With an MA in Architectural Critical Theory from the Universitat Politécnica de Catalunya, Spain, and a BA in Architecture and Urban Planning from the Universidad Iberoamericana, Mexico. Together with her extraordinaire repertoire of prestigious national and international awards, Rozana Montiel as a designer is held in high esteem and with this month’s Clerkenwell Design Week steadily approaching the inspirational Architect discussed all things design and the artists that she too has drawn inspiration from.
Do you now see yourself as somewhat of a role model being a female Architectural Designer from Mexico?
RM: The professional gender bias in Mexico is an adverse reality, however, when women bring in a different outlook into their professional practice which, rather than focusing on gender divisions, produces a better understanding of men and women in society, their work receives attention and support. As an architect, you could say I do something which traditionally is considered to be very feminine, which is listen. I listen to space, to people, to chance and I care to understand what I hear. My work largely consist of finding ways in which design can speak for itself, in which public spaces make their voice heard. I think people are inspired and look up to that regardless of gender.
Which country (countries) do you feel have created some really ground breaking designs over the past 10 years?
RM: I think Mexico is a country that has seen many schools of groundbreaking design, from Pre-Hispanic cities, through Colonial Architecture, up to Contemporary days. The new generation of architects has become more concerned with local resources, vernacular design and processes of construction, as well as, with social issues.
RM: I always look to the other arts for inspiration. In cinema, Jean-Luc Godard, Michelangelo Antonioni, Andréi Tarkovsky; in literature, Jorge Luis Borges, Julio Cortázar, Georges Perec ; in the plastic arts, Agnes Martin, Arte Povera, Marcel Broodthaers, to mention some of them.
What are some of the expectations that you have for yourself as Architect and then as a Designer when working on new projects?
RM: I am concerned with the perceptual effect my architecture has on people. To me design is about placemaking, designing as a process not solely as a final product. I pay special attention to people and detail. In the past few years, I have mostly done projects related to urban public space, and would hope to be able to work more in urban mobility. However, I consider myself mostly a researcher and an artist at heart, and many of the projects I have sought out have an element of art design in them; I am always doing research in order to look closer into the art of architecture itself.
Talk us through your most recent works.
RM: As part of the urbanXchanger program, we conducted parallel on site research of the Miravalle neighborhood in Mexico City and the Hellersdorf sector in Berlin, in collaboration with the Berlin office SMAQ, Claudia Rodriguez and Daniel Jaramillo. This research and experimentation project, sponsored by the Alfred Herrhausen Gesellschaft Society, invited various architectural offices from cities around the world to work together in an exchange of tactical and bottom up approaches for urban design focused on low-income communities. And we designed a rain-water collector for potable water using an underused existing dome, which is now under construction.
COMMON-UNITY was a public space rehabilitation project for the social housing unit of San Pablo Xalpa in Mexico City done in collaboration with Alin V. Wallach. The unit used to be divided in sectors by walls, fences and barriers built by its inhabitants over time, which did not allow the community to benefit from available public spaces. The goal was to transform a divided apartment unit into a neighborhood, by designing with the community and not just for the community. Through several workshops and on-site-actions, we learned of the owners’ needs. Roofed modules were installed and equipped for different activities (blackboards, climbing walls, handrails and nets). The recovered public space became an extension of each apartment. The neighbors themselves requested 95% of the fences be removed.
THE EYES OF ARCHITECTURE is an upcoming book on the optical-haptical perception of space. The book seeks to complement architectural design through the perspective of akin disciplines by borrowing design tools that enlarge the vision of architecture. The book compiles three years of research.
Project: Common-Unity, public space rehabilitation,
Photographer: Sandra Pereznieto.
Project: Sports Court,
Photographer: Sandra Pereznieto.
Project: “El Saloncito” Library
Photographer: Sandra Pereznieto.
Project: Highway Modules
Designer: TOA and Rozana Montiel, 2011:
Photographer: Ramiro Chaves.
Project: Void Temple
Designer: Dellekamp Arquitectos and Rozana Montiel, 2011
Photographer: Iwan Baan.
What was the first significant project you were commissioned to work on?
RM: Undoubtedly the Void Temple. It was a very sui generis intervention that for the first time involved all the themes that concern me as an architectural designer: public space, social fabric, resignification of simple materials, resignification of tradition. The project was part of a collaboration to adapt the Ruta del Peregrino in Jalisco. The macro project’s goal was to create infrastructure and landmarks along the 117 km long route between Ameca and Talpa de Allende that takes place every year for the Virgen del Rosario. The Void Temple is one of the 8 landmarks built for the pilgrims done in collaboration with Dellekamp Arquitectos. The circle was used to represent the space as a temple or haven containing the macro-cosmos within the micro-cosmos. The white concrete wall, a 40 meter diameter circle, is a piece placed amidst pine woods that blends in with the particular topography of the site. On certain points it is suspended, on others, it is buried to respect horizontality. A narrow fissure frames the access and forces visitors to enter individually. As a temple, the white wall delimitates a space for contemplation: it contains the visitor intimately in his relationship to nature. It is a privileged place to understand the totality of the natural world on a human scale.
What is a trademark Montiel piece?
RM: ROOFTOP VERACRUZ, is a one such project. Commisioned by INFONAVIT, I and my studio rescued a disused basketball court in a suburban housing sprawl by way of a multipurpose structure which furbished the space for various recreational and community activities. Rather than merely placing a cover over the extant basketball area, we designed a portico-style roof, and we used the area between columns to insert capacities for multiuse rooms, library, bathrooms, outlooks, playground area, hammock and swings sections, adult fitness area, terraces, a forum, and picnic area. The newly built agora created an area of vegetation and shade which made the space habitable given the heat and temperatures reached in such coastal area. The kids were first in line to use it. It was understandable since it was the only public space area available in a complex projected for nearly 25,000 people. When we asked them what they liked about the place, their answer was: “Finally, we have a place where we like to be”.
However, more than a project I would say my architectural design is, in general, concerned with public space, social fabric, compact multi-layered programs, resignification of simple materials, ludic and recreational spaces.
Are there any specific academic institutions that you feel are producing the next generation of exceptional Architectural Designers?
RM: I believe that more than institutions, it is outstanding generous people that teach other exceptional people. I, personally, am very grateful to my mentors such as Josep Quetglas, Guillem Catala, Pep Garcia Cors, Roger Paez.
When can we expect to see your next collaborative project?
RM: Walk the line, the collaborative project I will participate with in this year’s Architecture Venice Biennale, is opening in a couple of weeks. The endeavour will have the added value of actually building a much-needed path for the community of Miravalle in Mexico City. This project—done in collaboration with Tatiana Bilbao, Derek Dellekamp and Alejandro Hernández—will report for the biennale the design process and building progress done in Miravalle, and will roughly cost the same as the actual exhibit at the Venetian Arsenal. The illuminated path, which will cross a violence-ridden park area, will assist in improving the neighborhood’s connection, circulation and safety, and reactivate the public space at the community’s disposal for recreation. We have already brought the community together through a series of actions like lime-tracing the path’s trail or holding a line of lights along the path.