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The School of Plastic Arts by Mauricio Rocha, Oaxaca, Mexico

Solid art studio volumes combine with patio voids to form a varied landscape conducive for artistic creativity. Photography by Rafael Carillo

Commissioned by artist Francisco Toledo, the School of Plastic Arts forms part of the local university. Sitting on a corner near the university’s entrance, the building aims to strengthen the connection between town and gown, while cultivating the need for introspection, crucial to artistic endeavour.

Mauricio Rocha’s response is a series of individual volumes of art studios interspersed with patios. The solid and void arrangement is like a chessboard and the juxtaposition of elements creates ever-changing pathways and vistas as you move through the complex. Planted with Mexican cherry trees, the patios form generous shaded spaced for outdoor work. A large main hall and gallery lie on the central axis of the chessboard plan.

The buildings employ rammed-earth construction using spoil generated by building work from adjacent sites on campus. The earth is mixed with 15 per cent cement to form 600-700mm walls, giving the buildings a muscular, rooted quality. Their high thermal mass also flattens out temperature fluctuations and assists in overall strategy of passive environmental control. Studios are designed with slender side openings and expansive north-facing windows to encourage cross ventilation.

‘The complex was designed as an evolving work in progress,’ says Rocha. ‘It’s a school, a workplace, a garden - all are environments for creativity. The spaces are flexible - they can adapt to different uses.’ Toledo collaborated on the design of the landscaping, reinforcing the notion that the garden should surround the school and be inseparable from the whole.

School of Plastic Arts

Architect Taller de Arquitectura - Mauricio Rocha, Mexico City, Mexico

Project team Mauricio Rocha, Gabriela Carrillo, Carlos Facio, Rafael Carrillo, Francisco López, Silvana Jourdan, Pablo Kobayashi, Francisco Ortiz, Juan Santillán

Structural engineer Gerson Huerta

Landscape consultant Francisco Toledo

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