A+Award Winner Q+A: José Mauricio Solís Colomer on Remembering Your Roots and Running for Inspiration

SOLISCOLOMER y Asociados Arquitectos was the 2014 Popular Choice Winner in the Architecture+Learning category for Escuelas en San Juan Cotzal. Their work as part of the “Schools Nebaj” program includes the rehabilitation of seven educational facilities in neglected areas of Quiché.

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SOLISCOLOMER y Asociados Arquitectos was the 2014 Popular Choice Winner in the Architecture+Learning category for Escuelas en San Juan Cotzal. Their work as part of the “Schools Nebaj” program includes the rehabilitation of seven educational facilities in neglected areas of Quiché.

Your name: José Mauricio Solís Colomer

Firm name: SOLISCOLOMER y Asociados Arquitectos

Location: Guatemala City, Guatemala

Education: Architecture from Universidad Francisco Marroquín, 2000

Escuelas en San Juan Cotzal

When did you decide that you wanted to be an architect?

I knew I wanted to be an architect from a very young age. When I was 11 or 12 years old, my best friend and I used to talk about becoming great architects together. Later on, that friendship inspired me to share with the world architecture that talked about our country, Guatemala.

What was your first architecture/design job?

Only a few months after graduating from architecture school, I won the national contest for the French Allianz building. It brought a lot of attention and opportunities to the office.

Who is your design hero and/or what is your favorite building?

I would have to say that one of my greatest influences has been Luis Barragán. I have always felt not only inspired by him, but also intimately connected to him and to his architecture.

Escuelas en San Juan Cotzal

Tell us something that people might not know about your winning entry:

Schools of Nebaj is a meaningful project of cultural and historic value for Guatemala. The seven locations were elected within the same territory named “Ixil Triangle” limited by Santa Maria Nebaj, San Gaspar Chajul, and San Juan Cotzal in Quiché, a zone that had a violent past of internal warfare. With the financial support from the International Cooperation Agency of Korea (KOICA), this project seeks to revindicate and dignify the Ixiles Mayas, who were deprived of their human rights more than three decades ago.

Working in the process was also quite an adventure. I remember driving at least eight hours to get to Quiché. The roads were slippery and getting access to the town and lodging was difficult. After looking for a place to stay, we got to a cheese factory and they kindly rented some sort of bungalow. Getting a meal was also complicated. We had chanco cheese for our lunch several times and got lost in the mountains trying to find the right spot. We didn’t mind at all these details. I had to recognize it was worth the effort of the team after watching the children play and enjoy their new schools. That was exciting for us and the experience was a complete joy.

Which juror(s) do you find most compelling and why?

1. Craig Dykers: I’ve always admired his work. He has a strong connection with Guatemala. Although Snøhetta is a global firm, their work still makes much reference to their Norwegian roots.
2. Olafur Eliasson: He is a great contemporary artist with a gifted talent and a relevant speech.
3. Philip Jodidio: He is one the most important editors now, with great architectural knowledge and experience.
4. Tom Kundig: I share and connect with his sensibility and perception of beauty.
5. David Rockwell: His work inspired me to start doing interior architecture.

Among your fellow A+Award winners, what is/are your favorite(s)?

Luna, One Madison Park by Cetra Ruddy, Full Station/McDonald’s by Khmaladze Architects, L’angelino by Geneto, the New Rijksmuseum by Cruz y Ortiz Arquitectos, the Tower House by Gluck+

Tower House by GLUCK+

Other than your computer (or phone), what is your most important tool?

I always carry with me a Moleskine to write down or sketch my thoughts. I usually keep them after I’m done and have a wide collection of these sketchbooks. Keeping this routine also helps me to stay organized and allows me to disconnect from my computer or phone for a little while.

Outside of architecture, where do you look for inspiration?

Besides architecture, I enjoy exercising and take joy in running. When I run, I get to experience my city in a whole new way. I feel closer to its architecture and can relate and understand better the overall urban design and experience public places. I love to run in new cities when I am traveling and getting to experience the city and enjoy it’s architecture in this way.

I also believe reading is very important; I get together with a group of local architects to read books related to architecture. This is a great way to motivate each other to read and we have interesting discussions about each book and learn about each other’s differing points of view and perspectives. Contemporary art is also a very important part of my life and I attend art exhibits and openings regularly with friends.

What is the most important quality in an architect?

An architect is a renaissance man with many talents and many areas of knowledge who uses that knowledge to transform volume and materials into spaces that not only fulfill a function and have a utility, but also improve the lives of those who experience them in some way. An architect must think first about solving the problems and serving the necessities of the client at the same time, bringing his unique gifts, vision, and sensibility to create those spaces. When you are expressing your vision in your architecture, then the people who identify with that vision are the ones who will be attracted to your work and will look for you.

Escuelas en San Juan Cotzal

Who would be your dream client, and why?

Any client who is determined to create beside me spaces that elevate the spirit. I believe in transforming spaces. Moving people and design can accomplish that task. It is my responsibility to use the gift of design to humanize the structures and dignify them. After years of practice, I realized that design is not a luxury and it is not superfluous. The same materials can be used to transform a building into an artistic composition that uses design as a gesture of love. Life makes sense to me when I am given the opportunity to share this gift with others through architecture.

What do you find exciting about architecture and design right now?

I don’t think that we can only talk about “one” architecture today. There are so many different exciting things going on and maybe what’s more relevant to me is that I see a growing interest in architecture that will improve the community. Architects are more interested in how architecture can be a social tool instead of just creating beautiful objects.