AR­CHI­TEC­TURE— TA­TIANA BIL­BAO

BOMB Magazine - - CON­TENTS - by Ter­ence Gower

For Ta­tiana Bil­bao, an ar­chi­tec­tural pro­ject’s lim­i­ta­tions are op­por­tu­ni­ties to ex­per­i­ment with new ap­proaches. With artist Ter­ence Gower she re­vis­its re­cent ven­tures and Mex­ico’s ar­chi­tec­tural tra­di­tion.

I met Ta­tiana Bil­bao for break­fast at my apart­ment on a cold Jan­uary morn­ing. In the back­ground, the usual stream of sirens from emer­gency ve­hi­cles tore down Sev­enth Av­enue at in­ter­vals of about thirty min­utes. Bil­bao and I had met sev­eral times in both Mex­ico City and New York, but this was the first op­por­tu­nity to have a proper conversation about her prac­tice. The main themes that emerged from our dis­cus­sion are close to my own in­ter­ests and pre­oc­cu­pa­tions: the rel­a­tivis­tic mean­ing of ma­te­ri­als and forms, the im­por­tance of built ar­chi­tec­ture over paper ar­chi­tec­ture, the prob­lem of fash­ion and style. Bil­bao has built pro­jects in many coun­tries and main­tains an of­fice in Europe, but we fo­cused mainly on her work in Mex­ico.

My fa­ther, an ar­chi­tect, told me many years ago that the work of the ar­chi­tect is es­sen­tially prob­lem­solv­ing, and it’s true that our conversation mostly took the form of de­scrib­ing the prob­lem at the heart of a com­mis­sion, fol­lowed by a de­scrip­tion of Bil­bao’s of­ten sur­pris­ing so­lu­tion. I came to re­al­ize she is one of the rare prac­ti­tion­ers to main­tain a crit­i­cal view of the state of the pro­fes­sion while at the same time build­ing a suc­cess­ful prac­tice on a set of val­ues sep­a­rate from the main­stream. Bil­bao doesn’t seek to be a leader, to pros­e­ly­tize, or to claim some kind of move­ment or style. She just prac­tices, de­signs, and builds, at all scales: houses, cul­tural fa­cil­i­ties, pub­lic hous­ing, of­fice build­ings. If she seems to be lead­ing by ex­am­ple it is be­cause others have cho­sen to follow her.

— Ter­ence Gower

Ter­ence Gower: Last year I had din­ner at Vi­a­jante, a fan­tas­tic res­tau­rant in East Lon­don, where the chef seemed to be guided solely by the prop­er­ties of his in­gre­di­ents—fla­vors, col­ors, tex­tures— rather than any cul­tural in­flu­ence (e.g., na­tional cuisine) or per­sonal reper­tory. The same kind of di­rect, in­tu­itive ex­pres­sion, gen­tly guided by ba­sic con­di­tions, is what I rec­og­nize in your prac­tice as an ar­chi­tect.

Ta­tiana Bil­bao: That could be an ac­cu­rate de­scrip­tion…

TG: Let’s start with one of your fa­vorite pro­jects.

TB: Okay. A few years ago a client came to see me to de­sign a coun­try house to be built at Lake Cha­pala, near Guadala­jara. She wanted a good- size house, around 300 square me­ters, with all the usual fa­cil­i­ties—three bed­rooms, bath­rooms, etcetera—but the bud­get was around $120,000. The eas­i­est re­sponse would have been to say, “No way, we need more money to do this,” but I be­came in­ter­ested in the chal­lenge of tak­ing on this pro­ject, with its site and fi­nan­cial lim­i­ta­tions.

TG: Ninety- nine per­cent of ar­chi­tects would have walked away right there. What made you stay?

