2022

MCHAP

Mar Tirreno 86

Frida Escobedo Studio

Mexico City, Mexico

December 2018

PRIMARY AUTHOR

Frida Escobedo López

CONTRIBUTING AUTHOR

Javier Rocamonde, Valentina Merz, Carlos Hernández, Héctor Arce

CLIENT

Desarrolladora Inmoviliaria Welt SA de CV

PHOTOGRAPHER

Rafael Gamo

OBJECTIVE

From the outset, the design was informed by a desire to challenge the organizational limitations of the typical vertical housing block. The objective was to expand, blur, and enliven the realm between public and private, interior and exterior, creating new and more diverse possibilities for encounters between residents.

We opted to divide the dwelling units between two volumes looking at a central patio, which serves as a transitional space between the bustling street and the family home and functions as a place for encounter for neighbors.

Rather than relying on balconies to provide private exterior space for the residents, we opted to fold the housing units inward to form a series of quiet, sheltered terraces and patios that mediate the interior and exterior.

The resulting units can be better understood not merely as apartments but as multi-story “patio houses,” which are intertwined. This compositional exercise ensures natural lighting, air, and privacy. Each home is different from the next, but all of them are articulated as a single, monolithic block. The units range from 2 bedrooms to 3 bedrooms and a studio. The checkerboard arrangement of the units allows all of them to have private patios and terraces that never face a neighbor. Kitchens and dining areas can open entirely to the patio and into an exterior kitchen, thus duplicating the social space of the house on specific occasions.

CONTEXT

Mar Tirreno is located in Popotla, a mid to low-income neighborhood in central Mexico City. In recent years, low-density apartment units are slowly starting to substitute old houses or vecindades—a form of collective housing that is arranged around a central courtyard. We wanted to keep part of the neighborhood feeling and keep the interstitial space that the patio de vecindad provided.

In these types of buildings, it is expected that developers ask for the maximum sellable area and little attention to detail. We wanted to propose better spaces for the residents within the same price range. For us, this shift in the organization could mean that someone who cannot typically afford a patio house could get access to one.

Instead of proposing nine single-floor units, we organized them as duplex houses with private patios, which allowed us to keep the maximum sellable area required by the client while carving out open spaces dedicated to gathering, play, and contemplation.

Another important aspect was the economy of means for construction and consideration for weathering and low maintenance. We reduced the materials to a minimum by making a custom-made cinder block that allowed us to eliminate all exterior finishes. Cinder block is one of the most frequently used materials for social housing, but it gained a new level of sophistication by just changing its profile and fabricating it in a bespoke color. In addition, we proposed a celosía, also typical of Mexican architecture, to help filter views and guarantee the privacy of all the units.

As the sun moves throughout the day, the monolithic building becomes alive. The shadows cast by the triangular pattern of the block create endless patterns that play with the celosia.

PERFORMANCE

While Mar Tirreno serves as an example of functionality in architecture, it is also a creative exercise for community building through the use of open areas. By simply rearranging the distribution of the units, we could carve out spaces that--serendipitously--were very much needed in the past two years due to the pandemic. This project became a lesson on how to provide the best spatial conditions despite limited resources. While some new, younger, and more affluent tenants also became part of the building, the project was affordable enough for people already living in the area. The low-cost material was thought of to get better as it weathers. These small but significant considerations guarantee that the building gains value over time, which is rarely the case for housing developments in the city.