2022

MCHAP.emerge

Estación Cultural Theater

Fundamental Design Build Initiative Inc.

Tapachula, Mexico

August 2021

PRIMARY AUTHOR

Gregory Melitonov

CONTRIBUTING AUTHOR

The Fundamental Team

CLIENT

Fundamental Design Build Initiative Inc.

PHOTOGRAPHER

Alexis Alvarado

OBJECTIVE

In order for this process to be successful, students had to gather support from many parties and incorporate inputs and resources as they became available. To realize project goals they had to address the needs of the Estación Cultural arts collective, consult with local experts on technical issues, and outreach to companies for materials and services at cost.

As the design-build project had to be realized with limited means, relying mostly on in-kind donations, the Fundamental team embraced a “more with less”, approach for the construction, focusing on simple modular elements that allowed volunteers from both local and migrant communities to work side-by-side with international students throughout the construction.

Each element of the project reflects a need based on the site context and cultural program; the space frame roof provides much needed shade to the open concrete plaza, elevating the stage platform allows for a visibility and a scale which the small volunteer organization previously had trouble accommodating, the sloping playscape below fosters a sense of place for children absent typical public play areas using different tactile elements scaled for children but still usable by adults.

The site of the outdoor construction created a curiosity from the broader community and generated a festive atmosphere with vendors from the market across the street often lending tools, playing music and bringing refreshments. The immersion of these international architecture students living in Tapachula resulted in a deep cultural exchange, especially with members of the arts collective who welcomed the students into their homes.

CONTEXT

Teatro Estación Cultural is an open-air theater and playspace designed and built by international students as a platform for community engagement in the migrant hub of Tapachula, MX.

The city of Tapachula is located on Mexico’s southernmost border, where migrants and refugees originating from West Africa, Haiti and Central America, pass through in “caravans” en route to the border with the United States.

Working with the support of The Fundamental Design Build Initiative, an educational nonprofit that guides young designers with an advocacy-through-architecture mission, a group of international architecture students based in the US wished to apply their skills to address the migrant crisis.

The Fundamental team partnered with Estación Cultural, a local volunteer driven collective which uses art and performance for cross-cultural bonding, and ultimately, humanizing the growing migrant population. This organization however, did not have a permanent location to conduct its activities.

Through a series of remote workshop sessions, these two organizations collaborated during the Covid pandemic across locations and languages to design an outdoor theater and play area that could serve as a center for outreach.

The government of Tapachula, inspired by the international interest and collective spirit, granted permission for the use of an underutilized municipal park adjacent to a local market hall and former railway depot for the site of the project.

Beginning in May of 2021 the students lived in Tapachula for several months to construct the theater, giving the arts collective a home and creating a new public outdoor amenity for the city.

PERFORMANCE

Teatro Estación Cultural continues to be used for performances and education. Its position as a place for activities and events is bringing even more groups together. Local people who were initially passive contributors in the process now feel a sense of ownership and pride over the construction and are invested in its mission, it’s upkeep and it’s growth as an opportunity to make connections between the shifting cultural dynamics of the population in this small community.

In just the few months since completion, the project has allowed Estación Cultural to expand it’s reach hosting numerous outdoor events including; public theater and traditional dance performanaces, evening movies, activism organizing for the refugee and migrant population as well as Tapachula’s Queer and Trans community, and reading programs for children.
The construction of the project has also kicked off a revitalization of the surrounding area. The government of Tapachula is encouraged to see how the addition of this new outdoor cultural space has supported their mission to become a sanctuary city for refugees and migrant travelers, instead of just an inconvenient stop on the way to somewhere else. They continue to support the public activities of Estación Cultural, by donating electrical services and investing the upkeep of the municipal park space around the theater. They now have broader plans for a federally sponsored project exclusively for arts and culture outreach down the street and have made provisions within the planning for the arts collective to have an indoor operations facility.