Posts tagged with "Mexico":

Placeholder Alt Text

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.

---

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

Placeholder Alt Text

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.
Placeholder Alt Text

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.
Placeholder Alt Text

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.
Placeholder Alt Text

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.

Placeholder Alt Text

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.’”

Placeholder Alt Text

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.”

Placeholder Alt Text

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.

Placeholder Alt Text

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."
Placeholder Alt Text

Designing the Border Wall?

Recently, Archdaily announced, on behalf of the Third Mind Foundation, a competition called “Building the Border Wall.” Perhaps in response to emerging criticism about the ethical implications of such a call to architects, the competition website later added a question mark to the title, changing it to “Building the Border Wall?” Since the competition was announced, as noted by Archdaily, several other edits have been made to the competition website, creating some controversy about the clarity of the competition’s agenda, the position of the organizers, and moreover, the moral implications of the competition itself. What further raises questions about this competition is the organizers’ insistence that they are “politically neutral” to the issue of building a wall along the border and that wish to remain anonymous. The primary question that this competition raises is: Is participating in a design competition for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border a good idea? The competition echoes, and perhaps has been prompted by, presidential candidate Donald Trump’s proclamations that he will, if elected, begin “building a wall” along the border. While his declaration seems to excite his audiences as if, finally, someone will build a wall, his call to construct a barrier exemplifies the ignorance of the realities along the border where approximately 700 miles of single, double, and triple walls are already built. This is not one single stretch of wall, but still, approximately one third of the 1,954-mile-long border between the U.S. and Mexico has already been walled off. Historically, there have been several approaches to architects engaging in the building of walls. For the most part, architects and designers have steered clear of this issue. In 2006, The New York Times called on 13 well-known architects to redesign the border wall. Architect Ricardo Scofidio commented, “It’s a silly thing to design, a conundrum. You might as well leave it to security and engineers.” Diller Scofidio + Renfro and several other architects declined the challenge altogether because they felt it was a purely political issue, something from which many architects shy away. However perfunctory—and sometimes offensive—many of the proposals were (Antoine Predock suggested a 300-foot-wide hot plate buried under the desert floor to discourage crossings and a massive rammed-earth wall to be constructed in the hot sun by “Mexican day laborers”), some proposals did scratch the surface in recognizing the inherent opportunities of the existing wall as a possible armature for design. In its current state, the wall ignorantly bisects many culturally and environmentally rich places. Therefore, perhaps design offers the potential for the wall to be transformed into a variety of interpretations and applications, ideally ones of benefit to borderland residents. The reality is that the U.S.-Mexico wall in its current manifestation has created a territory of paradox, horror, and transformation on an enormous scale. The wall divides rivers, farms, homes, Native American lands, public lands, cultural sites, wildlife preserves, migration routes, and a university campus. The construction and maintenance costs of wall construction that is called for by The U.S. Secure Fence Act of 2006 have been estimated to exceed $49 billion over the next 25 years. And while recent statistics show a 50 percent drop in the number of people caught illegally entering the United States from Mexico over the past few years, human rights groups put the number of deaths during attempted crossings at its highest since 2006, and nearly 6,000 people have died attempting to cross the border since 1994. Noam Chomsky has said that “the U.S.-Mexican border, like most borders, was established by violence—and its architecture is the architecture of violence.”  It has been suggested by many in the discipline, that architects should emphatically refuse to participate in the design of architecture that promotes violence. For example, in 2013, Michael Sorkin wrote an essay for The Nation calling on architects to refuse to participate in the design of prisons for several reasons: Disgust with the corrupt enthusiasm and extravagance of our burgeoning ‘prison industrial complex;’ objections to our insane rates of incarceration, our cruel, draconian sentencing practices and the wildly disproportionate imprisonment of minorities. Designing spaces of confinement and discipline is also contrary to what most architects imagine as their vocation: the creation of comfortable, humane, even liberating environments. The parallels between prisons and the “border industrial complex” are easy to imagine, but can the design of a wall create humane, or even, liberating environments? Architect Lebbeus Woods offered a different approach toward that end. In his project The Wall Game, Woods concluded that the only way to address an architecture of violence, and in this case he is addressing the Israeli Separation Barrier, was to design a means to dismantle it through a complex set of rules that direct architects and builders on both sides to attempt to create a series of constructions on the wall that eventually force it into an imbalance that theoretically topples the wall. So what are architects to do about the conundrum of the border wall? Do they ignore the issue all together or actively protest in refusal to participate? Do they strategize how design might dismantle the existing wall, or re-think the potential of the existing wall as an armature for correcting problems with it? Should they take on the challenge of designing new walls? Ignoring the issue entirely and designing new walls, are perhaps the most contentious strategies. Wall design and construction will, without question, continue, but should it continue without the input of architects? Does not participating in the design of the wall make architects as complicit in its horrific consequences as does participating in its design? Now that we are aware of the costs to taxpayers as well as the cost in human lives, it is urgent that we take on these questions. Re-envisioning the existing walls as well as walls-yet-to-come as something other than an architecture that exacerbates the violence that institutionalized its presence and transforming the wall into an infrastructure that can be put to work in other ways, is more necessary now than ever before. In its current form, it reflects the inflexibility of an ancient strategy of a wall as a singular means of security. Instead, it could be reimagined not only as a security measure, but also as a productive infrastructure that contributes positively to a borderland ecosystem, breaking the cycle of violence from where it comes. For example, coupling the wall with a viable infrastructure that focuses on water, renewable energy, and urban social infrastructure, could be another pathway to security and safety, both in the border communities and the nations beyond them. According to the United States-Mexico Health Commission, three of the ten poorest counties in the United States are located in the border area, and two of the ten fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the United States—Laredo and McAllen—are located on the Texas-Mexico border. Due to rapid industrialization, communities on the Mexican side of the border have less access to basic water and sanitation services than the rest of the nation. A commitment to multifunctional water, solar, environmental, and social improvements on the border, with the wall itself as the vehicle of delivery, would require that a portion of the vast investment of taxpayer dollars in capital expenditures be maintained. Instead of a future scenario in which walls are dismantled solely in the name of freedom and democracy, the walls designed in response to a much-needed investment in some of the most impoverished and fastest-growing regions in the U.S. might remain, as would our investment in them, to become the armatures upon which the possibilities of a post-border wall world can be grafted. Whether Trump is elected or not, it is time to advocate for a reconsideration of the wall. And rather than an embargo on Mexico, which, as Trump believes, will force Mexico to build it, we must end the embargo on multifunctional design at the border. Advocating for a reconsideration of the wall at the border is not an endorsement for the construction of more walls, nor should it give wall builders a greater reason for building them. Rather, if design—if architecture—can be smuggled into the creation and re-imagining of the border wall now, it will put into place several very important conditions that will affect the future of the landscapes, cultures, and bio-ecologies that it now divides. There is one more strategy that architects should consider if they take on the challenge—if an appeal is being made to tear down this wall, as others have demanded it, then what replaces it in the future must absolutely be designed now.
Placeholder Alt Text