TB: Ar­chi­tec­ture only ex­ists when it is built. We should do ev­ery­thing in our power as ar­chi­tects to build—if it stays on paper it’s not ar­chi­tec­ture. In the case of this com­mis­sion, I re­ally wanted to see what could be phys­i­cally achieved, per­haps with some new con­struc­tion tech­nol­ogy we hadn’t worked with be­fore.

TG: So let’s hear the so­lu­tion you came up with to achieve this im­pos­si­ble task!

TB: We needed to build the house with a ma­te­rial that was nearby, plen­ti­ful, and very in­ex­pen­sive, so we chose to use the soil on the site in rammed- earth con­struc­tion.

TG: Did you con­sider adobe?

TB: Rammed- earth is sim­i­lar to adobe con­struc­tion for the rea­sons I just men­tioned: it’s on- site, plen­ti­ful, etcetera. It is an equally an­cient build­ing method. This is a tech­nol­ogy I had wanted to ex­per­i­ment with and this pro­ject of­fered me the op­por­tu­nity—and the client had to ac­cept it if we were go­ing to work within her bud­get. To make a rammed- earth struc­ture, you set up a 12 inch– deep form, fill it with the lo­cal earth, and com­press it as much as pos­si­ble be­fore set­ting up the next 12 inch– deep form on top of that, and so on. We added some ce­ment to the mix for ex­tra rigid­ity and the walls are more or less 20 inches thick, strong enough to sup­port a poured- in- place con­crete roof with­out columns.

TG: I’ve seen a pic­ture of this house and the walls have a very beau­ti­ful graphic pat­tern, al­most like sed­i­men­tary lay­ers in a ge­o­log­i­cal di­a­gram.

TB: Yes, we added pig­ment to ac­cen­tu­ate the lay­ers up to a level of 8 feet to keep the struc­ture at a hu­man scale. Win­dows and doors were cus­tom-made for the house and we came in ex­actly on bud­get.

TG: So I can see there’s great sat­is­fac­tion in hit­ting on the right so­lu­tion in these re­ally chal­leng­ing sit­u­a­tions.

TB: In the pro­ject I just de­scribed, the so­lu­tion came out of the type of con­struc­tion we used. I of­ten tai­lor my pro­jects to the spe­cific skills of the builders we work with. Builders work­ing on con­struc­tion sites in Mex­ico gen­er­ally learn on the job and mas­ter very spe­cific tech­niques. It is our duty to work with those ex­ist­ing tech­niques and make the con­struc­tion process the start­ing point of the ar­chi­tec­tural process. The qual­ity of­ten comes from the builders’ abil­i­ties. Ma­te­ri­als also can be de­ter­mined by the skills of the avail­able la­bor, what they are used to work­ing with, and so on.

TG: Like poured con­crete, which has long been such a fine art in Mex­ico. I’m cu­ri­ous about the funeral home you de­signed in San Luis Po­tosí, Mex­ico. I’ve never seen pho­tos, but the pro­gram has been de­scribed to me—it sounds fas­ci­nat­ing.

TB: Yes, this was a com­mis­sion a few years ago from the own­ers of a num­ber of funeral homes in that re­gion. They had al­ready ac­quired a plot of land in the city cen­ter for this new build­ing. When I vis­ited, I found the plot con­tained quite a beau­ti­ful gar­den with ma­ture trees, and I de­cided to keep this un­touched as much as pos­si­ble. In Mex­ico, the funeral is a very so­cial oc­ca­sion—a re­u­nion of the fam­ily and old friends—and there is as much, if not more, so­cial­iz­ing go­ing on as there is mourn­ing of the dead. We looked closely at how ex­ist­ing funeral homes func­tion and dis­cov­ered that there never is any space pro­vided for this so­cial ac­tiv­ity.

TG: It’s true; you end up hav­ing these hur­ried, un­com­fort­able con­ver­sa­tions in cor­ri­dors and stair­wells with peo­ple you haven’t seen in years. One of the first things I no­ticed when I lived in Mex­ico is a cer­tain life- af­firm­ing cul­ture around death.

