For this young Mexican practice, it is incumbent on their projects to have a special and exclusive relation with place
For the partners of Mérida-based Plug Architecture – Román Cordero, Izbeth Mendoza and David Sosa – architecture always has two clients. The first client is the one who brings the request to the table – be it a couple, an investor, or a business – and the second, too often forgotten albeit the most important one, according to Plug founder Román Cordero, is set and self-established: the territory. ‘Every project must provide a primary response to the environment’, says Cordero.
Whenever the young practice begins a project, its process starts with questioning the impact it would have on the environment. The architects like to think of architecture as an exchange with the planet. Their built work will peel off the earth’s skin and it is what they build in return that will nourish that skin once again. ‘Architecture needs to be a piece rather than an object’, says Román when explaining why he called his practice Plug. ‘A piece entails connection’, he continues, ‘it must connect with its surroundings, because it wants to form part of something larger.’ This motto has driven the practice to establish a strong connection with the land it chooses to mediate in.
One of the architects’ most remarkable projects – and the one they feel most proud of – is Stone Echo, a public well recovery intervention that blends seamlessly in Yucatán’s landscape. Not so long ago, public wells supplied clean water to communities and were important meeting points for social gatherings and events. Due to the arrival of potable water and advanced water systems, wells were abandoned and deteriorated. The practice’s initiative aims to bring one of the long-forgotten public wells in Yucatán back to life. The design of the intervention models the well’s resonance and its progressive amplification outwards. Using local stone masonry, the resonance strokes are highlighted by their extrusion from the ground, creating areas for people to sit down and relax. This space succeeded in fomenting all manner of activity: celebrations, play, gatherings, worship, and even wakes, due to the cemetery beside it.
Built with very limited resources and a low budget (under €1,000), Stone Echo was then donated to the rural community in which it sits. ‘The community synchronised with the echo we intended to create, and adopted the project as part of their community the next day’, states Cordero. The partners admit that their greatest satisfaction was watching locals identify and be moved by the project. They felt grateful when they saw how their small-scale intervention incited so much of an ‘echo’ among locals. After winning a Mexican social impact prize, Premio Cemex Impacto Social, a local inhabitant gave a short speech and revealed that the community felt the project had always been there.
To the practice, this came as a message that budgets will never be an issue provided the designs are ingenious. Stone Echo proved that you don’t need to have vast resources to transform a site or convey a strong message.
Settled in Mexico, the practice admits it is tough to work in chaotic Mérida. Nevertheless, they take advantage of the benefits of working in a region with interesting opportunities. ‘Competitions are important in Mexico. They are great local opportunities to interact, participate and gain experience’, affirms Cordero. Having entered both national and international competitions such as the National Scholarship for Young Creators, the Latin American Biennial of Landscape Architecture, or the HOLCIM Award for Sustainable Construction – among others – the trio confesses that competitions made them thrive within their city, and helped them to synthesise their ideas in a short period of time, a crucial skill in the field of architecture. In the practice, the team always summarises ideas in two words, hence projects are named: ‘Plataforma Arbólea’, ‘Andamio Mirador’, ‘Patio Infiltrado’, etc.
Thrilled to dive into the pool of competitors whenever they receive offers to enter tempting competitions, Plug Architecture evaluates the criteria and judiciously selects competitions by making sure they will be able to establish a meaningful connection between their architecture and the site.
Current projects include three interrelated interventions in Costa Rica, in which the architects have explored the connection between rich, locally sourced materials and the environment in which the project will be built. The architects made a careful selection of wood types, with the intention of embedding the project with trees in the forest. They strongly believe each material they choose should come from the existing connection with the environment. For Plug Architecture, it is incumbent on their projects to have a special and exclusive relation with place – each project must be different, unrepetitive, containing its own strand of DNA.
Plug Architecture is not rushing into the architecture hall of fame. The priority is to be committed to ideals and devoted to clients’ desires. For the architects, patience is key – and in today’s challenging field of architecture, they are cautious not to fire shots in the dark.