Designing for Other Things to Happen

September 8, 2014

Essay by Rojkind Arquitectos


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Cineteca Life. © Rojkind Arquitectos, photo by Mauricio Díaz.

The velocity of events, in which meetings with clients and engineers, construction site visits, phone calls, emails, and multiple travels pile up appear to dilute the essence of the creative work in ordinary quotidian proceedings. At what moment does an idea appear? How does a project materialize or translate into space? It seems like the former could never happen let alone the later. The daily flow keeps presenting unexpected events that shape the working hours; the intense exchange of ideas with diverse stakeholders and, mainly, the multitude of situations that arise, force an invisible but constant reflection, a state of active awareness similar to that demanded when you are in a city foreign to you. Sometimes we are forced by the context to focus our attention on the immediate and our thinking to be reactive.

Maybe we could counteract the uncertainty of everyday events if we accept that constant flow and simultaneous evolution are the essence of contemporary context. A context that we are incapable of containing in set definitions or categories, one in which we are witnesses and participants, in which we are wanderers through a dynamic and constantly flowing condition. We counteract by facing this context without the urge to categorize but with the intention to transform to the best of our ability and within our scope the scenarios of space production.

At Rojkind Arquitectos, creative work is directed towards focusing different viewpoints to maximize project potential. We are not only interested in the rationalism needed to make purely design decisions but we are also interested in enhancing architectural programs and translating those into a space that will—beyond a formal language—allow unexpected relationships between activities.

At Cineteca Nacional (National Film Archives and Film Institute of Mexico) the space became more than a place for cinema. It became a public space for diverse activities that have nothing to do with attending movie screenings and is enjoyed by a large variety of users. Doctors and nurses from a nearby hospital gather there to eat their home-brought lunches, elderly use it as an outdoor reading room, teenagers as a dating spot, thousands use it a as a preferred shortcut to the nearby metro station, and the people that fill the coffee shops have adopted the space as an extension of their neighborhood.

Daily evolution and responses to the unexpected seem to be at the core of our creative work where the challenge is to translate what the client wants into what many others might enjoy. Our ability to react by linking things, ideas, and stakeholders has become the motor of our office. At first glance these links might seem fortuitous: a client hired us to design a supermarket store and we proposed to include local producers, informal merchants, and companies dedicated to urban farming going beyond his original vision; another client hired us to design a hotel and we found a way to include the collaboration of black clay artisans and plastic industrials and even going into small details like designing the room keys. This is because we perceive the need to include a multitude of players so we are more prepared and can better react to the vortex of the quotidian and the constant flow of unfiltered information in our contemporary context.

The ideas that appeared daily and apparently without much planning were, in the beginning, reactions directed to face surprising conditions. Now our reactions are manifested through links between technologies, interests, professions, people, and identities. These links produce new ones, triggering collaborative processes that take a life of their own.

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Roma Market. View from mezzanine. © Rojkind Arquitectos, photo by Jaime Navarro.

Take for example the case of Mercado Roma. While developing this project we found a multitude of collaboration opportunities that went beyond the scope or the architecture and into the world of gastronomy. The project became primarily a communication platform between different players that became involved in the project, who in turn invited other players to join.

The platform strategy eventually gathered 55 vendors from an emerging Mexican gastronomic generation that now operate in a space defined by their synergy. Customers find a diverse offering of gourmet options in different price ranges concentrated in one space. Local production is harnessed by many, and each vendor is able to reduce its maintenance and operations costs benefiting from each other.

Even though design strategies and architectural program conceptualizations have been the key to our architectural expression, a lot of our energy is spent trying to figure out a way of getting the projects built, understanding our local constraints, coming up with technical solutions, meeting realistic building schedules and respecting the clients budgets. In the end something extraordinary is the result of daily ordinary work.

For this piece we chose to study daily life in two of our projects: Cineteca Nacional and Mercado Roma. Cineteca Nacional was selected because it is a public project open to all kind of visitors, and to every possible critic, not just from an architectural view, but also from a political standpoint. Mercado Roma was chosen because it is a place where we can explore how architecture can be shaped from a transversal and participatory project, one in which we were able to reinforce the idea of sharing risks and values. We adapted George Perec’s text “The Street” from his book Species of Spaces, in which he proposes a method for understanding the street through meticulous and objective observation. We reinterpreted Perec’s work as a set of instructions, which anyone—including those not trained as architects—can use to describe architectural spaces and the activities that occur therein. Elena Muñoz, a communications professional, applied Perec’s guidelines to describe quotidian life in these spaces. Here are the results:

Cineteca Nacional May 20, 2014

To arrive to the Cineteca Nacional by metro is a complete delight. One gets to walk down a quiet street (with luck a fair or a market will be taking place) and next to a city cemetery before arriving at the Cineteca Nacional. Just outside, in front of the entrance, a piracy stall offers art movies. Passing through the entrance a wide-open space appears: the projection space, where free presentations take place all year long.

Next to the open projection space another garden spreads out. The two spaces are full of people lying, sitting on the floor on blankets and petates (mats), which are offered in the Cineteca. A wide corridor divides the two spaces flanked by coffee shops, little restaurants, and a bookstore. The space is wide and open; lots of people are sitting in the gardens, chatting, bicycling, and walking around. Over their heads, a white triangle-perforated structure raises and constitutes the façade.