TB: Ex­actly. So we de­signed these liv­ing- room- like spa­ces that ad­join the chapel where the cof­fin is dis­played. The so­cial ex­change hap­pens there. Then the vis­i­tor or vis­i­tors can have a more in­ti­mate en­counter with the dead per­son. Then, from the chapel, a door leads to an en­closed sec­tion of the gar­den where the mourner can be alone in na­ture. You have these dif­fer­ent lev­els of pri­vacy avail­able to the mourner, who can then exit the funeral home di­rectly from the gar­den.

TG: Were there any con­struc­tion chal­lenges in this pro­ject?

TB: We built the whole com­plex en­tirely in con­crete with an ag­gre­gate of the area that has a pink­ish color. At the end, and af­ter sev­eral tests, we un­der­stood that if we wanted the color of the ag­gre­gate to show, we needed to add a bit of pig­ment to make it softer. The place, called Funer­aria Tan­gassi, has been open for about three years now and seems to func­tion very well in terms of the sep­a­ra­tion of spa­ces I just de­scribed. But the own­ers have told us that vis­i­tors keep ask­ing them when they are go­ing to fin­ish con­struc­tion. It’s the un­painted con­crete walls. Un­for­tu­nately they have de­cided to paint the build­ing.

TG: Oh no!

TB: This is part of the life of the build­ing and I can’t be a tyrant about it. The main thing is that I stay in­volved in this new phase, by help­ing to se­lect the paint and so on. We have to ac­cept that not ev­ery­one ap­pre­ci­ates con­crete as a fin­ished ma­te­rial the way we do. So we will paint the in­te­ri­ors of the build­ing; we’re work­ing on the color selec­tion now.

TG: This prob­lemis a real in­ter­est of mine: how dif­fer­ent ma­te­ri­als and forms have dif­fer­ent mean­ings to dif­fer­ent peo­ple. I’msure you know the story of Le Cor­bus­ier’s early work­ers’ hous­ing de­vel­op­ment Pes­sac, from 1925. Fifty years later, a pho­tog­ra­pher doc­u­mented the com­plex and found the in­hab­i­tants had turned Le Cor­bus­ier’s flat roofs into pitched roofs. His rib­bon win­dows had been walled up into tra­di­tional square win­dows, and his log­gias and ter­races had been filled in to cre­ate a tra­di­tional sil­hou­ette.

TB: Yes, I knew about those mod­i­fi­ca­tions at Pes­sac. In fact, re­cently, in re­search­ing an­other pro­ject, we dis­cov­ered that to many peo­ple in Mex­ico a pitched roof sig­ni­fies a fin­ished house. Tra­di­tion­ally, ever since peo­ple started build­ing with con­crete, a flat roof on a house ac­tu­ally rep­re­sents the floor of the next story, still un­built.

TG: And al­ways with re­bar stick­ing out ready to an­chor the next floor’s columns. It’s quite charm­ing, like a sym­bol of vast po­ten­tial: “One day this will be a ten- story house!”

TB: So what orig­i­nally sym­bol­ized grand as­pi­ra­tions—those ten sto­ries planned for the fu­ture—now sym­bol­izes fail­ure. The fail­ure to fin­ish the house. I was ap­proached by Pa­tri­cia Ar­men­dariz who runs a mi­cro-fi­nanc­ing or­ga­ni­za­tion called Fi­nanciera Sus­tentable that gives loans to very small busi­nesses. Tak­ing ad­van­tage of gov­ern­ment hous­ing sub­si­dies, she wanted to of­fer hous­ing to peo­ple in her fi­nanc­ing pro­gram. If a house could be built for un­der $8,000, then the gov­ern­ment would sub­si­dize $3,000. We did a lot of in­ter­views with po­ten­tial home- own­ers to find out their space re­quire­ments and found that the house ab­so­lutely had to have a pitched roof (so it looked fin­ished!) and yet it needed to be ex­pand­able, which of course is ex­actly why peo­ple al­ways built with flat roofs and ex­posed re­bar.

