A stone’s throw from the 2006 Torre Cube, the Cube II responds to a neighbourhood that has since radically changed
Carme Pinós reinvented the typology of the office tower with her brilliant Torre Cube, completed now almost a decade ago (AR August 2006). That unique high-rise, bracketing trays of floor space between concrete cores, might truly be described as organic – a trio of arboreal trunks emerging up out of the ground and nesting office modules, like asymmetrical branches, screened by delicate timber slats. Now Pinós has tackled this ubiquitous and frequently banal typology again, delivering a new tower to subvert preconceived notions or edicts regarding commercial office space and the symbolic potential of such structures in the contemporary city.
The Catalan architect has returned to Mexico and built this second tower for her original client, Grupo Cube. The new tower, known simply as Torre Cube II, is a virtual stone’s throw from the first in Guadalajara. In eight years, however, the neighbourhood has radically changed, from an ex-urban zone in the early throes of development to a kind of mini city with multiple high-rises jostling for attention and with walled perimeters privatising individual sites, obliterating any residual rural character. Pinós’s new tower is considerably bigger than her first (in fact the original tower now appears almost toy-like, a vertical ship-in-a-bottle). Veiled in aluminium fins, the new tower leans forward to announce its presence amid the huddle of neighbours.
If the first tower is threefold, in the sense that it has three cores and three interstitial office zones, the new tower is twofold, with two towers like elongated boxes, one taller than the other, meeting about a shared lift lobby. As these box-like volumes are rotated in plan vis-à-vis the lobby, each office floor plate is a triangle or expanded chevron illuminated by twin flanks of floor-to-ceiling glazing and pointing away from the vertical lobby spine to an almost immaterial apex corner. The volumes tilt in unison, the taller leaning from the southernmost corner such that its uppermost point is a full eight metres forward of the intersection of corner and ground surface below.
As a result, Cube II has two sets of conjoined primary facades, the taller pair canted above the public entrance, the shorter duo rising away from a small garden to the rear of this taut vertical complex. While geometric play gives this tower its distinctive character, the architect’s inventiveness should not be mistaken for simplistic form-making.
Carme Pinós has long exhibited a pragmatic sense of ground as a palimpsest of extended plates, elements of construction, and ingenious little voids that bring light, air and pattern to lower levels. In a series of projects that include the recently completed CaixaForum Zaragoza, she has also closely investigated what might be termed the compact plan. Cube II is, after all, a commercial proposition (all units are already either leased or sold). As the lift core is of course vertical and as columns are angled on the north/south axis, the usable floor area changes slightly from floor to floor; consequently the developers are able to offer potential clients options in terms of operable floor area.
If commercial high-rise design is frequently reduced to known entities of core, skin and relationship to ground, in Guadalajara Pinós interrogates all three conditions. Her tower doesn’t simply sit on its site; it emerges up out of the ground like some unprecedented sort of stalagmite or dark crystal. There are seven layers of parking tucked-in below grade. To access these, Pinós weaves a taut ramp, its entrance signalled by a jaunty canopy pierced by dainty triangular apertures. Descending into this car-centric underworld, floors and ceilings extend from the site perimeter but do not engulf or mitigate the primacy of the central core.
Pinós is a master manipulator of the serpentine line, a more flexible or contingent cousin perhaps of the grand piano shape favoured by Purists like the New York Five. Here in the garden plaza at Cube II and below on underground parking trays, non-orthogonal elements are introduced, allowing for biomorphic gaps to open up between core and perimeter. Within the core, the walls of small service enclosures are painted a feisty red as tightly spaced stone paving suggests pools of frozen lava or – exaggerating the organic metaphor – black tree sap.
In a neighbourhood where in-your-face high-rises are divorced from the street by walls, gates and security cabins, it is significant that the ground plane at Cube II is open and barrier-free. Pinós weaves a family of curvaceous lines to lead the pedestrian to and around the building (the architect’s professional DNA includes of course the work of Gaudí, as at Park Güell, and other Modernisme designers in her native Barcelona). The black stone reappears here from below in parallel strips, another Pinós motif, embedded in the concrete pavement. The graphic intensity of her drawings turns out to be directly tied to the elements of construction and a kind of collective detail.
