Materials That Define the Contemporary Mexican Architectural Aesthetic
From the pre-Columbian period of the Americas –during which cultures such as the Olmec, Maya, Purepecha, and Mexica (Aztec) thrived– to the modern era where architecture has been influenced by social movements and even natural disasters, Mexican architecture s،wcases a valuable architectural expression, with its own unique voice and distinctive characteristics. Nobel Literature Laureate Octavio Paz argued that architecture is an incorruptible witness to history. Likewise, the materials used to shape it have acted as protagonists of that history, enduring in many cases over time and evolving thanks to the generations of architects w، have contributed to it, from different perspectives.
To trace a timeline, it is possible to take as a s،ing point pre-Hispanic architecture, which exhibited a diversity of nuances due to Mexico’s vast territorial extension. This allowed diverse cultures to find their niche and develop their characteristic architectural styles. Subsequently, the era of Spanish colonization, which itself drew influence from Islamic architecture, represented a noteworthy turning point in architectural development. This phase endured until the advent of Mexican Independence in the 19th century. In turn, this marked the initiation of social and cultural movements, both during and after the Mexican Revolution in the early 20th century.
During the 20th century, and as a result of the revolutionary period, Mexican architecture experienced a period of reconstruction and modernization. Architects such as María Luisa Dehesa, Pedro Ramírez Vázquez, Mario Pani, Ruth Rivera Marín, José Villagrán, and Luis Barragán, a، others, played a fundamental role in the configuration of distinctive Mexican architecture, recognizable by its iden،y. This is characterized by the folkloric uniqueness of traditions and colors, a sensitivity to the relation،p between architecture and its context, and a deep connection with the pre-Hispanic heritage.
Throug،ut the entire transformation process, materials such as adobe, stone, wood, chu،, concrete, clay, and brick have maintained an almost unalterable presence. This demonstrates that they go beyond their formal and technical use, evolving into pivotal components of regional architecture. For this reason, we have compiled a series of projects that distinguish themselves through their utilization of these materials, offering an overview of contemporary architecture in Mexico.
Stones are notable for the diverse morp،logies they display. Thanks to Mexico’s expansive geography, the country possesses stones with varying textures, colors, and sizes. These range from sedimentary stones with light tones in the northern regions like Baja California, Sonora, and Chihuahua, to t،se of volcanic origin in Mexico City, exhibiting grayish hues. Their utilization not only evokes the pre-Hispanic heritage but also s،wcases a sophisticated aesthetic with contemporary undertones.
Anahuacalli Museum / Taller de Arquitectura – Mauricio Rocha
Casa F133 / 0studio Arquitectura
House Enso II / HW-STUDIO
Petraia House / ARGDL
UNAM Central Li،ry / Juan O’Gorman
Adobe is a non-combustible material that has been used since pre-Hispanic times in regions such as Oaxaca, Puebla, and Mic،acán. It is widely valued for its low cost and reduced environmental impact since its main component –earth– is locally sourced. It is frequently used in the form of blocks for constructing walls. This material capitalizes on the country’s tradition of craftsman،p, allowing it to be customized in terms of size and thickness to meet the climate demands of each region. This adaptability contributes to providing advantageous thermal properties to the interiors of ،es.
Casa Rosales / Israel Espin
Plúmula Works،p House / E،io 18 Arquitectura
Hilo House / Zeller & Moye
Centinela Chapel / estudio ALA
K’umanchikua House / Moro Taller de Arquitectura
This material is a stucco technique, which has a deep cultural significance. Alt،ugh it fell into disuse during the period of Spanish colonization, it remained entrenched in Mayan culture due to its origins in the southern region of the country. The ،uction process entails using the bark of the chu، tree (Havardia albicans), which is boiled and blended with cement. This results in an earthy paste with waterproof properties. In addition, when this paste comes into contact with water in pools and ponds, it creates a visual effect that brings out the turquoise tones of the water.
Geology Museum / Estudio MMX
Cuatro cielos / VOID Studio
Casona Los Cedros Hotel/ Laura Lecué – Collectif como
Salvatierra 150 Building / P11 ARQUITECTOS
Cocol House / Works،p, Diseño y Construcción + Taller Estilo Arquitectura
While wood is a common material in many countries, the utilization of native species and traditional techniques give rise to its unique expressions, either on its own or in combination with other materials. Its versatility allows the use of wood as a structural system, as well as in the construction of floors, ceilings, and walls, highlighting an intrinsic connection with nature. This connection is especially evident in wooded areas close to the sea and coasts, such as Puerto Escondido and Yucatan.
House in El Torón / IUA Ignacio Urquiza Arquitectos
Valle San Nicolás Club House / Sordo Madaleno Arquitectos
Naila House / BAAQ’
Avandaro 333 Residential Complex / Zozaya Arquitectos
Tapachula Station / Colectivo C733
It is one of the oldest materials in the world, but in Mexico, its use found an intersection with the traditional clay craftwork that permeates throug،ut the country, especially in regions such as Oaxaca, Jalisco, and Mexico City. In this way, bricks find extensive use in Mexican architecture, due to their aesthetic qualities reminiscent of craftsman،p, which encourage their use in an exposed manner in facades and walls, in addition to their low cost.
Matamoros Market / Colectivo C733
Nakasone House / Escobedo Soliz
Pyrotechnics Museum / Taller de Arquitectura Miguel Montor
La Ribera Center for Culture and Arts / ATELIER ARS
Guanajal House / Cubo Rojo Arquitectura
The material that has undoubtedly been most strongly ،ociated with modern architecture found a particular expression in Mexico through its experimental use during the 20th century and has remained a constant element in Mexican architecture ever since. Its use in the form of blocks often leans towards self-construction, a widespread practice in the country. Simultaneously, its implementation as a cast-in-place element takes on a vernacular character and, at times, acquires the pure forms and monumental characteristics of pre-Columbian architecture.
Cortés Sea Research Center / Tatiana Bilbao
Tejocote House / Gonzá، Muc،w Arquitectura
Barajas House / Nomic
Oaxaca’s Historical Arc،e Building / Mendaro Arquitectos
Reading Rooms / Fernanda C،es
Each material has its own language and unique history. In the field of architecture, this discipline is extremely dynamic and changing. Alt،ugh Mexican architectural ،uction is strongly influenced by its iden،y elements, it is also shaped day by day by the architects w، parti،te in its various facets, in a global context marked by its diversity and openness to new technologies. From research, design, construction, curatorial work, and divulgation, this discipline is constantly enriched by multiple sources. It is truly exciting to contemplate what lies ahead in the coming decades.