Article from the 10|22 A&B
Today, the Hispanic country of North America is becoming one of the most interesting architectural scenes in the world. This is due not only to the achievements of a generation of young Mexican architects, heirs to the legacy of Pritzker Prize winner Luis Barragán, but also to the initiatives of the country's social and housing development institutions to strengthen the role of architecture in society and seek an innovative way forward to improve the quality of life of the population and counter the housing crisis.
The Institute of the National Housing Fund for Workers (Infonavit) is a government organization tasked with coordinating and financing social housing construction programs, providing easy access to low-cost mortgages, and managing the National Housing Fund, which consists of contributions received from domestic employers equivalent to 5 percent of workers' monthly wages.
masterplan of Apan neighborhood, Hidalgo, Mexico, proj.: MOS architects
photo: Jaime Navarro © MOS architects
Realized several years ago by the Institute in the city of Apan, in the state of Hidalgo, is a concept for an estate of thirty-two prototype houses within the framework of the Residential Estates Research and Practical Experience Laboratory Project [A&B 02/2021] is at first glance reminiscent of the European modernist Weissenhof housing estate initiative, a project that has involved all the greats of modernism, from Le Corbusier to Mies van der Rohe. In the Apan project, eighty-two teams were selected through an open tender organized by Infonavit to propose an innovative and prototypical housing solution that included a house design complete with furniture. However, the differences between these initiatives are very significant. The Apan housing development — unlike the Werkbund project — was not meant to present an ideological and spatial revolution, carried out with the latest materials and construction techniques. It was about analyzing the possibilities of social housing and improving the quality of life of its residents on an existing social, cultural, economic and climatic foundation.
diverse innovation at an elementary level
All of the projects at Apan are characterized by simplicity yet diversity. In Latin American countries, especially in lower-income communities, the ability to transform a home's space over time is very important. The presence or absence of particular functional spaces depends on budget conditions at the time, so all design proposals in Apan show an elemental potential for change through strategies of expanding, filling, adding and transforming living spaces. Issues of materials, construction, workmanship or organization of the home space are also important. Each project is a proposal for a specific rural area located in one of the country's 32 administrative units (31 states and Mexico City) and responds to the cultural and climatic conditions of a particular site located in one of the country's nine climatic regions. The idea was not to create designs that stand in opposition to those currently being built, often with minimal or even no architectural input, but rather to use the architects' experience to create the best possible low-cost, climate-appropriate living space with an individual identity.
flexible thread and repeatable modules
Casa Hilo: Coquimatlán, Colima
proj.: Zeller & Moye
Casa Hilo: Coquimatlán, Colima proj.: Zeller & Moye — ground floor plan
© Zeller & Moye
Casa Hilo goes beyond the outline of the walls: the house is the sum of the spaces of enclosed functional volumes and open and semi-open outdoor spaces. These spaces connect the private zone with the street zone while separating them from each other, and the whole creates a form open to the landscape. The resulting courtyards are places of different character and function tied together by semi-open terrace spaces. The covered courtyards on the street are zones for small-scale commerce, while those inside are places to meet, play or utility spaces.
Casa Hilo: Coquimatlán, Colima, pro: Zeller & Moye
photo: Jaime Navarro
The adaptability of the design lies in the possibility of arranging the modules, and consequently adapting the house to your lifestyle, plot and economic situation over time to choose the best solution for you. Concrete framing of the volumes provides a seismically adapted structure and the possibility of filling with locally available, inexpensive and environmentally friendly materials such as clay brick or compacted earth. Shutters made of local bamboo are large enough to act as doors, and window and door sashes in the open position cast shade over the interior courtyard space, creating a cool microclimate. Simple solutions are the key to the Casa Hilo.