TG: With Coca Cola bot­tles on the re­bar for some rea­son. Not sure why.

TB: This was a huge chal­lenge. We fig­ured out a way—by mak­ing in­te­rior pa­tios and dou­ble- height spa­ces—for a house- owner to dou­ble their space by build­ing par­ti­tions, all with­out ex­ceed­ing the orig­i­nal foot­print of the house, con­tained un­der the tra­di­tional pitched roof. There’s even a wa­ter tank fit­ted in un­der the roof.

TG: What was avail­able in the way of ma­te­ri­als at that con­struc­tion price? Lots of pre­fab?

TB: We used ship­ping pal­ettes as bris­esoleils, for in­stance, around the cov­ered kitchen pa­tio. In Mex­ico, noth­ing goes to waste and ev­ery­thing is reused, so we ac­tu­ally couldn’t get our hands on used pal­ettes—we had to buy new ones. Things like doors and win­dows were off the shelf—Home De­pot, ac­tu­ally. Cost does not in­clude in­fra­struc­ture hookup, etcetera. We have com­pleted two pro­to­types (ur­ban and ru­ral ver­sions) and we are start­ing ten new houses, all in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chi­a­pas.

TG: I’mget­ting the sense that your work isn’t re­ally grounded in any spe­cific tra­di­tion, that you are al­ways re­spond­ing di­rectly to the site and the needs of the client or user in a more in­tu­itive and per­sonal way. But I’d like to know what build­ings and ar­chi­tects from the past, es­pe­cially the post­war pe­riod in Mex­ico, are in­ter­est­ing to you. I’m not talk­ing about in­flu­ences here, though in­flu­ence is in­evitable, but just what build­ings, de­sign­ers, or even de­tails do you re­ally love?

TB: Mario Pani was one of the great ar­chi­tects of that pe­riod. The kinds of so­lu­tions he came up with un­der very harsh fi­nan­cial and tech­no­log­i­cal lim­i­ta­tions were al­ways bril­liant. Mex­ico was just de­vel­op­ing the tech­nol­ogy to build at the scale he wanted to work at and he man­aged to ex­e­cute these vast pro­jects with a kind of po­etry. I’m in­ter­ested in his early stud­ies in Paris and his ap­pli­ca­tion of ideas he picked up there to the Mex­i­can con­text.

TG: In his early pub­lic hous­ing pro­jects Pani was said to draw up pro­pos­als un­der bud­get, un­heard of in Mex­ico. Let’s talk for a minute about how your of­fice is struc­tured. First of all, how many are you?

TB: Thirty.

TG: Re­turn­ing tomy first com­ment about how your work springs from its con­text and pa­ram­e­ters, it doesn’t seem to have a rec­og­niz­able “sig­na­ture” style. There is no at­tempt to de­velop some kind of trade­mark aes­thetic. In­stead the look of each pro­ject is de­ter­mined by the par­tic­u­lar de­sign chal­lenge you and your team are faced with. I imag­ine that not hav­ing a real “au­teur” kind of prac­tice­makes it eas­ier to bring in ideas and even de­sign de­ci­sions from the whole team. How do you em­ploy your ju­nior de­sign­ers?

TB: I will de­scribe how we worked on a spe­cific pro­ject. Have you ever heard of Sor­teos Tec? This is a lot­tery that is held four times a year as a fund- raiser for the In­sti­tuto Tec­nológico de Mon­ter­rey univer­sity. The prize is al­ways a house— strange, I know. And the houses have al­ways been ter­ri­bly de­signed. Re­cently, the lot­tery’s or­ga­niz­ers came to re­al­ize this and de­cided to hire con­tem­po­rary ar­chi­tects. We were the first to be in­vited. I put to­gether a group fromthe of­fice to re­search the ex­pec­ta­tions of the lot­tery win­ners by de­sign­ing a ques­tion­naire for vis­i­tors to the most re­cent model house (the house is ac­tu­ally built, peo­ple can visit it, then it is of­fered in the lot­tery).

