AR_EA 2016 Finalist: A crumbling brick building is respectfully revivified by R ZERO Estudio, retaining its former spirit
‘Create without constructing – it sounds like an almost impossible yet innovative goal,’ according to Mexican studio R ZERO Estudio, referring to the fact that their CDLE offices project is housed in a listed early-20th-century structure in Mexico City’s Centro Histórico. Originally a wealthy area of housing, the crumbling wood and brick structure – with its distinctive inverted arch fenestration and striking red brick facade – has since served as everything from a bakery to a brothel, imbuing it with a rich history of what R ZERO refers to as ‘scars, marks and prints’.
Serving three different clients, the approach was to allow each to appropriate the site differently, slotting in office ‘blocks’ in relation to a central courtyard in a play of positive and negative. The interaction with the building itself is delicate, even more so than the external view of glazed roofs within the arches initially suggests. Wood and metal openings have been inserted along with modern furniture, but the brick walls remain rough and partially plastered.
Cdle floor plan
Rooms are arranged around the sometimes oddly placed openings, making best use of the ample daylight and how it falls on the rough interior walls. ‘These textures cannot be created artificially’, say the architects, ‘only time can generate them.’ The same goes for old wooden beams, which once served a structural purpose but now stand more as sculptures or repurposed as benches.
Most striking is the impression of the pastel-coloured garden courtyard against the redness of the brick, punctuated by three young ash trees, an example of a simple exercise in re-framing becoming more effective than any built intervention.
Expressing ideas in fresh, built form is an urge a new architect can find hard to repress – ‘it goes against everything taught in schools and almost every studio’, says R ZERO. But here, clarity of concept and a sense of restraint in making the architect’s presence felt has prevailed where other approaches may have strayed towards the over-designed. It is easy to become lost lusting over such structures or attempting to resurrect a sense of their past uses, but R ZERO has done just enough to reactivate it for a new set of inhabitants.
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Architect: R ZERO Estudio
Project architects: Alejandro Zarate de la Torre / Edgar Velasco Casillas
Project team: Mario Pliego, Eliud Martinez, Norma Contreras, Didier López
Landscape architect: PAAR Carlos Alberto & Paola Lopez
Photographs: Moritz Bernoully