With a foundation based on a modernist school of thought, young architects throughout Middle America are designing spaces that respond to their strong cultural heritage and specific climate challenges. But their designs aren’t totally based on nostalgia.
We spotlight 10 of the most exciting architecture firms from the region, each of whose projects are shattering paradigms. Their innovative, creative approaches to modernism have opened up a new way of perceiving spaces by taking a look at the past while developing an architecture for the future.
Mexico: Ambrosi Etchegaray
Led by Jorge Ambrosi and Gabriela Etchegaray, this Mexico City-based firm focuses on residential typologies, with the exception of some notable small-scale spas, where simplicity and structural clarity serve as pragmatic solutions for the needs each site may have.
For “Spa San Angel,” the architects transformed a set of abandoned buildings into a sleek resort. The restoration is achieved through a modular design and the proper use of materials.
For “Buho’s House,” located in Mexico City, the materials — in this case large blocks — act as the main element of the design.
Mexico: Gracia Studio
Gracia Studio‘s architecture consists of clean lines and structural order, resulting in minimalist forms that coexist harmoniously with the surrounding environment. Gracia has steadily become one of the most sought-after young firms in the country, in part because of Endemico Resguardo Silvestre, a hotel located in a remote part of northern Mexico.
The architects designed Endemico Resguardo Silvestre to respect nature as much as possible: all constructions are raised on stilts, and the amenities respond to their surroundings.
Mexico: Frida Escobedo
For Frida Escobedo, the responsibility of the architect is to respect and correspond with a project’s urban context. Her designs state the importance of the facade as a cultural identity, and she achieves it with simple and elegant forms, a contemporary reinterpretation of Mexican modernism.
La Tallera Siqueiros is a former workshop of muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros in Cuernavaca that Escobedo has transformed into a museum of his work.
Mexico: S-AR Stacion-Arquitectura
S-AR focuses on residential typologies, with a special interest social housing. Their “Comunidad Vivex,” for example, aims to provide beautiful architecture and living quarters for low-income communities. The project is born from the idea of uniting the different strata of society with quality design in order to generate profound changes in the cities.
10×10 by S-AR is an experimental housing prototype based on the reuse of industrial shuttering located in Mexico.
Costa Rica: SanJoseReves
Costa Rica’s most promising young architect, Diego Van der Laat, founded SanJoseReves in 2007, and the young firm has already won two state-sponsored competitions: one to design the Parque La Libertad master plan and the other to build the Jade Museum. Van der Laat’s designs consist of simple, structured shapes. This conceptual clarity helps the architecture interact harmoniously with its urban context.
There’s a strong postmodernist inspiration behind the idea for SanJoseReves’s Jade Museum, which resembles a stone split in two, followed by a central axis. The museum intends to become an icon of San Jose.
Costa Rica: Benjamin Garcia Saxe
Benjamin Garcia Saxe has demonstrated a constant innovation in materials, as seen in “Containers of Hope,” where the reuse of spaces creates simple forms that enhance the characteristics of the project. The architect’s aim is to break paradigms and experiment with different solutions and realities.
“Containers of Hope” is a creative, passive, and inexpensive housing alternative (costing $40,000, lower than standard social housing options in Costa Rica) created from shipping containers and located in San Jose.
Panama: Ji.A Jose Isturain Arquitectura
Based in Panama City, Estudio Ji.A encourages the use of public space by actively disrupting it. With several installation proposals throughout the urban context, the firm aims to create a social impact and interaction within the different users that cohabit those spaces. Estudio Ji.A also focuses on creating local architecture, one that is able to respond to the harsh tropical climate of the region.
Ji.A’s “Ornamental Follies” is a conceptual design that reflects on the idea of creating an “urban tree.”
Founded by Johann Wolfschoon in 2006, Sketch presents non-traditional distributions of space in order to create interesting relationships. The multi-disciplinary firm focuses on conceptual clarity and on responding to the specific needs of the community. Their designs merge the intricate relationships between social and private areas in a house.
“Oxymoron House” was designed by Sketch in Panama.
The “Arquine Observatory” was a competition entry by Sketch for a Mexican museum.
Guatemala: Paz Arquitectura
Paz Arquitectura has numerous commercial and institutional projects throughout Guatemala, but their thought-out residential work makes this young firm stand out at an international level. Their projects have a minimalist character with structural order. Alejandro Paz, the head at Paz Arquitectura, approaches every project with a profound respect to its natural environment.
“Casa Corallo,” for example, integrates nature by shaping the house’s design to the existent trees on site, located on the Guatemala City mountains.
El Salvador: Cinco Patas al Gato
Cinco Patas al Gato is a multidisciplinary firm based in San Salvador under the direction of Jose Roberto Paredes. The firm aims to solve the diverse user’s needs through architecture. They approach each of their projects with a philosophy of exploration and inquiry through their designs.
“La Piscucha” by Cinco Patas al Gato, is an environmentally conscious home in San Salvador with touches of modern design.