The visitor is now beneath the dramatically tilting corner column, a rectilinear shard of dark grey concrete angled at 86 degrees and extending high into the sky. The entrance foyer of Cube II is made by cutting the tower at this point and inserting one gargantuan, storey-high beam to either side of the prow. Pinós is in effect propping up the tilted mass of her high-rise at this most vulnerable point and, by inserting revolving doors and glass membranes, opening it up as a reception area for the office suites above. Dedicated lifts access the foyer from parking below. An installation on the back wall by local artist Santino Escatel deconstructs the letters of a Spanish-language phrase into triangles of light-reflecting mirror.
The inner lobby is a compact space of polished white plaster with five lifts and with voids for ductwork accessible via flush, floor-to-ceiling door panels. Such attenuated apertures are characteristic of Pinós’s interior architecture, aiding the legibility of contiguous ceiling slabs. It’s in the wings that the architect’s deftness and sense of play is apparent. Twin concrete blades splay out from the core and rise to embrace each office suite above. Staircases are interwoven into both of these bookends; they zigzag in and out of the primary building envelope and flip in plan halfway up the tower’s height. Protected by a sharply profiled metal screen, such pragmatic elements give Cube II its tectonic character.
The principal graphic programme consists of skinny metal components in the particular typeface used in Pinós’s drawings; these drawings are not so much impressions, or representations, as they are direct evidence of architectural intent. On a light-hearted note, narrow lavatories are signalled by door handles with the profile of a vertically split man and woman respectively.
Due to the tower’s dramatic structure, so emblematic on the exterior, the interior of each office suite is almost entirely column-free. Inside the envelope, a single column at the midpoint of each glazed elevation seems to fuse, visually, against the vertical pattern of mullions, glass and slim dark panels. Used for ventilation and for cleaning exterior surfaces, these operable vertical panels are not contiguous as they rise, or fall, across the facades. Indeed their apparently random placement again suggests the organic, creating a rhythmic linear effect likened by the architect to rainfall.
Beyond this membrane, the outer screen of aluminium fins filters light during the course of the Mexican day, a particular distraction with strong low sunlight in the morning and late afternoon. The consistent angle of these fins adds further drama to the facades – a pinstripe at industrial scale. This striation not only protects the interior; it creates a diffuse, almost moiré effect that allows for limited direct views out to the surrounding business and residential precinct. Panoramic views of the neighbourhood are offered from a communal terrace on the 20th floor, on the roof of the tower’s lower massing component, and from the summit of Cube II, accessible only from its uppermost suite.
Guadalajara has been good to Carme Pinós and Pinós, in turn, has been good to Guadalajara. In contradistinction to recent phenomena of gullible host cities and parachuting starchitects, here the architect from far away has achieved ambitious and contextual architecture of high order. Pinós was included in the list of a dozen or so vanguard designers for the JVC Centre proposed for Guadalajara at the turn of the millennium yet never realised. Pinós’s contribution was for a commercial fairground inhabited by a flotilla of bridge structures and skinny concrete canopies, the kind of constructed landscape one might expect on the basis of earlier work in Spain.
The commissions for each tower, Cube I and Cube II, came to the architect indirectly via the JVC adventure. In addition she recently completed a small house for one of her clients in Grupo Cube. This beautiful cabin is a one-room pavilion with a cell-like bedroom and even smaller bathroom enclosed by walls of local stone, dark metal siding and glass overlooking a ravine on the fringes of the city. Cube II follows Cube I as a personal, unorthodox yet pragmatic exploration of the office tower in the Global City. If the cabin is virtuoso design at the most intimate scale, Cube II shows Pinós’s ability to tackle a priori expectations of free-market architecture, and to surprise us with the result.