Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Local Materials in Postmodern Architecture

Mexico, and South America more broadly, currently lead in several fields of sustainable design. So many of our projects in North America and Europe use materials that are high-tech, and while this might edge them ahead in terms of absolute energy efficiency, Mexican projects seem to be able to effortlessly show respect toward the architectural customs and traditions of the region their projects are located. A further benefit of using simple and honest locally-available materials is their excellent thermal characteristics. The following four projects highlight the integration of sustainable materials and local processes. 

First we touch on the Casa Zirahuen in Querétaro, Mexico by Intersticial Arquitectura. The project is based in an urban area where the context is high surrounding walls for security. The firm has created a little oasis around two courtyards with the living quarters on the second floor. The interior design is a bit sparse, even for someone like myself who likes minimalism, but this project is definitely worth study for its use of sustainable materials. I will draw the reader's attention to the use of a locally sourced brick. A lot of brick I can take or leave, especially if its been sourced from across an ocean. This brick is made locally and given a chance I would love to use in Canada but resist knowing it would have to travel so far. It has this sort of elongated soft quality to it I find very attractive and its thermal properties, as mentioned above, are welcomed in any home.

Jorge Bolio Arquitectura completed a restaurant in the Yucatan in 2016 which had at its core the restoration of an old textile factory. When the firm needed to reinforce the structure, they creatively used touches of modern structural elements to also define new spaces within the building itself. What really stands out to the visitor – and indeed supports our study of materials in this piece – is the excellent use of textures throughout the building. Stone and ceramic are used extensively, which leads to unique and natural textures everywhere. The high-contrast patterns are great. The interior never goes overboard and on a whole the approach is so balanced the final space is quite calming. Very welcoming exterior and probably a great place to have a meal in. 

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Next we turn to the BRUMA winery in the Baja California wine growing region of Mexico. Completed in 2015 by Taller de Arquitectura Contextual (TAC), we have an excellent example of the use of wood in architecture. I find it helpful to contrast this work with traditional Japanese wood architecture since that's my main background. The simplicity of the Japanese design requires an excellent a source of high-quality wood. The same effect can be seen in action here, and the eye is drawn to the unique characteristics of this locally recycled wood, but instead of Japanese stillness, we have a much more joyful approach to the material. Much less reserved. Wonderful to see used wood getting a second life.

Lastly we come to the rammed-earthed School of Visual Arts of Oaxaca, in Oaxaca, Mexico. Completed by architect Mauricio Rocha in 2008. The pattern of earth caught in the walls is sublime. The material's inertness and natural tones do most of the work defining the structure's characteristics. Another notable feature of the building is better perceived from a high angle. The design is a masterclass in how to integrated a building into a site. It's sort of carved into the landscape. And although a visitor might not notice it during a casual meeting at the school, these qualities of integration filter down into the interior spaces as well. Between the materials and settings, it would lend the galleries and classrooms a wonderful calmness derived from its structure's timeless strength. On a final note – this building turns out to be not so timeless. Learning from their mistakes: It's reported the rammed-earth walls are deteriorating in several places. Even my vivid imagination stops short of considering the pain of repairing rammed-earth walls after occupancy. What's worth learning? Spending top dollar on excellent sustainability advice is never the wrong choice early in a project. 

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