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Insights > Regional focus


but also with architects from other cities,” Abascal says. “Maybe it has to do with the social, political situation of the country being so urgent and so problematic. Architects have to be on the same side of the line. There’s also the fact that architects have to deal with the same amount of scarceness, which has led to similar positions.” Based in Mexico City and Madrid since 2015, LANZA Atelier has built a reputation for its bold design philosophy which treats almost everything as an architectural project in itself. That includes folding chairs, dining tables and public toilets. Most recently, the company was commissioned to design Forest House, a low-slung residential property formed in dialogue with a forest outside the town of Ocoyoacac. Built as tranquil home for a young family, the property was officially finished last year. In truth Abascal thinks it will take far longer to thrive.


The natural order “We want nature to take over in a very dramatic and beautiful way,” She explains. “We don't believe that the project was finished last year, but it will be in ten years-time, in 15 years- time or even 20 years-time.” In its use of local artisanal brick, playful use of clean lines and curves, and its union with rugged natural surroundings, it’s hard not to see clear overlaps with Barragán’s work, even if they are not deliberate. “Barragan was a very specific character and there are many things about his personality that influenced his work, but there are some [of his] teachings that I think every Mexican architect has internalised,” she explains. “The fact of looking to the inside... maybe not being so showy towards the outside


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and creating these inner spaces. That's something that I see that repeats itself.”


Along with current socioeconomic problems, earthquakes continue to shape architectural direction in Mexico. Located on the subduction zone (parts of the earth where one slab of the crust is slowly sliding under another) tremors present a constant threat to built-up communities. In 2017, for instance, an earthquake under the town of Jojutla destroyed as many as 3,000 structures, including historic churches and chapels, as well as schools, plazas, businesses and houses, were damaged or destroyed. Infonavit’s Centre of Investigation for Sustainable Development (CIDS), then led by the Mexico City-based architect Carlos Zedillo reached out to more than 30 architecture firms to help lead the redevelopment of Jojutla. Invariably, these tragedies serve a dual purpose: necessitating redevelopment projects while driving architects to build more robust structures in urban centres. In some cases, earthquakes can shape entire architectural careers. “I think that one of the things that impacted me the most was the earthquake in 1985 because I lived in a very central neighbourhood that was very much affected by it,” Tatiana Bilbao tells me. “That really made me conscious about how things are built.”


Build with purpose Born in Mexico City to a family of architects, Bilbao has spent her career thinking about urban planning in a country where 60% of the population lives below the poverty line. When the earthquake of 1985 forced the government to make mass-produced housing for millions of homes, Bilbao


became dismayed by the American- style suburban plots that replaced the traditional community-focused Ejidos in places like Ixtapaluca.


“In Mexico, housing is not only a human right, it’s a constitutional right, so [the government] had to describe ‘what it means to have an enjoyable and dignified place to live’,” Bilbao explains. “That description is very specific, and imposes a way of life that a big proportion of the people in this country do not have, for example, the Mayan people.”


Bilbao has worked relentlessly to counter Mexico’s housing dilemma, both on her own terms and by collaborating with fellow Mexican architects, striving to build thoughtful, functional, integrated communities. Her $8,000 prototype homes for social housing in Mexico were showcased at the Chicago Biennial in 2015. She has also continued to campaign for a state- funded communities that not only meet the bottom line but satisfy the needs of low- and middle-income families. “In Mexico there is very clear social division. It's a confrontation every day of people who have means and people who don't,” Bilbao says. “I think the way I made sense of it is that we are all working in the places we have. I'm not working for the poor... we're all living in this context.”


Design without boundaries A diverse portfolio that includes the Botanical Garden in Culiacán, a master plan and open chapel for a Pilgrimage Route in Jalisco, a Biotechnological Centre for a Tech Institution – along with projects in China, France, US and Guatamela – have all firmly established Bilbao’s reputation internationally. In 2019, she was awarded the Marcus Prize. Back home in Mexico City, however,


Bilbao is frustrated by the lack of respect for architecture as a profession. While house building is a well-respected tradition that goes back centuries, professional oversight is not. “It's not well respected. People don't understand why they have to pay an architect, but they understand why they have to pay for bricks,” she says. The lack of formal institutions in the country has its upsides, fostering what both Bilbao and Abascal describe as an informal exchange of ideas between contemporaries and colleagues at rival firms. Less professional and legislative barriers to entry also mean that younger architects can work readily in Mexico without spending years waiting their turn.


“Of course, I studied architecture and I'm an academic myself, but nobody has ever asked me for my diploma,” Abascal says. “I don't want to infantilise Mexican architecture at all. It's not that, but I think things are more flexible here.” For Abascal, a generational dialogue continues to be one of the most positive aspects of Mexican architecture. Architects within the country continue to be united by the unique set of social and political circumstances in which they work. “I think contemporary Mexican architecture, not in our generation but in older generations, is going to be much more recognised,” she says. “And I think that as the younger generation… we’re going to keep having these very fluid exchanges with them.”


Bilbao's prototype house – one of 32 selected to showcase the possibilities of low-cost housing – is nestled in the Hidalgo district in Apan. While Barragán built a home that looked inward, not all contemporary architects working in Mexico have that luxury.


LEAF REVIEW / www.leading-architects.com


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