He used to be a rock star, when in the 1990s he successfully played drums with a music band called Aleks Syntek y la gente normal. Now he is a renowned architect, founder of Rojkind Arquitectos in 2002. Michel Rojkind, born in 1969 and graduated in Arquitectura y Urbanismo at the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City, continues to keep the show on the road.
From his wide and heterogeneous production, we have selected three emblematic works that show how much he endorses contemporary project approaches which are outside precoded schemes and styles. Does our modern society urge us to understand the new role that shopping malls are playing as a magnet also for social meetings and cultural exchanges? Can architecture be a medium to reconnect parts of a city or improve human experience?
The answers provided by Rojkind Arquitectos are quite evident in the Liverpool Department Store, with its 164-year-long history as a place of reference for shopping in Mexico. For brand repositioning and expansion, a new interpretation was required for the Department Stores of Interlomas and Insurgentes. Two very different frameworks.
The first one, with its 18,000 m2, is situated in the Northern suburbs of Interlomas, where everything moves very fast. Spread out like a monolith in a congested area between motorways and overpasses characterized by the lack of open public spaces (where pedestrians are not exactly welcome), the building develops on a pre-existing round structure with aerodynamic, fluid and shining shapes.
With their external architectural skin in polished stainless steel, they are not that different from the car bodies all around. These façades stem directly from 3D models which are the result of a customized manufacturing process.
“Of course, they have a futuristic Blade Runner-like look that has an immediate catalyzing effect on the district”, recognized Rojkind. “But most of all, I like to think that the outer shell breaths and evolves organically with the changing reflections of daylight”, he continued. “Its innermost skin extrapolates it from the surrounding chaos. Then, at night, when the recesses between the folds of the double surfaces of the façade are swallowed by the light that subtly eludes empty and full surfaces, the monochromatic, mono-material solid turns into a highly expressive shape”.
By contrast, the Liverpool Department Store – Insurgentes, smaller in size with its densely built area of 825,000 m2 and a façade of 2,400 m2, is situated in an open and central urban space at the intersection of Insurgentes and Felix Cuevas boulevards, in the Southern district of Mexico City, where the underground station has brought about an increase in pedestrian and transport traffic. Here the project has challenged the model of a typical retail closed “big box”, restoring a new dynamic identity to the pre-existing façade.
“We intended to create a visually permeable and experiential skin that was able to show passers-by what was happening inside the store, while simultaneously giving shoppers the possibility to interact with urban scenarios”, he explained.
How? “Through a 2.8-deep wall system taking inspiration from Moiré’s optical art patterns, consisting of three layers of glass fibre, steel, aluminium and glass, organized in hexagonal multiple shapes connected to large openings that make it possible to explore these programmatic options, blurring the line between inside and outside with a variety of temporary visualizations. The porous skin of the façade becomes inhabitable”.
Actually it is the result of a high-tech digital project combined with the know-how of Mexican craftsmen in metal working. This is the imprinting that, in its specificity, characterizes also Mercado Roma, that with its 1,750 m2 marks the rebirth of an industrial area which was previously taken by Bar León in Colonia Roma district. This is a place for meeting and eating that intends to celebrate the contemporary expressions of Mexican culture also from a gastronomic point of view, placing particular emphasis on team work: designed by Rojkind Arquitectos, conceptualized by Cadena y Asociados, with a floor by Cecilia León de la Barra, a vertical vegetable garden by Huertos Concretos, lights by Luz y Forma, furniture by Alberto Villarreal with Felipe Castañeda, Emiliano Godoy + Tuux.
“It is like a sort of historical collective body that integrates several local efforts. In order to become a hotbed of reference for high-quality products for the (not only local) community”, commented Ignacio Cadena. On the road level, there are fifty-three sales stands with a fluid organization that reinterprets the grid model of traditional markets.
In the two upper levels, there are two restaurants that take part in the growth of a green wall and a garden with fruit and vegetables that can be purchased from retailers. According to Gerardo Salinas: “Thinking about the concept of a contemporary market in Mexico has been a great opportunity to show we have urban and historical roots from which we can derive knowledge and strength”.
Michel Rojkind’s opinion on: The Mexico Design Week.
What do you think about it?
“First of all, Mexico City is an ingenious megalopolis out of necessity. Let us not forget it. Its citizens have many challenges to face each day and important challenges concern the use of public space. Everybody, in his own way, is a designer of solutions. The same mechanisms of survival adopted by ordinary people apply to the creative heritage, which proves that design (not only that by professionals) lives every day in every corner of the city. Having said that, the Design Week is important to understand what is happening in the country and in which direction we are heading. The focus should not be exclusively put on what is physically exhibited and tangible. It is fundamental to develop a dialog and a wider debate with the experiences and outlooks of other international realities”.
Mexico City has been appointed World Design Capital 2018. Which are its three unavoidable challenges?
“The challenges had already been specified in the application submitted by Mexico City to be selected as a candidate to become World Design Capitall® (WDC). Now it has been appointed. This means that everybody was convinced that this project can really be a driving force to improve the quality of life in town (first challenge). It can also be the means to guarantee the mobilization and participation of ever broader sectors of the population (second challenge). Finally, it is the tool to promote dialog between creators’ communities and companies, universities and young people (third challenge)”.
What is it really fundamental to design today? And with which kind of approach?
“I think it is fundamental to fully understand all the aspects – facets of a project, including the public policies that should be redesigned or redefined. As far as the social approach is concerned, this is what we can call shared responsibility. This means that the customer is responsible for what he wants to create, I am responsible in my capacity as architect, and the government is responsible too; as well as all the people who are involved in optimizing and enhancing the value of the city. A priority is cooperation between the parties and mind openness towards a really constructive cross pollination”.
If you thought about an example of contemporary architecture already developed in Mexico City that could be taken as a reference, which would that be and why?
“My thought always goes to the central campus of UNAM university city (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México), which is to the south of Mexico City, in Pedregal de San Angel district. Designed by architects such as Enrique del Moral, Mario Pani, Vladimir Kaspe, Alonos Mariscal, it includes the Olympic stadium and other sports facilities, about 40 faculties and institutes, a cultural centre, an ecological reserve, a central library, a few museums and concert halls. Over one hundred architects and engineers have contributed to its development, such as Pedro Ramírez Vázquez, Carlos Lazo, Juan O’Gorman, Enrique Yáñez, Enrique de la Mora, Felix Candela, José Villagrán García. And also artists such as Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros. Globally, this campus is so valuable because it is a future-oriented multi-purpose and multidisciplinary place. It has been so since the very beginning, in the 1950s, when it was built on an ancient solidified lava bed (coming from the Xitle volcano, editor’s note) called ‘El Pedregal’ to gather the buildings that up to that moment were scattered all over downtown. Finished in 1954, this project is the largest carried out in Mexico since the time of the Aztecs. It was declared a Unesco World Heritage site in 2007. It would be very hard to imagine a situation like that today, starting from the scale of intervention. This is the reason why I frequently go back to the Ciudad Universitaria. As a source of ideas, it is wonderful not only for students or passers-by, but also for architects”.
Photos Manuel Cervantes, Jaime Navarro, Paúl Rivera / courtesy Rojkind Arquitectos – Article Antonella Boisi