We showed them images of some pretty clas­sic mod­ern houses— even by Mies van der Rohe—to gauge their re­sponse, and of course ev­ery­one hated any­thing mod­ern. So we had to work with what they hated the least and then con­cen­trate on is­sues like in­ter­nal cir­cu­la­tion, garages, gar­dens, etcetera. Next we had a lit­tle com­pe­ti­tion in the of­fice to pro­pose de­signs. From this kind of brain­storm we worked to­ward a fi­nal de­sign and as we started to see what was go­ing to be re­quired to build this house. I put to­gether the peo­ple from the of­fice with the strong­est skills for this par­tic­u­lar pro­ject. In gen­eral, I al­lo­cate peo­ple ac­cord­ing to their strengths—maybe some­one has skills in ur­ban plan­ning, or land­scape de­sign, in­te­rior de­sign, and so on, that would be more use­ful to a cer­tain pro­ject.

TG: You al­ways have fi­nal say, of course.

TB: Of course! I like to think that we all do. And I make the first visit to the site to sketch out the gen­eral con­cept.

TG: An­other thing I wanted to ask you about is the role of pub­lic re­la­tions in your prac­tice, and in the pro­fes­sion in gen­eral. I no­tice you don’t have a web­site, just a web page, and there isn’t a huge amount avail­able on you on­line. It seems that you rely on word of mouth re­fer­rals from clients and others in the pro­fes­sion, for in­stance the Swiss firm Her­zog & de Meu­ron, which has re­ferred pro­jects to you. I like to think that this deficit of PR and pub­lished im­agery re­lates to your ear­lier state­ment about the ne­ces­sity for built ar­chi­tec­ture ver­sus ar­chi­tec­ture on paper. I get the sense that what is most im­por­tant to you is your re­la­tion­ship to the users of your build­ings and not your re­la­tion­ship to the read­ers of mag­a­zines and web­sites. The cloud of hype and bull­shit that sur­rounds con­tem­po­rary ar­chi­tec­ture is of­ten mis­taken for ar­chi­tec­ture it­self (we have the same prob­lem in the art world). PR has a role in this, and fash­ion.

TB: When I’m lec­tur­ing to ar­chi­tec­ture stu­dents, I some­times scan the room and won­der, Which one will it be who will re­ally prac­tice, who won’t just follow what they see in ar­chi­tec­ture mag­a­zines—who will be the one? A huge amount of de­sign is not done for a build­ing’s users but rather for the cover of a magazine.

TG: This re­lates back to my ear­lier ques­tions on post­warMex­i­can ar­chi­tec­ture: I’ve al­ways thought of Bar­ragán as the first of the heav­ily me­dia- driven ar­chi­tects, as some­one who was re­ally de­sign­ing for pub­li­ca­tion, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with his pho­tog­ra­pher Salas Por­tu­gal. He was known to pho­to­graph his build­ings mid­con­struc­tion and make mod­i­fi­ca­tions based on how they ap­peared in print. He was liv­ing proof that de­sign­ing for ar­chi­tec­ture mag­a­zines can cre­ate a ca­reer—he be­came the most fa­mous Mex­i­can ar­chi­tect abroad.

TB: You can be crit­i­cal of that as­pect of Bar­ragán’s work, but at the same time, he was a true artist, a bril­liant cre­ator of spa­ces—a sculp­tor of space, re­ally. His built work is po­etic and ex­hil­a­rat­ing to ex­pe­ri­ence in per­son, to walk through. And ul­ti­mately, to me, this is what counts.

TG: At the same time, the one pho­to­graph you of­fer a vis­i­tor to your sin­gle web page is so in­cred­i­bly beau­ti­ful—a house made up of mod­ules clus­tered on the ridge of a densely forested hill­side. It is to­tally se­duc­tive: in porn this kind of photo is called “the money shot.”

