The old colonial neighborhood of Coyoacan comprises some of the more notable cultural institutions of Mexico such as the National Film Archives, the Popular Cultures Museum, the Frida Kahalo Museum, the Talleres Cultural Center, the Ital-ian Institute of Culture, the National Watercolor Museum, the Elena Garro Library and the National Sound Archive. Thanks to the federal organism that manages the built patrimony of the country, the new INDAABIN Cultural Center is added to this list. Programatically, the center has been product of a long negotiation between the parts, particularly in moving on from the contained and secluded towards the open and public; breaking conventional practices was not easy especially because the former buildings were set in an old fashion governmental enclosed compound. Since the project’s earliest stages we decided to demolish the existent constructions and start up fresh from a new program based in making open, public buildings and outdoor areas.
The start off concept spins around the idea of breaking the parts in order to organize them in smaller low-rise buildings that could eventually display certain design personality. Thus, the Cultural Center will be formed by a main art gallery, an auditorium, an exhibition hall and workshops, a grand central café, preservation and cataloguing, an archive for maps and drawings, a research center, administrative and executive offices. With ecological preservation in mind, our first strategy was to assembly a highly qualified team of experts in areas such as biology and landscape; along them we classified, cata-logued and diagnosed the current health and future of all trees and plants in the site. Once we secured the green assets, we proceeded to establish the project zoning and arrangement. Within the concept of dispersion, we decided to hinge and organize buildings around the open spaces. Therefore, we aimed that visitors would navigate through a number of interlocked gardens, plazas, paths, patios, etc. that will eventually unfold and reveal a number of architectural elements and gestures. On the other hand, in terms of urban access, the compound is enclosed by high walls that were made out of traditional black volcanic rock, making the center only reachable from the street through two gates that connect to the street. In fact the site drops almost six feet down the sidewalk level, making it even more secluded and isolated from the street. Towards the inside, we have installed bike racks in order to contribute to the culture of alternative mobility. The entire project is full accessible to all, including those that are visually handicapped.
The Cultural Center is set out in four main buildings, starting off with the museum and its upper and lower galleries; both are accessible by Salvador Novo. This building features a lower basement and “shifted” volume above it, forming an upper gallery and a lower portico. Because the volume has been shifted off in the plan, the “box” is projected in cantilever to-wards two sides of the building. Structurally the gallery is supported on one side with a colonnade, and on the other is hanging from beams that span and load on the large screen wall made in reinforced concrete. In the spirit of integrating more the interior gardens and courtyards, both floors are articulated by exterior ramps and stairs rather than circulation cores and more particularly, by the “pushed out” promenade at the lower level. The aforementioned glass box holds the temporary exhibition hall. To create a graphic artwork skin, it fenestration is made out of dichroic glass panels from floor to ceiling. On the left side of this building there is a three-floor block that holds the research center, the archive and sev-eral administrative and technical offices. Architecturally the block is divided in two volumes; first a very large “blind” box like building finished with pre-rusted perforated metal that sunscreens the interior and make them translucent, second there is an also massive, black volume cladded with a ventilated, porcelain façade. Next, there is a long and shallow build-ing resembling a snake that serves as a visual ending to the new perpendicular organization of open spaces and gardens. This building changes material from rusted metal to exposed concrete, suggesting also the interior change of function from conservation workshops to the café and library. Between the black box building and the “snake” we laid out a mas-sive pergola, different in design (made out of steel trusses that are covered with steel plates) more organic and random. Its purpose is to shade and shelter the café’s terrace. The tail of the “snake” ends in form of stair, suggesting a common gesture in pre-Columbian architecture. At the north end, one last building appears also as a visual end of the cross axis of the composition: the auditorium. This building has been thought as an abstract container that has the unusual feature of opening the proscenium with a huge dichroic window towards the garden. Functionally it will be a multi-purpose hall that may hold book presentations and lectures, social events and art conferences. In addition, the complex will feature five major open spaces: first the ramped, main entrance courtyard and its sunken garden, second the main geometrical gar-den in front of the museum, third the shaded café’s wood-decked patio, fourth the Tezontle garden (a red stone, charac-teristic of Mexico) and last the grand plaza which is made out of a tapestry of hollow and solid concrete blocks. Its pur-pose is to organize public events as flea markets and traditionally seasonal stands, additionally it can serve as temporary parking and car drop off.
From the overall aesthetic composition, some buildings have been thought as solid and massive creating a deliberate con-trast to others that are conceived as translucent or transparent. Decisions made in this sense respond mostly to dealing with finding the right balance between energy savings, aesthetics and human activity. In a related discussion, the chro-matic palette also showcase tensions between two opposed criteria: on one hand the use of discreet, long-lasting colors such as black porcelain, gray stones and the earthiness of rusted metals; on the other hand it contrasts against the inten-sity and violence of dichroic glass chromatics and the bright orange color of the pergola.
According to the architects, although some compositions are directly or indirectly referenced to some architectural ideas from Emilio Ambaz and Francisco Machado, from a design standpoint, the assumed influences come from University City, that spectacular array of pioneering modern architecture in the late 40’s and early 50’s. Among the principles that may be found in relationship to CU are a severe axial composition, that is often manipulated by the use of ramps, canopies or pergolas; the traditional use of black volcanic rock indigenous from this zone of the valley to build walls and contentions, and finally the use of simple volumes that acknowledge the relevance of classical elements of architecture such as the colonnade or the promenade. In counterpoint, the project’s central and stronger idea is best described by the design of the museum’s overhanging gallery. By imagining this volume as an art piece itself, we laid out it in a way it becomes the central exhibit of the complex. It can be particularly enjoyed from the café’s patio. The gallery’s dichroic-skin will break the spectrum of color depending on light temperature and intensity (outdoor and indoor) creating a organic and ever changing, kaleidoscopic effect, that incidentally references the chromatic stridence of Mexican folk Art. The authors have yet added another layer to the glass, a large-scale graphic pattern resembling a diffusing lattice that gives the impression of tattooing the building. The overlaid system distorts the relationship between the exterior and the interior, and also the connections between light and space, pushing the visitor towards the experience of a psychotropic trip of LSD substances.