city. The mayor asked us to design a home for the orchestra, and at the time there were three possible sites. The chosen one was located in a deteriorated area of Boca del Río where the Jamapa River meets the Gulf of Mexico. We decided then to think about the building as part of a larger urban regeneration project that also could tie to a three-mile boulevard that the mayor had already started to work on to improve the pedestrian experience along the waterfront. How does Foro Boca connect to its immediate context? One of the first key aspects was to turn the nearby breakwater into a pedestrian space. Also, the building entrance, besides being protected from the strong north winds, is connected to a series of public spaces. As the mayor had already chosen granite for the boulevard, we included it in our project so that the boulevard would go right into the building. Our aim was to make sure that the public spaces were considered as important as the building, giving back to the community by extending our plazas toward the beach, the breakwater, and the city. The building is raw, powerful, and stripped of superfluous elements. Can you talk about its overall composition and materiality? We wanted to use a material that was able to withstand and respond to the harsh conditions of the place, so we chose concrete with a texture running in different directions. We were interested in the way it would develop a patina over time, similar to the nearby rocks in the breakwater. Initially, the project started as a big box that we broke down into smaller programs to give it the proper scale toward the beach, the pier, and the city. As you move around Foro Boca, your perception of the volumes’ scales changes. And it was important for us to make a building that had no front and back. For instance, the area where the trucks load and unload the instruments becomes an exterior plaza. It is about creating overlapping uses rather than hiding them. The interior of the building also challenges our perception of scale, with an interesting sequence of compression and release. As you enter the building under a compressed space defined by a cantilevered volume that is 7.5 feet tall, you begin to understand the spatial organization around the main concert hall. The double- and triple-height spaces with skylights are quite dramatic, as you are coming from the dark compressed entrance in contrast to the exterior light and then it opens up to these spaces with light washing the walls. And there is a sense of fluidity in the spaces. You see people going up the stairs, moving through the mezzanines, and entering the concert hall through different access points. It was important for us to translate the continuous movement that is present in music or in the nearby waves. Foro Boca continues with your studio’s philosophy of providing added value to each project, envisioning new opportunities beyond the original scope of the project. Can you describe how added value manifests in this specific case? Besides the main program of housing the orchestra, we wanted to design a space that could accommodate multiple activities at the same time and host diverse cultural manifestations, not just concerts. After the opening concert, Foro Boca hosted White Canvas, an audiovisual piece by Cocolab, and a few days later the first edition of the National Book Fair in Boca del Río. Now that there is a building that can house all these activities, there will be more and more opportunities to bring interesting artistic expressions. The important thing is to maintain the quality of the culture that is inside. It is interesting to consider Foro Boca in relationship to your Cineteca Nacional project. Both public buildings commissioned by the government, they have similar ambitions as civic anchors beyond their specific programs. Can you talk about the relationship between both projects? When I started to work with the mayor on Foro Boca I was a bit skeptical because I had a really hard time with Cineteca Nacional. We were being criticized for a building that had opened to the public unfinished. But the process in this case was very different and with more time for design. Also, the mayor of Boca del Río is very passionate about art in general, and the orchestra in particular, so I knew we could work in a different way. To me, the most important part of the Cineteca project is the exterior space, the places where people gather and where unexpected things occur. For that reason, in Foro Boca, we fought to include the exterior plazas as a key part of the project. Each project creates different experiences, but both have exterior spaces that are very successful. When film director Peter Greenaway visited Cineteca Nacional, he pointed out that the gardens were his favorite area, as they were the spaces where the quotidian happens. Foro Boca is a project that synthesizes the ideas and lessons we learned from Cineteca Nacional. It is a building that is distilled to very few elements, creating a powerful experience that you feel is part of the site.
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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.