TB: Yes, we couldn’t re­sist; we called in Iwan Baan and did the whole thing.

TG: In this case, the doc­u­men­ta­tion is like a free­stand­ing art­work. Tell me about the house in the pic­ture.

TB: There is this de­vel­op­ment, in the lower part of Cerro del Chiqui­huite over­look­ing Mon­ter­rey, that has been di­vided into sev­eral plots where the chil­dren and grand­chil­dren of one fam­ily have set up their homes. The land was di­vided into equal parcels and the fam­ily’s will stip­u­lated that each heir had to hire an ar­chi­tect to de­sign them a house. I de­signed the house you see in the pho­to­graph for one of the grand­sons. It is a con­crete con­struc­tion with ex­posed con­crete fin­ishes, and the plan is made up of a se­ries of in­ter­lock­ing pen­tagon­shaped rooms. The client had wanted a house all on one level, but this would have re­quired a huge amount of ex­ca­va­tion and would have torn up the site. In­stead, I grad­u­al­ly­man­aged to con­vince them to follow the con­tours of the site, the house ris­ing up to a bed­room wing as a sort of look­out at one end.

TG: It looks like meta­bolic ar­chi­tec­ture.

( Bil­bao winces at the sound of fash­ion­able ter­mi­nol­ogy.)

TB: In fact, we’re work­ing on a sec­ond house for an­other heir not far from this one. Sixty- eight houses are planned, are in con­struc­tion, or have been com­pleted now, by both Mex­i­can and in­ter­na­tional ar­chi­tects. Her­zog & de Meu­ron, and Tadao Ando, have done houses there too.

TG: In­cred­i­ble. This fam­ily has cre­ated an im­por­tant piece of ar­chi­tec­tural

pat­ri­mony: a kind of mini- Or­dos. ( laugh­ter) So once again, in this house you are work­ing with a dif­fer­ent vo­cab­u­lary of forms from the ear­lier pro­jects we looked at. And again, go­ing back to my first com­ment, these forms and ma­te­ri­als don’t seem in any way pre­de­ter­mined; it’s as if they have been in­vented, to­tally fresh, for this spe­cific pro­ject. ... Speak­ing of Her­zog & de Meu­ron, I re­mem­ber you telling me you are col­lab­o­rat­ing with them on a pro­ject in France.

TB: Yes, they were in­vited to draw up the plan for an area on the is­land that makes up the city cen­ter of Lyon and is ac­tu­ally at the meet­ing point of two rivers. This area is known as the “La Con­flu­ence.” The first block is now laid out, and will launch the first phase of a larger ur­ban pro­ject. Her­zog & de Meu­ron pro­posed us, and the client— the city of Lyon—asked us to do three build­ings. This is a pub­lic- pri­vate col­lab­o­ra­tion with a de­vel­oper in the mid­dle who will build and sell apart­ments, but the city owns the land and is mak­ing the guide­lines. The de­mo­graphic mix was laid out in Her­zog & de Meu­ron’s mas­ter plan. We were given com­mis­sions for two pub­lic hous­ing build­ings and one for the free mar­ket, to be sold to a bailleur, who ad­min­is­ters the rents.

TG: I passed through this area on a train early last week head­ing south of Lyon—the train seems to tra­verse a huge shop­ping mall, then the Coop Him­melb(l)au mu­seum comes into view, but no sign of the new build­ings you’re de­sign­ing.

TB: Not yet, we are break­ing ground this com­ing year.

TG: What were the­main chal­lenges in this pro­ject? It might be in­ter­est­ing to ex­am­ine this one in more de­tail.

