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From kernel to grave: Alejandro Guerrero | Andrea Soto, Mexico

An assemblage of structures, landscaping and sculptural elements by Alejandro Guerrero | Andrea Soto in Acatlán de Juárez, Mexico, includes a monument to the founder of a corn-processing complex

Alejandro Guerrero | Andrea Soto have been shortlisted for the AR Emerging Architecture awards 2018

‘We do not discriminate between ancient, modern and contemporary’, say the two principals of Alejandro Guerrero | Andrea Soto, ‘we have learned to look at buildings beyond their stylistic condition.’ In contrast to Pevsner’s famous dictum ‘a shed is a building, but Lincoln Cathedral is architecture’, here everything is worthy of consideration.

Atelierars novasem gdl 2018 009

Novasem corn factory and memorial

This is what makes the project for corn company Novasem so intriguing. It is a corn factory, but Guerrero and Soto immediately speak of funeral architecture – which makes more sense once you realise that a memorial to the company’s founder does, in fact, sit within the complex. ‘Mexico has a deep funeral architecture tradition, and this was an opportunity to design something related to the land,’ the duo explain. The result is a merging of what they call the ‘fundamental cults of Mexican culture: corn and death’. It is no surprise to hear their ideal commission would be for a ‘cemetery in the landscape’.

In the western state of Jalisco, the Novasem masterplan combines a cluster of structures, landscaping and sculptural elements, housing everything from harvesting to packing and storage in a production tower, a laboratory, silos and barns. These two low, vast barns constitute the most striking elements, clad in Rothko-inspired red steel, along with the processing building, a bar-chart-like arrangement of polycarbonate-clad rectangular columns. These disparate elements are unified by a landscape strategy – Guerrero and Soto felt that buildings and open spaces should be considered as one – littered with seemingly symbolic, curious interventions that transform the entirety of the external space into a memorial of sorts. It is an amalgam of references and types, indicative of their view of history as more than a simple chronology.

Alejandro guerrero andrea soto section

Alejandro guerrero andrea soto section

Alejandro guerrero andrea soto drawings

Alejandro guerrero andrea soto drawings

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The memorial space is a strip of land with a gravel bed and encircled by trees, sitting between the production towers and what will be the site for an office building. A small stone structure evoking a primitive menhir forms the start of a thin water channel, running along steel I-beams and eventually, via a miniature waterfall, draining into a sunken pool, the wall of which houses the ashes of the company’s founder. It’s a surreal composition, marked by additional stone wall sections that, cut through by the steel channel, become monoliths framing the sky. The meaning of all of this is not immediately apparent for those who don’t notice the tiny crucifix on the small steel door, behind which the ashes are housed.

For Guerrero and Soto you get the sense that this is rather the point, playing with motifs that can signal something poetic and symbolic, but often detached from historical reference points. With the founder’s memorial such symbolism feels just, but at the entrance, where a brick booth for the gate attendant sits alongside a mysterious pile of rubble, connected via a rain-channel roof, there is a far more tongue-in-cheek exploration of preconceived architectural meanings. 

Architect: Alejandro Guerrero | Andrea Soto

Photographs: César Béjar, unless otherwise stated

This piece is featured in AR November issue on Emerging Architecture and the Netherlands – click here to purchase your copy today 

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