Casa Hilo: Coquimatlán, Colima, proj.: Zeller & Moye
photo: Jaime Navarro
analysis of the biocultural memory of the site
Casa Pórtico: Xochitepec, Morelos
proj.: Rozana Montiel Estudio de Arquitectura
The architects at Rozana Montiel Arquitectura recognized that in vernacular examples of Mexican architecture, such as Mayan houses or granary houses of the Purepécha ethnic group, there is a kind of biocultural memory containing basic information about the most primordial aspects of sustainability for the area. These traditional Mexican typologies of apparent simplicity communicate the art of inhabiting a space and the material juxtapositions that come from the local area and its landscape. The studio's proposal for the Apan neighborhood, Casa Pórtico, is a reference to these very aspects and an evolution of the contemporary form of residential space use in the state of Morelos.
Casa Pórtico: Xochitepec, Morelos, proj.: Rozana Montiel Estudio de Arquitectura
photo: Jaime Navarro
Residents of the Xochitepec municipality instinctively seek spaces that provide protection from the sun and, in the rainy season, from rainfall. Shaded and covered semi-open spaces are places where life flourishes. The architecture of typical contemporary houses in the region seems to forget this and offers clear divisions of closed and open spaces, which does not suit the local lifestyle. The creation of such vital semi-open spaces is implicitly treated as an added element of luxury, and as a result they remain inaccessible to many. Casa Pórtico's covered attic space is the answer to this problem. All living and social activity, in accordance with the climatic and cultural code of the place, is woven into a multifunctional space made of locally available bamboo set on walls finished with plaster based on waste ecological stone dust. In addition to the loft, the module consists of an enclosed sleeping area, a semi-open traditional kitchen, dining room and bathroom.
Casa Pórtico: Xochitepec, Morelos, projet: Rozana Montiel Estudio de Arquitectura
photo: Jaime Navarro
Zaragoza house, Coahuila
proj.: PPAA Pérez Palacios Arquitectos
The municipality of Zaragoza in northern Mexico, located roughly 50 kilometers from the border with the United States, is characterized by a specific context not only in terms of climate, but also in terms of culture. PPAA architects stressed that strong aspirations for the American way of life are reflected in the way the area is built. The average building size on the lots is 512 square meters, which has resulted in the idea of the house as a spatial system designed for expansion.
House in Zaragoza, Coahuila, proj.: PPAA Pérez Palacios Arquitectos — plan
© PPAA Pérez Palacios Arquitectos
In its smallest version, two intersecting cuboids separate private and semi-private areas. The system can be expanded by adding more volumes, and the house becomes an organism that evolves over time to fit the needs of its users. Elements of traditional architecture of northern Mexico and the southern United States, such as the terrace and porch, a traditional drainage system, have been preserved as elements of cultural custom, and the masonry walls covered with pigmented plaster reflect the most typical finishes of homes in this part of the country.
House in Zaragoza, Coahuila, proj.: PPAA Pérez Palacios Arquitectos
photo: Rafael Gamo
The future of Apan design and social housing architecture
All of the prototype houses, along with the land and needed infrastructure, will be donated to a local center for the protection of women and children, victims of domestic violence. The initiative and the young generation of Mexican architects show that architecture can not only be an outgrowth of economic development, but also a tool for creating sustainable development. In the case of the Apan estate, this development is understood in a multifaceted way, according to the principle that elementary spatial and climatic solutions and even limited economic resources are instruments that should be properly used to improve the overall housing and social situation.
Sustainability in design in Europe is often the result of a multidisciplinary design process. A process that requires the input of many consultants, sometimes high-tech specialists and coordinators and managers. Alternatively, projects in which architects with simple passive solutions, without significant financial input from many participants in the process, suggest appropriate solutions. Solutions that are better than those available on the market, because they are adapted to the climate and lifestyle and use passive energy strategies, and achieved with the same or more modest financial resources. There is no single recipe for architecture that suits today's socioeconomic situation, but possible and awe-inspiring solutions from the New World appear almost daily. Perhaps the time has come for us to look at the New World, learn lessons for Polish housing and social architecture, and create appropriate programs for the social good and the good of Polish architecture.