TB: It was like a Tetris puzzle. On the one hand we had a set of stan­dard city by­laws for ac­cess, fire ex­its, etcetera... gen­eral con­struc­tion rules. Next we had a very strict set of sus­tain­abil­ity guide­lines, also from the city, re­lated to en­ergy sav­ing, con­sump­tion, and per­for­mance. For them, this îlot is to be an ex­am­ple of how things should be done. Af­ter that there were the de­vel­oper’s de­mands; he is al­ways fo­cused on the bot­tom line. And, fi­nally, we had the guide­lines from the mas­ter plan­ners, who were more fo­cused on is­sues like vol­ume. Many of these rules con­tra­dicted each other. It was a huge chal­lenge.

TG: Were some of the city guide­lines re­lated to ap­pear­ance, to blending in with the ex­ist­ing ur­ban fab­ric?

TB: Their in­ter­est was that these new build­ings look good to­gether as a group, so there are many rules per­tain­ing to their ap­pear­ance. These build­ings should re­late to the old city bet­ter than the pre­vi­ous build­ings that went up in the area. There were some rules for fin­ishes, but the ar­chi­tects were also partly cho­sen be­cause they would pro­duce some­thing har­mo­nious. The rules were also more about the pro­por­tion of solid sur­faces to glass, the use of nat­u­ral ma­te­ri­als over ar­ti­fi­cial ones . . .

TG: These rules also re­late to sus­tain­abil­ity.

TB: Yes, and they are much more rig­or­ous in France than any­where else we have worked. We have never been faced with so many rules and guide­lines. And fi­nally, on top of all these con­trast­ing and con­tra­dict­ing rules, we needed to build re­main­ing true to our own ideas.

We wanted to achieve some­thing that would in­te­grate our ideas rather than just solve all these many prob­lems in a me­chan­i­cal way (which is what a de­vel­oper usu­ally ex­pects).

TG: So let’s hear some of the ideas you man­aged to in­sert into the Tetris puzzle.

TB: In one of the pub­lic hous­ing build­ings we pro­posed mak­ing all the apart­ments split- level. You en­ter at mid- level and ei­ther go up or down: the dif­fer­ent lev­els di­vide the pub­lic spa­ces fromthe pri­vate ones. This is a bit like a sec­tion you find in Mario Pani’s hous­ing com­plexes.

TG: You also find it in Pani’s con­do­minium build­ing on Paseo de la Re­forma in Mex­ico City. There’s a scene in my video Ci­u­dad Moderna where you see a cou­ple, di­vorced and liv­ing in sep­a­rate sec­tions of an apart­ment in that build­ing, walk­ing away from each other af­ter a dis­pute. Ex­it­ing the mid- level, one walks up and the other down to their sep­a­rate do­mains.

TB: In this same build­ing in Lyon we wanted to cre­ate log­gias, or ter­races, where you might en­counter your neigh­bors. We wanted peo­ple to get to know their neigh­bors and start build­ing a com­mu­nity. The de­vel­oper com­plained that there would not be enough pri­vacy but, in fact, these log­gias are not shared. Each unit has pri­vacy, but it’s not to­tally cut off—they can con­nect to their neigh­bors if so de­sired.

In the other pub­lic hous­ing build­ing we couldn’t do the split- level, so we asked our­selves what else we could of­fer the in­hab­i­tants. We de­cided to de­sign all the apart­ments dif­fer­ently, to ex­press an idea of in­di­vid­u­al­ity. Each one is unique, and you can tell them apart from the façade.

So the two build­ings are on the same block as the free- mar­ket build­ing, but there is this quite pro­gres­sive Euro­pean way of com­bin­ing all the com­mon ar­eas: a very good land­scape ar­chi­tect has de­signed a shared gar­den in the cen­ter of the block.