Is the pod lifestyle on its way back? Fernando Romero thinks so

Mexican architect Fernando Romero has brought back pod living after a 50 year hiatus from the architectural mainframe. Looking like an export from Mars, a new design for pod living by Mexican architect Fernando RomeroThe Nest Pod, is a new take on an old concept.

Working in collaboration with developer Robbie Antonio as part of Revolution Precrafted, the pod concept envisions 1960s modular micro-homes in a new stylish contemporary format. Joining Antonio on board with the project is Zaha Hadid, Sou Fujimoto, and Daniel Libeskind.

Romero aimed to reinvent the versatile modular pod living space. Using geometric guidelines and forms found in nature, Romero said that The Nest Pod "provides passive shading on its most vulnerable sides."

Occupying 1,022 square feet, the humble dwelling is divided along its North-South axis, allowing the space to be naturally ventilated. Nearly all the pod's components are prefabricated, making it easily constructed on site.

https://vimeo.com/148989702 (Courtesy Fernando Romero) (Courtesy Fernando Romero)

Placeholder Alt Text

This Mexico City apartment building by Arqmov responds to city life with its facade design

Colonia Condesa, a Mexican neighborhood renown for its social scene, commercial activities, and nightlife, has received a new apartment building, Just BE, by Mexico-based design firm, Arquitectura en Movimiento (Arqmov). The apartment building resides on the same street as the Cultural Fund (Fondo de Cultura) and the Bella Época theater, both icons of Colonia Condesa. Arqmov focused on the neighborhood's social life and urban activities to produce open residences and public space. JustBE is on the corner of Benjamin Hill Avenue, a larger circulation street for cars, bicycles, and pedestrians, and Calle Reynosa, a narrow street with only residential access. Arqmov applied this contrast to the two street-facing facades. On Benjamin Hill Avenue, the facade uses a wooden lattice to appear partly transparent, and on Calle Reynosa, the apartments have long balconies and full-height glass curtain walls. According to Arqmov, JustBE was inspired by "huacal," a wooden box popularly used in the area's street life. "This element suggests enclosure and isolation and, at the same time, the openness and movement characteristic of a market on wheels," explained the firm. Arqmov was required to meet a minimum open area, which they responded to with two voids in the structure: first, an open staircase and, second, balconies facing the Cultural Fund. The two voids also ensure each apartment receives ventilation and natural light from all directions, Arqmov claims. At night, each corner's red tiled wall lights up to invite the public to sit on wooden cubes. Arqmov said in terms of the public space, "It is interesting to watch passers-by, whether on foot, by car or bike, interact with this space and with the active context surrounding it."