In Coyoacán, Mexico City, a studio dotted with portholes: large round eyes which light and air pass through, in addition to a sense of construction. Pedro Reyes is an architect and artist committed to recounting contradictions, the 'sins' and passions of the contemporary world

The artist Pedro Reyes uses different materials and media to create works that address the contradictions of the southern hemisphere. His works often assemble different elements that dialogue with each other, as if on the stage of an imaginary theatre. For example, the pacifist installation Disarm of 2013 accumulates remains of weapons destroyed by the Mexican army, while Pharmasphere, also from 2013, is a performance that represents the history of the manufacturing, distribution and consumption of illegal drugs from prohibition to today.

Reyes considers each work as the demonstration of a very precise point of view and the expression of a clear and strong message that addresses the public as directly as possible. His architecture shares the same extreme frankness. As a desecrating manipulator of the symbols and icons of our time, Reyes adopts openly brutal solutions where the supporting elements come to the forefront and everything that usually accompanies, integrates and completes the design is nullified and cancelled.

Pedro Reyes, born in Mexico City in 1972, attended Ibero-American University, where he studied architecture. He designs ongoing projects that propose playful solutions to social problems. From turning guns into musical instruments, to hosting a People’s United Nations to address pressing concerns, to offering ecologically-friendly grasshopper burgers from a food cart, Reyes transforms existing problems into ideas for a better world. In the artist’s hands, complex subjects like political and economic philosophies are reframed in ways that are easy to understand, such as a puppet play featuring Karl Marx and Adam Smith fighting over how to share cookies. He lives and works in Mexico City, Mexico.

On the one hand, Reyes' radicalism leads him to eliminate, without any ifs and buts, everything that is not necessary, and on the other hand it pushes him to emphasise that which matters, is needed and is important from an expressionist approach. For example, his home-studio published in Interni no. 665 (October 2016) displays a high-impact, exposed concrete library that places the books at the centre, because they are understood by Reyes as the first resource of knowledge and production: if the book is the central object, the house is therefore nothing but a simple container of the bookcase.

Starting in 2014 Reyes began building his new atelier in the neighbourhood of Coyoacán, Mexico City, where he was born in 1972: the project includes patient daily work to add on to the original nucleus composed precisely of his home and library. As Pedro explains, “I work with a team of masons who dedicate themselves to both sculpture and architecture and, somehow, the atelier is a habitable sculpture that continues to change over time”.

In fact, the building is completely in keeping with the material that is currently at the centre of his project – stone – worked by Reyes in large blocks. The atelier consists of two wings that meet to form an "L", one for soft activities – drawing, reading, meeting – and the other for heavy work, collecting and sculpting stone blocks and forging iron. The latter therefore has industrial requirements: it is an artist's workshop with large, double-height spaces illuminated by a shed skylight. And the structure is powerful, capable of supporting loads of over ten tons.

The soft wing instead features a very informal open space and is also illuminated by a lighting system from above, but through a different device formed by a series of tall cylinders that capture the light, shield it and diffuse it through the oculi dotted throughout the entire ceiling.

This wing is furnished with original furniture designed by Reyes, also subjected to constant design research; the artist says, “Most of the furniture is made here, by us, and every piece is perfected through a series of successive prototypes. We often don't even make any drawings, we just start directly from the volcanic stone that is found here, the same that the Aztecs used for their pyramids and their tools”.

I work with a team of masons who dedicate themselves to both sculpture and architecture and, somehow, the atelier is a habitable sculpture that continues to change over time (Pedro Reyes)."

Outside, the image of the entire building is dominated by the outline of the perimeter walls made up of prefabricated panels also designed by Reyes, featuring a curved section at both the base and at the top. This round shape punctuated by horizontal and vertical joints and reiterated by the portholes and rounded windows gives the building an appearance that is halfway between industrial and nautical.

But there is much more to Pedro's artistic architecture: “We use cement, typical of the brutalist architecture of the 60s and 70s, but also palm fibre for the mats to sleep on, bamboo for curtains and light dividers, and then wood and ceramics, timeless materials where the traces of manual work remain evident”.

Project Estudio Pedro Reyes - Photos Edmund Sumner