On the second floor, one can find a dark-toned space where the screening rooms are and in the center a curvilinear bar hosts a Roxy Ice Cream shop.

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Cineteca Life. © Rojkind Arquitectos, photo by Mauricio Díaz.

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Cineteca Life. © Rojkind Arquitectos, photo by Mauricio Díaz.

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Cineteca Life. © Rojkind Arquitectos, photo by Mauricio Díaz.

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Cineteca Life. © Rojkind Arquitectos, photo by Mauricio Díaz.

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Cineteca Life. © Rojkind Arquitectos, photo by Mauricio Díaz.

There are more than 40 people on petates all around the floor. There is one coffee shop in the old building and some other, several, in the new one. Two or three of the coffee shops were already here before the space was renovated. Although each one of them is independent from the others, if one is to stand in the middle of the corridor with coffee shops and restaurants to each side, one gets the feeling that every establishment is a part of each other.

The best way to observe the general panorama of the Cineteca is walking around from one place to another, or staying short periods of time in strategic spots: the first bench with a view to the gardens and parking lot, the terrace with a view to the ticket office, other gardens, the new screening rooms, the ice cream shop, the coffee shops, the restaurants, or the back gardens from where you can observe the amphitheater.

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Cineteca Nacional. © Rojkind Arquitectos, photo by Jaime Navarro.

This is why anybody who has a real interest in observing what happens in the Cineteca cannot leave without walking through the outdoor screening room, the terrace, and all of the gardens.

The next day, I arrive by car. I am surprised to see the parking lot as the main façade. It fits the context, though. If one comes by car, it is easy to notice the amount of parking lots, old factories, and sober structures next to the Cineteca.

But I raise my hopes as I see that this space functions as a park, as a public space, as a gathering site for several diversities. Kids run and shout to the open space, and elderly people smile in front of a couple smoking pot while some young couples at the open-air screening space touch and kiss without critical gazes. I listen to no sound but the sound of society; crossing and arguing, talking, and going back and forth, within a freedom of space, in this city where prejudice domains, and violent conditions hold back the most simple and ordinary behaviors. Surely, unexpected amounts of visitors come here not just to the movies, but just to let go.

Mercado Roma, Friday June 13th

Founded in 1880, the Colonia Roma is one of the modern neighborhoods reborn from the 1985 earthquake. A mixed-use vibrant and young neighborhood, Colonia Roma is constantly visited by locals and tourists both for business and recreation. In particular, Queretaro Street is located next to two important and busy streets that somehow break the borough dynamic of this site. At the same time, this location extraordinarily centralizes and creates a close relationship with both Condesa and Roma neighborhoods, connecting all their restaurants, bars, offices, galleries, and cultural centers to Mercado Roma.

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Main entrance, Mercado Roma. © Rojkind Arquitectos, photo by Jaime Navarro.

I know we have arrived to Mercado Roma as the benches on the sidewalk look different than those traditional steel benches. We walk into a black and orange space. Geometric islands define the different stands, islands made from black steal, orange acrylic, some glass, and little or no wood. Wide black columns emerge from the ground and go up two stories above our heads. Next to some of the columns and on top of some of the bars, glass windows display gourmet products.

We move to the back area, long tables are arranged so that people who don’t want to sit on the bars can rather sit on benches and chairs. Outside there is a terrace with an orchard that also serves as a dining room.

People promenade from every side; they come in, go out, traverse, and go up or down the stairs. Waiters, waitresses, cooks, and clients move out and in of the stalls. The corridors are full of people who look inside of every stand. Upstairs, the restrooms display a fun combination of colors and mirrors. Most of the people working inside these places are dressed in black or black and white stripes. I notice four legs of Spanish ham hanging near the market’s entrance and, at the same moment, a long and loud whistle can be heard from far away.

There are almost no children. People are well dressed in the early afternoon but, as the day goes by, more diverse people start to walk around. Although there are many people sitting alone, most of the clients and shoppers are gathered in small groups or couples. Cumbia songs are playing all the time, I look up and see a sign Villa de Patos (Duck Village) and, although I can hear the sound of moving coins, there is no sound of cash registers.

At first I can hear the sound of plates crashing against each other, glass, voices, and some occasional paper wrapping or unwrapping something. Several sinks inside the stands reveal the sound of water running. Suddenly, a little boy screams. At the same time, the man standing across the bar also screams with joy of running into a friend. Another leading sound is that of dragging the stools around and dropping bottle caps on the floor.

I am surprised of the lack of odors. For being a Mexican market, no raw food, meat, or fish can be smelled. The only detectable smell is that of the stand that sells cheese behind us.

A cumbia song takes Mercado Roma at large, I can hear—suave, suave, suavecito. People wander through the space; a social mixture blurs the place at large. Everybody takes it easy and, like the song, this place fits into the city in a soft way. It seems to me that this place has been here for years, although it has been open only a few weeks.

It is practically impossible to contain complexities. But in cities such as Mexico City, emergent conditions are a common basis, they become the ordinary, and we are trained tactically to react. If you design spaces for “other things to happen,” they will. They will be used and occupied by people in ways we don’t expect. We believe that is the biggest compliment for any architecture.

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Mercado Roma. Interior view. © Rojkind Arquitectos, photo by Jaime Navarro.