Can this be progress?

“Paper and pencil” architect of Mexican and American heritage, Alberto Kalach put his personal interpretation on the Modern movement lessons of his beloved Luis Barragán and Louis Kahn. Interpreting much more in the keywords of his composition design “geometry, spatial dynamism and natural light”: asymmetries, fragmented  lines, bare materials without any covering.

And especially nature, conceived as a living material and as a necessary element of reference: “Plants of multifaceted tropical vegetation grow, transpire, change perfume, colour and shape with the seasons and days, expanding the game of the senses” he explained. As the protagonist in the narration, nature is also the surprising element of the three projects selected and published in these pages.

Torre 41 in Av.Constituyentes in San Miguel Chapultepec, D.F., a building in steel, coloured cement, wood and glass with a vertical development, was conceived to configure work spaces and offices that would express, from the roof to the parking area, the dimension of a green island flooded with natural light.

In its being a beacon in the landscape, with the material strength of a body anchored to the earth, broken by the rhythm of hanging gardens reaching towards the sky, it reminds us of a totemic pre-Colombian building that dissolves the boundaries between the building and the city, changing them depending on the viewer’s position.

Kalach commented: “This tower, next to the largest and most beautiful park in the city, in a complex and hybrid area that floats in time and space, where primitive and modern merge spontaneously, aims at triggering a spark. A green view feeds a green concept. From the flowered roots at road level to the wild foliage on the roof, also a prism of light (self-sufficient) in the night, thanks to a grid of light geometries, turns its silhouette into an urban ‘flame’. It is a great place to work creatively also on yourself.”

In La Platanera, location of famous art gallery owners Mónica Manzutto and José Kuri, the gardener-architect worked on the concept of the garden-house. The building began as a monastery in the 20th century not far from trendy Condesa, behind the simple wall that isolates it from the road, returned to its state of grace in a history rich in theological and colonial features around courtyard-patios and gardens, where in the past there were mainly banana trees.

Without mixing the various levels, in the compound of volumes that characterizes La Platanera, the transparency of the windows highlights new empty spaces and puts together large walls with nature. A new adobe brick wall integrates the ancient branches of the preserved native tepozán.

Other space devices recur as a connective tissue – from stone walls to wood left bare and rough, to skylights – and design multiple boundaries between outdoors and indoors, giving depth and a new meaning to words such as peace, contemplation and silence:  the idea of a garden as a necessary addition to the home for the “physical and mental well being” of its users.

Kurimanzutto art gallery is five minutes’ walk from La Platanera. The DNA is the same. It features historical and cultural roots and expressions from Mexico, though it is the incubator of international art trends (hosting the likes of Gabriel Orozco, Damián Ortega, Gabriel Kuri, Abraham Cruzvillegas and Dr Lakra).

Originally it was a wood store, hidden behind a three-storey building on the street front. “There was no light so we worked on the idea of bringing it in by means of a central lantern that cuts the ‘main aisle’ of the first courtyard-volume with a longitudinal development, built in an exposed framework of primitive wood and used for exhibiting sculpture, through to the open air courtyard at the rear, a place for leisure where luxuriant plants, sun, flowers and butterflies prevail.

Here is the second part of the building organized to host the kitchen-dining-living spaces serving the gallery” Kalach explained. The result is a meticulous work of traditional carpentry which shows something else.

Which is that even when configuring contemporary exhibiting spaces or offices, the Aztec spirit can meet Bauhaus: bare, oxidized steel supports, local lava rocks, unaligned walls, a linear internal connection staircase in concrete that recalls the monumental ruins of Teotihuacán.

Photos Yoshi Koitani, Pedro Rosenblueth/courtesy studio Kalach
Article Antonella Boisi