TG: You’re de­scrib­ing quite a com­plex pub­lic- pri­vate col­lab­o­ra­tion here, and I know you have done pub­lic pro­jects now in a num­ber of coun­tries. How do they com­pare? TB: Work­ing with a pub­lic client is com­pletely dif­fer­ent in dif­fer­ent parts of the world. In Europe, work­ing on pub­lic pro­jects is much more re­strained and se­ri­ous. There are many con­tracts in­volved. In Mex­ico it’s the op­po­site: noth­ing is on paper, and things aren’t al­ways done the way they are planned.

TG: Tell me about a pub­lic pro­ject in Mex­ico.

TB: Some years ago I was ap­proached by the Min­istry of Tourism for the state of Jalisco. They were in­ter­ested in en­hanc­ing a ma­jor pil­grim­age route to make it a year- round tourist des­ti­na­tion rather than a path used ex­clu­sively dur­ing Holy Week. We walked the route of the pil­grim­age, near Guadala­jara, and re­al­ized that quite a bit of in­fra­struc­ture for the pil­grims was needed. We wanted to make their lives a lit­tle eas­ier while walk­ing this route, by, for in­stance, be­ing able to bring along their fam­i­lies, etcetera. It was also im­por­tant that our pro­ject serve to re­in­force the economies of the vil­lages along the route. In the past, vis­i­tors would only come in HolyWeek, and the rest of the year was dead. Our idea was to make the route a year- round at­trac­tion. Three mil­lion peo­ple have now walked on it.

TG: What were your spe­cific so­lu­tions?

TB: For pil­grims and other vis­i­tors to use, we de­cided to make shel­ters, gath­er­ing places, food- prepa­ra­tion sites, toi­lets, emer­gency med­i­cal sta­tions, and trash- col­lec­tion points. We de­vel­oped the idea of invit­ing dif­fer­ent ar­chi­tects to make in­ter­ven­tions. I call them “points of in­ter­est” (or points of re­flec­tion), but they can be used as spir­i­tual places. They are lit­tle chapels, but we couldn’t call them that be­cause they’re not con­se­crated.

The idea of invit­ing other ar­chi­tects came out of two ear­lier pro­jects I par­tic­i­pated in, both spear­headed by the Chi­nese artist Ai Wei­wei: the Or­dos 100 pro­ject, where young firms were in­vited to de­sign houses for the new town of Or­dos, Mon­go­lia; and the Jin­hua Ar­chi­tec­ture Park in China. Us­ing these ear­lier pro­jects as a model, we thought the in­ter­ven­tion of other ar­chi­tects could en­rich the pil­grim­age route pro­ject. Our of­fice did the­mas­ter plan and two “points of in­ter­est”, one in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Dellekamp Arqui­tec­tos from Mex­ico City. For all pro­jects, the ma­te­rial of choice was con­crete, as there weren’t any other avail­able ma­te­ri­als in the area. The pro­ject was com­pleted in 2008.

TG: I heard you will have some role in the MoMA show on Latin Amer­i­can ar­chi­tec­ture open­ing this spring in New York.

TB: I’mnot in the show, as it cov­ers work only up to the 1980s, be­fore I started to prac­tice. I’ve been in­vited to give a talk along with other con­tem­po­rary Latin Amer­i­can ar­chi­tects. The idea is to dis­cuss the cur­rent state of ar­chi­tec­ture in Latin Amer­ica. In gen­eral, I think it’s a good mo­ment to be prac­tic­ing in Latin Amer­i­can coun­tries be­cause I see them as places in the process of con­sol­i­da­tion. This gives young ar­chi­tects a lot of op­por­tu­ni­ties to build their prac­tices and do a lot of new work. At the same time, we need to be very cre­ative be­cause there isn’t a lot of money to go around. This pro­duces very in­ge­nious so­lu­tions. We are work­ing with dif­fer­ent re­al­i­ties, but these res­onate in a lot of other parts of the world, so peo­ple from out­side are pay­ing at­ten­tion.

TAN­GASSI FUNERAL HOME, 2006– 2012, San Luis Po­tosí, San Luis Po­tosí, Mex­ico. Photo by Iwan Baan.

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